Race Relations Are As Broken As The Water Line Around Here

, , , , | Working | July 30, 2020

The water in our neighborhood suddenly shuts off without notice. After checking the city website to make sure there are no planned outages for maintenance, I decide to go buy some bottled water in case it is a while before the utility department figures out what is wrong.

On my way back home, I spot a small construction crew doing some work a couple of blocks down. I stop and roll down my window to talk to one of the workers. For reference, I am a white woman in my early thirties and the employee I speak to happens to be a middle-aged black man. I don’t realize how this will come into play until later.

Me: “Good morning. Are you guys doing any water line work today? The water in my neighborhood went out about half an hour ago.”

Worker #1: “Yes, ma’am. Unfortunately, a water line cap was cracked and we had to shut the supply off. Our supervisor is on the way with a replacement right now. We’re really sorry about that.”

Me: “Okay, thank you for telling me. I know these things happen. I just wanted to make sure.”

I prepare to drive away when a sixty-ish-year-old white man who’s been standing nearby — with a hunk of chaw in his mouth so large it looks like he is chewing on a baseball — cuts in front of [Worker #1] and sticks his head IN my car window.

Worker #2: *Around his mouthful of tobacco* “Fraternizing with the help, huh?”

Me: *Stunned* “Excuse me?”

[Worker #1] gets a look on his face that says this happens often.

Worker #1: “She wanted to know about the water outage.”

Worker #2: “Oh, yeah! The supervisor is on his way now. No need to call the city!” *Grins* “What street you on, honey?”

Me: *Ignoring the question* “This whole area is out. He’s already explained what happened.”

Seeing that I was holding up traffic, I thanked [Worker #1] again and drove away. It wasn’t until I pulled back into my driveway that I really processed what that second worker had done. Not only had he made me feel uncomfortable, but he’d stepped all over the first man I spoke to and repeated the same thing he’d clearly already heard him tell me. Plus, there was that comment about “the help”. Anyone who has grown up in the southeastern US knows the racist connotations that phrase can have.

I also remembered his comment about “no need to call the city” and had a feeling he might have been some kind of foreman or supervisor himself not wanting to get in trouble. I knew a few of my neighbors had called the city already, and I decided to make my own report, too.

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