Had a quick cocktail last night with a delightful lady full of joy and true mind-bending talent.
Chatting before her show, we were talking about the good and the bad of how bands are treated at gigs. She described a little detail of the renovation of one of Houston’s grand hotels she’d had the opportunity to see while waiting to perform one night. It put the rest of our stories in perspective.
When the elegant Warwick Hotel became Hotel Zaza several years ago, one of the updates involved the plumbing. You’d expect that a hotel built in the 1920s would need a plumbing update, especially given the demands of today’s luxury experience—a spa, rainfall shower heads, and the like.
What I hadn’t considered, but what this beautiful lady had seen with her own eyes when the plumbing was exposed during renovations, was that the original sewer pipes were labeled.
White and colored.
The pipes carrying sewage out of the hotel were segregated.
I wasn’t born until the 70s, so I didn’t always recognize Jim Crow when I saw it. I thought, for example, that water fountains naturally came in pairs.
As I got older, I went to friends’ houses, and at one point lived in a house, that had small apartments with separate bathrooms. These living accommodations were called quarters, and thanks to history classes that included actual facts about American history, I was under no illusion as to the origin of that term.
But the actual pipes taking sewage from the building? It never would have occurred to me that even the pipes would be separate.
When people use the term institutionalized racism, I don’t think they are referring to a network of not-yet-replaced pipes running under Southern cities. But now that I know those pipes lie beneath us, testifying to hatred and fear, that’s the image I’ll see when someone uses that phrase. To me, that represents just how hard we’ll have to work, and how deep we’ll have to dig, to make progress.