This morning as I was walking down Main Street toward the theater, a homeless-looking man moved into my peripheral vision and the first words out of his mouth were, “Boss man!” He was black (the relevance of which I’ll address momentarily) and I said “No thanks” without so much as looking at him. I kept on walking. He replied somehow, but I try not to hear the parting shots.
I was approached in much the same vein a few days ago by another man, deflected him too, and, as I sometimes do, resolved that if I saw him again near a place where I could buy him a meal, I’d say, “Look, I’m not going to give you money, but I will pay for your breakfast.” Depending on my mood, the fantasy continues either with him taking me up on my offer or him saying, “Naw, man. I need the money for (translates as ‘some cheap anaesthetic’).”
That’s what a friend of mine does and, to hear him tell it, he’s bought many a meal.
But “Boss man”? What the hell is a middle-aged white guy supposed to do when a black guy – a stranger – addresses him as “Boss man?” To my ear, it sounds about like “Massa,” and it makes me wonder if he’s pandering to an assumed sense of racial superiority. Or would that be racial guilt? Is he reminding me of the white man’s burden? It’s confusing … and it doesn’t make me the slightest bit inclined to give anybody money.