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.