The only time the narrator experienced “direct” racial discrimination came after he told his father racism did not exist in America. That night, the narrator’s father woke his son and took him on a trip to “deepest, whitest America,” to a random Mississippi town. The narrator’s father took them to a dilapidated general store. Three white men were standing outside, alongside a black attendant named Clyde. As Clyde filled up the gas, the narrator’s father asked if he and his son could hang around for a while, and Clyde agreed.
Again, the narrator’s father is not afraid to expose his son to danger in order to teach him a lesson. The book is critical of this kind of parenting model, suggesting that it is more traumatizing than enlightening. On the other hand, the book also criticizes the overly protective, delusional practices of Foy, who literally attempts to edit the racism out of the world for his grandchildren.
The narrator’s father explained that they were there to engage in some “reckless eyeballing.” Thanks to his instruction in black slang and his knowledge of Ishmael Reed, the narrator knew this referred to the act of black men looking at Southern white women. The narrator’s father took out a pair of binoculars and began staring at a woman (Rebecca) sweeping her porch, exclaiming: “Look at those tits!” He then told the narrator to whistle at her.
The narrator’s father’s recklessness in this scene is extreme. “Reckless eyeballing” led to the gruesome deaths of many black men through lynching, including the prominent case of Emmett Till. In many of these instances, it wasn’t true eyeballing, but merely the suspicion or false accusation that led to lynching occurring.
The narrator tried to whistle, but had never learned how. He managed to shoddily whistle Ravel’s Boléro, which infuriated both the white men and his father. His father exclaimed that he was supposed to wolf whistle, and let out his own spectacular whistle while reckless eyeballing Rebecca. She responded enthusiastically, and the narrator’s father handed his son $5, saying he would be back in a minute. While the pair were gone, the three white men discussed the situation in a good-natured manner. One commented on Rebecca’s preference for black men, while another responded “at least she knows what she likes,” teasing the first man for being bisexual.
Again, the expectations of what will happen in this scene are violated in an extreme and comic way. Not only does the narrator’s father’s lesson to his son fail, but the whole trip ends up turning into little more than an excuse for the narrator’s father to have sex with another woman. Furthermore, rather than reacting angrily, the white men seem to have a neutral or even positive regard for these interracial relations.
The narrator was relieved that he was not killed, and went into the store to buy a Coke. He was reminded of a racist joke he didn’t fully understand. He realized he needs to pee, and asked to use the restroom. The attendant told him that the restroom was for customers only; when the narrator objected that his father just bought gas, the attendant pointed out that the narrator was not his father. He then directed the narrator to an abandoned bus station where there was a bathroom across the street. The narrator walks over to the dirty and smelly bathroom, but backs away when he sees a sign saying “Whites Only.” He ends up peeing on an anthill outside.
In the end, the narrator’s experience of “direct” racial discrimination has nothing to do with interracial sex at all. It is rather the very thing that he is now trying to bring back in Dickens: segregation of public facilities. It is significant that the narrator takes the “Whites Only” sign seriously despite the fact that the bus stop is abandoned in the first place. This points to the power of official, authoritative language and signs.