A conversation you might have in Cambridge

There was only one chair open on the third floor of the Harvard Coop. I took it, sat down to read through Clear blogging: How people blogging are changing the world and how you can join them. Since I was in Cambridge, I politely ignored the man sitting in the chair on the other side of the small table from me.

A third man, a tall well-spoken man, walked up, and spoke to the other man. “Hey, how you doing? Mind if I join you?”

The well-spoken man pulled up a chair and they began talking in low voices. I was deep into the blogging book, but even so couldn’t help noticing when the well-spoken man pulled a tabloid newspaper out of his day pack and showed it to his friend. I became aware of the conversation.

“I asked him if he wasn’t fearful, saying this kind of thing,” said the well-spoken man.

“What do you mean?” said his friend, who had a West Indian accent.

“Well,” said the well-spoken man, shaking the tabloid newspaper, “what this says about the history of racism in the United States, and international African revolution…”

“But wasn’t he a white man?” said his friend.

“Yes he was a white man, but he should still be worried,” said the well-spoken man. “I talked for a while to his friend, who was also white, and he admitted that he felt some fear talking like that on the street.”

I saw that the tabloid was Burning Spear, the “Voice of the International African Revolution,” offering “real political analysis of the crisis of parasitic capitalism.” I wasn’t going to break in, but after all they were waving around a revolutionary newspaper and having this conversation in a public place within four feet of me. “He probably should be worried,” I said.

“Yes,” said the well-spoken man, encouragingly. From his vocabulary and manner of speaking, I had thought him to be a graduate student, but from his face I decided he was middle-aged.

Continuing with what they had just been saying, I said, “In today’s political climate, it’s not necessarily wise to assert that the slave economy in the U.S. allowed American businesses to develop the capital that led to our current economy we now have.” I smiled. “That’s the kind of thing that can win you an FBI file.”

The well-spoken man grinned back. But the man with the West Indian accent remained skeptical. “But you’re talking openly about this.”

“It’s Cambridge,” I said, shrugging. “And we’re sitting in the Harvard Coop. In some other place like, oh, Indiana I might feel differently.”

The well-spoken man said, “I’m glad those two white men were willing to talk openly about this. But what gets me is when black people deny what’s going on.”

That led to a discussion of which American intellectuals are willing to talk openly about race and racism. I said I admired Cornel West for taking a public stance in Race Matters and Democracy Matters. The well-spoken man was dismissive of West, and instead championed a professor of sociology currently at Harvard (who of course was African American), who apparently is more radical than West.

We talked a little about the current political climate in the United States, they asked where I had come from, and the man with the West Indian accent said, “New Bedford is a pretty rough place, isn’t it?” I told him that the murder rate in Boston was higher than in New Bedford. Before I went back to my book on blogging, it came out that the well-spoken man was not a graduate student, and was actually unemployed and living in a homeless shelter.

Then I said I shouldn’t interrupt their conversation any more, and I went back to the book on blogging, which at last I decided to buy. When I got up to leave, they were deep in a conversation about the nature of human intelligence, and whether intelligence could be accurately tested and quantified.

3 thoughts on “A conversation you might have in Cambridge

  1. Jean

    Sigh. Indiana feels yet again a bit bruised by the east coast. We are not that bad out here.
    Really. The conversation you reference would probably merit a raised eyebrow at best.
    Now if you REALLY want to put your words on the line out here, go to a local restaurant and start talking
    about what you think of Confined Animal Feeding Operations. THAT will get you in some hot water, no
    matter what perspective you take.
    Oh, or you could talk about Daylight Saving time. Talk loudly about that in any restaurant and I
    guarantee there’ll be a fistfight.

  2. Bob Walsh

    Your conversation was typical of something that happens all the time in blogs and all too infrequently in the real world: strangers meet, share ideas, and benefit from the sharing. I have friends I’ve made through blogging all over the world living lives I’d never imagine.

    And, by the way, see chapter 10, the new fourth estate re how much blogging can change politics.

    Finally, thanks for buying my book!

  3. Administrator

    Jean — Talking about Indiana was a cheap shot, included (I have to admit) to get a rise out of you. Really, I {heart} Indiana.

    Bob — I’ve been reading your book, and it’s really quite good. I’ll probably be saying more in a future post.

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