I was driving back home from Central Market, an upscale local grocery in Austin which sells nice produce at prices similar to Whole Foods. Quickest way to get home is on the Ben White freeway. So I was on the access road at a red light before the freeway on-ramp, behind a large, expensive-looking car. I think the woman driving the car had also just left Central Market. A panhandler, a skinny, ragged, very pretty teen-ager with grass and twigs in her hair, was sitting at the light with a hand-scrawled cardboard sign; she was sitting clasping her knees and kind of slumped over. The woman in the car decided for whatever reason that the beggar-girl was deserving of alms, and rolled down her window and shouted something trying to get the girl's attention. The girl was asleep, though, and did not respond. The woman shouted louder, and then waved a banana out the window.
It is probably good that the girl did not wake up. The girl was black. The light changed, and the lady, and I, drove on.
I found myself wondering about this all the way home. Why offer food? Why, in God's name, a banana? It is common, especially among conservatives, to refuse to give a dollar or two to panhandlers because they will just use it to buy drugs. Or alcohol. Or so they say. But I have never seen, or heard of, anyone offering a can of beans or a head of cabbage to a beggar. I suppose a truly compassionate conservative could indeed do this in good faith, both to help the charity recipient and save them from their vices. (If, in the absence of emoticons, you think there could nevertheless be irony here, you might not be mistaken.)
But I found myself wondering if racism is so over with in Austin, that this lady actually had no idea as to symbolism of her gesture. I somehow don't think she intended to insult the girl, but--could anyone be that clueless? I don't have an answer.