Driving home yesterday after a meeting, I stopped at a local farmers’ road-side stand, a wonderful little place that sets up shop about a mile from my house every summer where I like to pick up fresh corn (my husband can easily, if not stopped, consume six ears of corn in one short sitting) and stock up on local tomatoes for our nightly summer favorite salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and basil.
As I was looking over the fruit and vegetables, a woman standing a few feet away from me was asking questions about the peaches.
I over-heard her (I admit it, I enjoy eavesdropping; I learn a great deal that way.) in conversation with one of the high school students who staff the summer stand.
Were the peaches local? What was the difference in the two varieties? And then I heard the woman explain that she was trying to help her son eat more healthily, that they had just been at a nutrition counseling session.
The peach-shopping woman and I stood together to check-out, I was first in line, she was behind me. At the counter, both of us could hear the music coming from whatever device it was that the high school students had put by the scale they used to weigh the produce. A recognizable Motown song was playing, one by The Supremes.
The woman (who, it wasn’t relevant until this point so I didn’t mention it, happened to be African-American) turned to the two high school students at the counter and remarked –
“What are you doing listening to our music?”
One of the (both White, mentioning it here only because it seems relevant) high school students responded:
“Oh, we like that music too.”
It was a quick exchange, no apparent rancor, seemingly just chit-chat but it stuck with me, left me wondering.
When I think of The Supremes, I think first of my husband – who also happens to be White and who is from Detroit; he grew up there in the 1960’s so if you were to ask him about The Supremes, The Temptations or The Four Tops, he would likely call it “his” hometown music.
Yet the peach-shopping woman at the farmer’s stand had claimed Motown as “ours”, that it belonged to her group of people.
Ours vs Yours?
Can we ever truly bridge that divide?
Yesterday at my DC women’s writers group, we talked, as we always do, about what’s in the news, and we got into a discussion about the recent events of racial tension – Baltimore and Ferguson – and the horrific killings at the Charleston church. I wanted to know what my women friends thought about my overheard farm stand conversation in the context of better understanding other people’s points of view.
(not sure it is relevant, but the women in my writer’s group, also happen to be White like me, but also happen, to be mostly former journalists, very socially aware, smart, kind and thoughtful people).
Dare I discuss this in my Blog, I asked them, without sounding like a naïve yet well-informed White, suburban woman who treads on the edge of things she doesn’t understand?
Well, yes I dare, because I will be the first to admit what I don’t understand. I was taken aback, honestly, when the woman at the farm stand labeled Motown music as belonging to only a specific group of people, even if it was just a tossed off comment.
Perhaps she meant it only in a factual way. I know that Motown music originated in the African-American community of Detroit, with Berry Gordy and the record label he founded in 1959. It was music that crossed racial lines to achieve national popularity. I remember dancing to many Motown songs at the Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties I attended as a young Jewish girl growing up.
I had always thought, without giving it too much thought, I admit, that Motown music was something that we universally shared – that African-Americans created it but that both African-Americans and Whites (not to mention people of many other races and ethnicities in the U.S. and abroad) could appreciate and love it.
So maybe I am making far too much of a lightly meant, innocently overheard, remark. But it did stop me in my tracks. It forced me to delve more deeply, always a good thing – about how much I don’t get, how wide the gaps are, how many more conversations need to be had, how much more listening we need to do to bridge the barriers to racial understanding.
Surely though, we can all enjoy the same music? Perhaps not in the same way. Much to ponder here beyond the freshness of summer fruit and vegetables.