On a Saturday morning, Milloy and I are sitting in his Acura, parked on a garden-lined street in Capitol Hill. At his suggestion, we’ve ﬂed the clamor of a Pennsylvania Avenue SE Starbucks. As he sips at a to-go cup, Milloy is open and garrulous, so much so that he doesn’t mind bashing the Post a little. (After all, he’s a contract employee now, having taken a buyout a couple of years ago) “The Post used to be a writer’s paper,” he says, arguing that the daily no longer takes risks. He’s dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans, and wearing a pair of Terminator sunglasses.
Maybe what’s got him so talkative is the rounds of tennis he just played at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center on Mississippi Avenue SE, the same place where Marion Barry likes to whip his racket. Milloy has played against the councilmember, but it’s hard to get through a game, he says, since people are constantly “coming up to Marion.”
As he’s feeling so loose, this seems the opportunity to spring my blunt question on him, the one many of those who took the “myopic twits” column to heart might be aching to ask. “Do you like white people?” I venture.
Milloy’s answer isn’t likely to calm any of the people who sent him those furious e-mails back in September.
“White people... That’s a funny question,” he starts out. “I’m trying to see a creative way to answer that... I could say yes. I could say, ‘Absolutely, man.’ But, you know, like, let’s start with this—I like people. I love people, man. And the fact of the matter is... I have all my life.”
But a tick later, bringing up the recent elections, Milloy gets a little angry. “It makes me go back to the beginning—the country was founded on the premise of white supremacy, blacks were slaves, they couldn’t, they were three-ﬁfths, you know, this was encoded in the law,” he says. “People have a way of feeling that they’re on top, that’s the way these things are set up. The layout of the District of Columbia, the fact that there exists a white wealthy ward at the opposite end of a poor predominantly black ward, did not come up by accident. The city was built by slaves and German, Italian, Irish immigrants for the most part. Only one of those groups didn’t get paid, or get the credit. So does it rankle me sometimes that people don’t want to give black folk credit? Yeah, it does.”
Milloy goes silent for a moment. Just then, a police car pulls up alongside us, and we both tense, seeming to simultaneously realize what we are: Two black men dressed down in an SUV. In a word, suspects. Though the cops move on without incident, the fact that Milloy and I, separated as we are by a generation, had the same, instant reaction, might be a clue as to why Milloy is still relevant: Racism is still a big part of our lives.
Sure, I might wind up tweeting about the stare-down with the cops, and Milloy sure as hell won’t. But until Mayor-elect Vince Gray’s “one city” makes the jump from good concept to daily reality, Milloy may be the best way for black D.C. to vent its frustrations. Milloy provides a kind of tough love Washington shouldn’t want to do without.
“Racial conversations are very hard to have. And I wouldn’t consider [the column] a traditional racial conversation,” says Milloy. “But for me, rough and ragged as it may be, I ﬁnd that people’s thoughts and expressions on race to be pretty revealing.”