I'm working from home today, which is a holiday at the Atlantic, and MLK and civil rights are pretty much on nonstop loop on CNN. This morning I was thinking about the white man who tried to take Rosa Parks' seat. What was he thinking?
I've been trying to picture really fairly alien thoughts. Being a white person in Montgomery, Alabama in the late 1950s, tired from a very long day at a job that probably wasn't very interesting--the people with the easy jobs, one presumes, were already driving themselves. A long dull day in an office or workshop, a wait for the bus on your way to a little house across town where your wife was making a modest dinner. Seeing that overcrowded bus pull up to your stop and thinking, with resignation, of standing for twenty minutes while the bus chugs fitfully across town.
We've all been there--tired, harassed, and isn't it always just one more damn thing?
But then . . . getting on the bus, feeling your feet hurt and your back ache and your eyes wanting to close a little . . . and then lighting up a little.
Thank God! There are still black people sitting down!
Who was a man who would walk up to a seamstress in her fifties and demand that she give up her seat so he could take it? I mean, we've all fantasized about being able to do it, on a bad day--to somehow steal a seat from someone who couldn't need the rest as much as our puffy feet. But who could actually exercise that power? Thousands of people across the south every day, and they can't all have been actually evil people. So how did they do something so evil? How did they treat human beings as if they'd found a dog on the couch?