We store the whiskey in the Water Tower

by Ed Tubbs

Contrast this with the community in which I was raised: Allen Park, a 100% absolutely white suburb, six miles down river of Detroit. And Melvindale. And Lincoln Park. And Wyandotte. And Dearborn. All, like the rest of the communities that surrounded black-core Motown . . . not a single brown or black face in the mix. Mix? Yeah. The “mix” was white Presbyterians, white Methodists, white Catholics, white Lutherans, white Anglicans, and white so forth. But then, we could always point to Morris Zumberg. He was a Jew. Hanging with Morris showed you weren’t bigoted. Had some Jews, but no black ones.

And talk about the pressure in the 50s and 60s to conform. And Italian food was Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee. And Chinese was Chun-King.

After my active duty stint in the Army, and a delightful year in Denver, for almost four years, while attending college, I lived in Ypsilanti, just outside Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan. Ypsi had another nickname: Ypsi-tucky. Because of the good paying auto assembly jobs at Willow Run and Ypsi and Wixom and the surrounding area, Ypsi-tucky was the ultimate Mecca for the white hill folk fleeing the economically and educationally barren knolls and valleys of Kentucky and the other financially and culturally vacant Appalachian hillbilly states.

I doubt many places in the South could compete with Ypsi for inbred racial bigotry. I’d often mock the ignorant ethnocentrism of these refugees as, “If yooo ain’t bettern a n****r, wutt is you bettern?” They needed to be able to point to some group, to sustain their illegitimate claim to some level of personal merit, and blacks had always been handy, even if they had never acquainted one. The pervasive ignorance was as shocking to me as it was revolting. The molecular fact that none of us got to choose our parents never made it to the water these folk drunk. (I know, the word is “drank,” but “drunk” was used for effect, considern who we wuz talkin’ ‘bout.)

And Lord, how many times I’d hear, “He’s a good worker,” used somehow as a compliment, I will never be able to sum. Mules and asses are “good workers.” But they’re not particularly smart workers. I never, ever heard someone called a “smart worker.” Being smart in Ypsi was not prized, working like a mule was. And a good job was working on the assembly line, not being one of the engineers designing the vehicles that were put together on that assembly line.

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