“Arrangement in Black and White”
by Dorothy Parker
The woman with the pink velvet poppies twined round the assisted gold of her hair traversed the crowded room at an interesting gait combining a skip with a sidle, and clutched the lean arm of her host.
“”Now I got you!” she said. “Now you can’t get away!”
“Why, hello,” said her host. “Well. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m finely,” she said. “Just simply finely. Listen. I want you to do me the most terrible favor. Will you? Will you please? Pretty please?”
“What is it?” said her host.
“Listen,” she said. “I want to meet Walter Williams. Honestly, I’m just simply crazy about that man. Oh, when he sings! When he sings those spirituals! Well, I said to Burton, ‘It’s a good thing for you Walter Williams is colored,’ I said, ‘or you’d have lots of reason to be jealous.’ I’d really love to meet him. I’d like to tell him I’ve heard him sing. Will you be an angel and introduce me to him?”
“Why, certainly,” said her host. “I thought you’d met him. The party’s for him. Where is he, anyway?”
“He’s over there by the bookcase,” she said. “Let’s wait till those people get through talking to him. Well, I think you’re simply marvelous, giving this perfectly marvelous party for him, and having him meet all these white people, and all. Isn’t he terribly grateful?”
“I hope not,” said her host.
“I think it’s really terribly nice,” she said. “I do. I don’t see why on earth it isn’t perfectly all right to meet colored people. I haven’t any feeling at all about it not one single bit. Burton oh, he’s just the other way. Well, you know, he comes from Virginia, and you know how they are.”
“Did he come tonight?” said her host.
“No, he couldn’t,” she said. “I’m a regular grass widow tonight. I told him when I left, ‘There’s no telling what I’ll do,’ I said. He was just so tired out, he couldn’t move. Isn’t it a shame?”
“Ah,” said her host.
“Wait till I tell him I met Walter Williams!” she said. “He’ll just about die. Oh, we have more arguments about colored people. I talk to him like I don’t know what, I get so excited. ‘Oh, don’t be so silly,’ I say. But I must say for Burton, he’s a heap broader-minded than lots of these Southerners. He’s really awfully fond of colored people. Well, he says himself, he wouldn’t have white servants. And you know, he had this old colored nurse, this regular old nigger mammy, and he just simply loves her. Why, every time he goes home, he goes out in the kitchen to see her. He does, really, to this day. All he says is, he says he hasn’t got a word to say against colored people as long as they keep their place. He’s always doing things for them, giving them clothes and I don’t know what all. The only thing he says, he says he wouldn’t sit down at the table with one for a million dollars. ‘Oh,’ I say to him, ‘you make me sick, talking like that.’ I’m just terrible to him. Aren’t I terrible?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” said her host. “No, no.”
“I am,” she said. “I know I am. Poor Burton! Now, me, I don’t feel that way at all. I haven’t the slightest feeling about colored people. Why, I’m just crazy about some of them. They’re just like children, just as easy-going, and always singing and laughing and everything. Aren’t they the happiest things you ever saw in your life? Honestly, it makes me laugh just to hear them. Oh, I like them. I really do. Well, now, listen, I have this colored laundress, I’ve had her for years, and I’m devoted to her. She’s really a character. And I want to tell you, I think of her as my friend. That’s the way I think of her. As I say to Burton, ‘Well, for Heaven’s sakes, we’re all human beings!’ Aren’t we?”
“Yes,” said her host. “Yes, indeed.”
“Now this Walter Williams,” she said. “I think a man like that’s a real artist. I do. I think he deserves an awful lot of credit. Goodness, I’m so crazy about music or anything, I don’t care what color he is. I honestly think if a person’s an artist, nobody ought to have any feeling at all about meeting them. That’s absolutely what I say to Burton. Don’t you think I’m right?”
“Yes,” said her host, “Oh, yes.”
“That’s the way I feel,” she said. “I just can’t understand people being narrow-minded. Why, I absolutely think it’s a privilege to meet a man like Walter Williams. Yes, I do. I haven’t any feeling at all. Well, my goodness, the good Lord made him, just the same as He did any of us. Didn’t He?”
“Surely,” said her host. “Yes, indeed.”
