Like a Built-in Doubletake
houses that said, “Dear Sir; It has been called to my attention that you were highly upset about some chance remarks I made from behind the fence at the A.D. club. I want you to know that I was totally inebriated when I made the remarks, and I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. But if you want a personal apology, please feel free to call on me at my suite in Lowell House at about six thirty. P.S. I am not a member of the club, I was only a guest there.” Now that really made me mad. And I think the problem is that I have not been able in my life to express anger when it happened. I brooded about it. I didn’t get mad at the insult, I got mad at the insult in the letter. He was saying in essence, I’m dying to let you call on me in my house at a certain time, and I will apologize, not to you, but to save the reputation of the club. His condescension. I could accept the remark because I’d heard it before, but I couldn’t accept that. I think it’s something in me. It’s not passive, it’s just resigned. That’s why I call it fatalism. You assume certain things.
CB: Through your descriptions of your mother in “Going Up to Atlanta,” I sensed that she also had a resigned attitude. She seemed to have great integrity but also some pride in not wanting to accept charity. How do you interpret that?
JM: Well, it took me a long time to figure out. I know that when she was a girl, she studied to be what she called a perfect Christian, that was her goal in life. She studied with holiness people in Florida, very strict people. And so, I don’t think she ever once focused on this world as anything meaningful. She was focused on Heaven. But it caused her a great deal of pain. She never once fought back at anything. She always took it. And she passed it on to us to take it. That’s not real Christianity. That’s masochism, so to speak. It takes you a long time to realize you’ve been tricked.
CB: Your father didn’t share that attitude. Even though he became frustrated, he did everything he could to work within the system and to get what he could out of it. And he was still able to laugh when your brother was called a nigger.
JM: Sure, because he was intelligent enough to see that the man wouldn’t call him that unless he was feeling threatened by my brother’s competence. This is what I was saying about the guy that called me a nigger at the A.D. Club in Cambridge. I was making it. I was getting my law degree. I was writing at the same time. It’s a waste of energy to