We were sitting in a Waffle House in Staunton, Virginia discussing the state of the nation over breakfast. I had just read an Ed Kilgore column in Salon about the nationwide Republican war on voting rights, and the conservative debate over whether voting is even a right or not.
As I am standing in line to pay my tab, a African-American man in his forties slides into an occupied booth next to the register and sits opposite an older white man. They share a brief exchange about how his shift went. Two smiling, white waitresses come over to take his order and start a friendly argument over how he likes his toast. He is a regular.
“Toast, not grits?” remarks the older white man.
“It’s Filmore,” smiles one of the waitresses to the cook. “Burn it. He likes it burnt.”
“Dark, not burnt,” Filmore insists.
This is Virginia — the capitol of the Old South. Black man. Restaurant. Sharing a table with a white man. White women competing over who will wait on him.
It occurs to me that the prospect of the very everydayness of such a scene horrified many Virginians and others across America 50 years ago.
Some people need an “other” to fear or they don’t know who they they are themselves. It’s not just generational. It is a personality type. Many of the same types today fear poor people, gays, Muslims and Mexicans.
We are on our way to see the Gettysburg battlefield where two American armies slaughtered each other, where the Army of Northern Virginia lost its war over the right to deny rights to an entire class of “others,” and to hang onto a people’s irrational fear of the future I saw at a northern Virginia Waffle House.
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