Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rich Man, Poor Man

The race card ploy seems to have backfired on the NAACP in its salvos against the Tea Parties. Turns out, the Tea Parties have been telling the truth: it’s about the economy, stupid, and the size of the government, not race. It’s all about freedom.

Class envy is an easier card to play. The faces can be any color and the poor can excoriate the wealthy with impunity. The neighbor with the expensive car, the co-worker who just got a raise, the radio commentator whose salary is in the double millions, the relative who takes frequent trips to exotic locations: they’re all fair game.

One afternoon after a tea party rally, I stopped at the Burger King in Morristown. The restaurant is located in a section of town known as “The Hollow.” It’s the poorer side of town, a neighborhood of mixed ethnicities, mainly black and Hispanic.

As I ate, a black young man entered and went to the counter. I didn’t notice him particularly because he was black (nearly everyone in the restaurant was), but because he was pulling a string bass case behind him on wheels. He was one of “my kind” – a musician!

He was also dressed in a tuxedo, which meant he was a professional musician, placing him many castes above my musical station in life. The train station is just down the street. I figured he was headed either for Newark or the City, for some professional orchestra. Or perhaps he was playing at a wedding or some other black tie affair.

He certainly wasn’t dressed for the Broadway pits or a jazz club. There are levels of attire for musicians, and the tuxedo is the ultimate. And he certainly wasn’t dressed for Burger King. Wherever he was headed, there wasn’t going to be any food for the musicians, or it might be a long rehearsal before the performance (which often happens).

His order was to go. He grabbed his food and he and the string bass headed for the other door to go to the station. In between him and the door, however, were some street thugs who’d been loitering in the restaurant for some time. There was no food on their tables; only newspapers and magazines which they’d been scanning.

When the musician headed for the door, one of them jumped up and ran behind him, aping his walk in mocking fashion. His companions laughed and hooted. The musician gave no notice of them but kept on his way until he reached the door and left.

Evidently, the musician hadn’t read the rules that state the poor must remain loyally poor. Any attempt at success betrays the people you’ve left behind. You’ve become one of “them.” I can’t help thinking that had a white musician passed through that Burger King, they wouldn’t have given him a second thought. But a black man in a tuxedo, going off to play white, European music with a European style orchestra or ensemble was beyond their level of tolerance.

Never mind that he was one of the tuxedo-clad performers, not the audience. That never bothers us musicians. We’re doing what we love. Music is a life and a universe all unto itself. The only black and white we care about is the musical notes on the page.

Maybe someday this fellow will compose a piece of music for string bass or cello about “The Hollow.” Who knows.

In any case, what’s going on today isn’t about black and white. It’s about the redistribution of wealth and the Tea Party isn't about to sing along.

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