Mr. wOw’s Very White Moment

There is nothing even remotely funny in the Professor Gates, Policeman Crowley, President Obama drama that has played out over the past two weeks.

This incident and the rise-again of the infamous “birther” conspiracy aficionados – cluelessly helped along by the likes of Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, who are supposed to be on Obama’s side! – are deeply depressing. Fear mongering and racist sentiments against Obama have been prevalent for two years, but since he had the audacity to be elected president of these United States, the hate and outrage have been seething, and looking for any good excuse to explode. Unfortunately, Obama gave his enemies the opening by weighing in on Gates/Crowley. It’s too late now, and beer won’t cauterize this ugly, festering sore. (Nor will Gates’s daughter, the haughty Elizabeth, whose blogs don’t do anybody any favors.)

But Mr. wOw has been reminded of something amusing and instructive on the subject of race, a lighter thought in a terrible time.

Years ago, Mr. wOw had the opportunity to interview Miss Dionne Warwick. Having always been a fan, we were excited. That enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by everybody I spoke to. “She’s a bitch!” “She’s a diva!” “You won’t get a thing out of her!” “Don’t do it, she’s such a bad interview!” Still, we’d heard that before about any number of entertainers, and things turned out just fine. Mr. W. was also warned against mentioning Dionne’s stint as huckster for The Psychic Network. As we’d always looked askance at that bit of business, there was no interest in reminding the star of something she probably did for money. (Funny thing is, I don’t remember exactly what Dionne was pushing at the time.)

The day arrived and we were met in the lobby of a midtown NYC hotel by Miss Warwick’s PR person of the moment. He warned me again about the Psychic Network and kept looking at me mournfully, as if I was in the tumbrel, heading for the guillotine.

Up to her suite, and nervous for sure. This was a big mistake we were now certain. Knock, knock and enter. There is Dionne, seated in the middle of the room. She is … lovely, welcoming, intelligent. She did not breathe fire. Great bone structure. I wish I could recall exactly what it was we talked about, but she was open to all my questions, did not evade, was not difficult. But what I do remember is that Dionne had a considerable entourage and perhaps some family with her. While nobody “sat in” on the interview, people came and went, paused nearby as she spoke, took calls, etc. And as the hour or so passed, I suddenly realized that I was the only white person there. And really white – naturally pale and recently bleached blonde. I felt … odd, alone, uncomfortable. Nobody made me feel this way – certainly not Miss Warwick. But the sense of edgy singularity, of being a stranger in a strange land was oppressive, and perhaps even – absurdly considering the benign circumstances – threatening.

As I rose to leave, and took an affectionate good-bye from Miss Warwick, I thought, “Wow, this is what it’s like to be separate, not among your own, adrift culturally, and wary.”

I felt instantly and do today that this was one of the major moments in my life. This totally innocuous meeting, safe in every way, challenged all I’d thought I was as a person. (So liberal, so relaxed!) If I could feel this way as a white person interviewing a black celebrity in a luxurious hotel suite – with drinks and a snack – what did the average black person feel when confronted by an all-white, un-glamorous “real life” situation? Every white person should have what I now refer to as “The Dionne Warwick Moment.”

Believe me, you’d understand just a little bit more.

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