“That’s what I say,” she said. “Oh, I get so furious when people are narrow-minded about colored people. It’s just all I can do not to say something. Of course, I do admit when you get a bad colored man, they’re simply terrible. But as I say to Burton, there are some bad white people, too, in this world. Aren’t there?”
“I guess there are,” said her host.
“Why, I’d really be glad to have a man like Walter Williams come to my house and sing for us, some time,” she said. “Of course, I couldn’t ask him on account of Burton, but I wouldn’t have any feeling about it at all. Oh, can’t he sing! Isn’t it marvelous, the way they all have music in them? It just seems to be right in them. Come on, let’s us go on over and talk to him. Listen, what shall I do when I’m introduced? Ought I to shake hands? Or what?”
“Why, do whatever you want,” said her host.
“I guess maybe I’d better,” she said. “I wouldn’t for the world have him think I had any feeling. I think I’d better shake hands, just the way I would with anybody else. That’s just exactly what I’ll do.”
They reached the tall young Negro, standing by the bookcase. The host performed introductions; the Negro bowed.
“How do you do?” he said.
The woman with the pink velvet poppies extended her hand at the length of her arm and held it so for all the world to see, until the Negro took it, shook it, and gave it back to her.
“Oh, how do you do, Mr. Williams,” she said. “Well how do you do. I’ve just been saying, I’ve enjoyed your singing so awfully much. I’ve been to your concerts, and we have you on the phonograph and everything. Oh, I just enjoy it!”
She spoke with great distinctness, moving her lips meticulously, as if in parlance with the deaf.
“I’m so glad,” he said.
“I’m just simply crazy about that ‘Water Boy’ thing you sing,” she said. “Honestly, I can’t get it out of my head. I have my husband nearly crazy, the way I go around humming it all the time. Oh, he looks just as black as the ace of. . . Well. Tell me, where on earth do you ever get all those songs of yours? How do you ever get hold of them?”
“Why,” he said, “there are so many different . . .”
“I should think you’d love singing them,” she said. “It must be more fun. All those darling old spirituals oh, I just love them! Well, what are you doing, now? Are you still keeping up your singing? Why don’t you have another concert, some time?”
“I’m having one the sixteenth of this month,” he said.
“Well, I’ll be there,” she said. “I’ll be there, if I possibly can. You can count on me. Goodness, here comes a whole raft of people to talk to you. You’re just a regular guest of honor! Oh, who’s that girl in white? I’ve seen her some place.”
“That’s Katherine Burke,” said her host.
“Good Heavens.” she said, “Is that Katherine Burke? Why, she looks entirely different off the stage. I thought she was much better-looking. I had no idea she was so terribly dark. Why, she looks almost like . . . Oh, I think she’s a wonderful actress! Don’t you think she’s a wonderful actress, Mr. Williams? Oh, I think she’s marvelous. Don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” he said.
“Oh, I do, too,” she said. “Just wonderful. Well, goodness, we must give someone else a chance to talk to the guest of honor. Now, don’t forget, Mr. Williams, I’m going to be at that concert if I possibly can. I’ll be there applauding like everything. And if I can’t come, I’m going to tell everybody I know to go, anyway. Don’t you forget!”
“I won’t,” he said. “Thank you so much.”
“Oh, my dear,” she said. “I nearly died! Honestly, I give you my word, I nearly passed away. Did you hear that terrible break I made? I was just going to say Katherine Burke looked almost like a nigger. I just caught myself in time. Oh, do you think he noticed?”
“I don’t believe so,” said her host.
“Well, thank goodness,” she said, “because I wouldn’t have embarrassed him for anything. Why, he’s awfully nice. Just as nice as he can be. Nice manners, and everything. You know, so many colored people, you give them an inch, and they walk all over you. But he doesn’t try any of that. Well, he’s got more sense, I suppose. He’s really nice. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes,” said her host.
“I liked him,” she said. “I haven’t any feeling at all because he’s a colored man. I felt just as natural as I would with anybody. Talked to him just as naturally, and everything. But honestly, I could hardly keep a straight face. I kept thinking of Burton. Oh, wait till I tell Burton I called him ‘Mister’!”