Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I've Been Among You My Whole Life, And I kn ow You All Are Racist

I grew up in a small town on the west coast of Michigan. An idyllic place, it's only crimes were pot smokers, drunk drivers and the occasional sex offender. It was isolated, cut off from the big cities by vast stretches of farmland and rolling dunes on which the very wealthy built their summer homes. It was almost 100% white except for the family of the chauffeur of the town's wealthiest family. And they had more class and intelligence than most of the white people in town, so they were accepted, because they weren't too black.
My Dad moved our family there in 1967. We had lived in Muskegon, a large city north of my hometown for a couple of years. We even had a black maid, Daisy, who would come to the house and help out my poor Mom with her five children, and once or twice, watch us younger ones at her house, a nice place in a decent neighborhood. But then the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and my dad, who was prejudiced, heard that Realtors in my hometown has worked to keep black people out. I can still remember him talking to a neighbor about the "riots", and his fear they might spread to this little Eden on the shores of Lake Michigan. Fear.
Growing up there, you never met any black people. It wasn't until much later, when Brother James moved to Grand Rapids, and formed a band that happened to have a couple of black members in it that I got to actually know a black person. Sure, we had seen them on television; Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and laughed with them as they exposed our racist beliefs for the fear based hatred that they were, but this was someone who knew me, and my out look changed considerably.
When I first was out of high school, I got a job loading plants into a semi. Some days I'd be in the back of the truck, and others I'd be riding around, helping to fill orders. It was a hard job, and not one I had planned to do my entire life, unlike a lot of the white people I was working with, so they stuck me with the black crew. That was my punishment, but the black crew saw I wasn't bothered by this, and took to me because I was a hard worker. Out in the fields, working with the white guys, I would hear that epithet tossed around casually. It changed my opinions of a lot of people I worked with and for, because I didn't like that word. When my friend the Guru would come over to visit, he would casually spout off with that word, and I would ask him to not use that word at my place because it offended me. He looked at me like I was crazy. Other friends would patronize me after using it "oh, that's right, he doesn't like that word."
As many other white people will admit, privately, they don't like black people. I've heard them use terms from 'pickaninny' to nigger, to people who to this day refer to black people as colored, and not one of these people who use these words, would I consider to be intelligent creatures at all. Because nothing makes a person look like an idiot more than spewing forth race based hatred and couching it in terms they feel are acceptable in the presence of other white people.
At this point in our history, America is supposed to be united against a common enemy. There are no more hyphenated Americans, just E Pluribus Unum. How can a man claim to be a patriot because he wears a flag on his lapel, or on the tailgate of his SUV, turn around and hate a fellow American because of the color of their skin? A fellow American? This isn't patriotism, it's racism, and if we let that divide us then we deserve everything bad that happens to us.
E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. American.
The candidacy of Barack Obama has shown us how far we haven't progressed as a nation. The primaries in West Virginia and Kentucky, proves that the women's movement has made significant strides in the last forty years to the point where Southeners who wouldn't have voted for a woman forty years ago, now are willing to vote for one, only because she's the only white candidate on the ticket. But the Civil Rights movement has a long way to go before it catches up.


Frederick said...

My favorite phrase, "I don't mind Black people, but I can't stand N******."

Kvatch said...

Lew, is this really true? To my mind there's been plenty of racism and plenty of sexism? Tons to go around.

Lew Scannon said...

I have a sister who says that all the time. i always reply "I don't mind white people, but I really hate Crackers"
I don't think that I've heard anyone state that they wouldn't vote for Hillary on the sole basis of her gender.(There are also people who are voting for Hillary solely because of her gender, which is as sexist as the opposite. She would make a really shitty president) But there are people who won't vote for Obama because of his race. This is disturbing for a party that is supposed to be progressive.
I will admit there is still sexist pigs in this world, nor has sexism entirely gone away, but the strides that feminism have made out pace any steps the Civil rights movement has made.

Graeme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Graeme said...

North Dakota is racist as hell too. Luckily I was raised in a non-racist home, but my little town was full of it.

Tom Harper said...

This sure has a familiar ring to it. I grew up in a wealthy, sheltered all-white town in Connecticut. It's amazing, the hatred these people can have. They'd never burn a cross or talk about the KKK -- that's much too undignified. But the hatred and small-mindedness was there.

Actually, there was one black family in town. The father was a state judge and both of his kids went to private schools because of too much harrassment at the local public school. One year (1967) our foreign exchange student was from South Vietnam. With all the taunts she had to endure, she probably couldn't wait to get back home.

Anonymous said...

"There are also people who are voting for Hillary solely because of her gender, which is as sexist as the opposite."

Just like there are black people voting for Obama solely because of his race, and I can't really blame them. This reminds me of "Native Americans vs. Jews: Who Had It Worse?" argument.

The much easier question is, "Who has it the easiest?"

I wonder if it's really useful to compare injustices, tit-for-tat.

The world is not where it should be. Either we find solutions or find excuses.

Mark said...

This is fun to read. I know what your trying to impress to your largely white liberal audience, but you really come off sounding quite pathetic. I'm Lew Scannon, and i was raised a rich black child. I was the only white guy who the "blacks" understood....WTF, are you the white guy running for office trying to let everyone know how much those “colored” folks liked you? Just shut up. Your as white as white gets.
Tell the folks why you were working in agriculture that year…tell them, and stop making it look like you were the odd guy out.