Bigotry and Me

April 15, 2007

I’m sitting, wearing a Jackie Robinson commemorative T-shirt given to me by an African-American friend, watching the “Jackie Robinson Story” on the 60th Anniversary of his inaugural Major League Baseball appearance. His first organized Minor League game played in the USA was in Jersey City, the city of my youth, the city where I was taught that blacks were inferior. I don’t remember being told specifically that blacks were less than we were; it was simply there, untold but there, assumed and considered fact in our society.

As I got into my teens I began to meet black guys and girls and they seemed OK although I’m sure I continued to believe the lies of my imprinting. Then things began to happen. I attended Snyder High which was a shock after spending K through 8 in a small Catholic, all white grammar school. At Snyder there were fights after school almost every day between blacks and whites and yet the people who treated me best were the black kids. Whenever I got stuck while driving in one of my father’s old cars I was invariably helped by a black guy I didn’t know.

I guess that was when I began to question the lies from my youth. They began to feel wrong and mean spirited. Some twenty years or more later I began to think my own thoughts but the imprinting stayed strong. Finally I had to admit to myself that I had been trained to be a bigot and that that kind of thinking would probably come, uninvited, into my consciousness from time to time. It took a long time for me to stop condemning myself for those thoughts. After all, I had been taught as a young Catholic that we could sin through thought, word or deed. Now I know that these thoughts are harmless because I’m aware of them and their root and that as I maintain that awareness they’re very unlikely to become words.

August 10, 2007

I’ve been trying to write this piece off and on since April and every time I open the file I get stuck and I shut it down. It must be some kind of fear that maybe I won’t tell it like it really is. Tomorrow is my son Andy’s 40th birthday and he comes to mind whenever I think about the bigotry against black people that I believe pervades our society. You see Andy and I met when he was 4 years old and my former wife and I adopted him. He was then and still is a very loving soul who had not been taught the fears of difference that society had drummed into me. Andy went to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark where suburban white kids were the minority population. He didn’t understand racism. Once during his years at SBP a family friend asked to arrange a basketball game between the SBP eighth grade and a team that this friend was coaching. This “friend” told me that his smart, suburban, white boys would beat these black, city kids. I never told Andy about this comment and the game went on. Of course I knew that black and smart were not mutually exclusive terms and that the SBP team would prevail, which they did, and handily. After the game this friend drove Andy home. At dinner that night Andy asked me if Mr. Xxxx was a racist. Apparently the unexpected loss caused Mr. Xxxx to make some remarks which gave Andy the impression, the correct impression, that he was a racist. I told Andy that it would be best for him to decide that question for himself.

I have been saying for years that a primary problem in America is bigotry against African-Americans and I believe it more now than ever. Further, I believe that this bigotry comes from fear. My sense is that white men are afraid of black men, afraid that they are stronger and possess greater sexual prowess and that this fear drives these white racists to keep black men down. The sad history of our country vis-à-vis the black race began with slavery and continues; showing only slight signs of abating.

I’m still not finished writing on this most important subject but I feel like if I don’t start publishing it now I might stall forever.

Posted October 15, 2007

2 Comments

You mean it’s not true?

Just making light of a heavy subject…thanks for your thoughts! Once again you capture in words, truth!

Hawaii was great!

see you soon,
with love,
David

Phil,
I share your belief and concern that racism–particularly against black people–is one of the key issues of this nation, since hundreds of years ago, and continuing today.
The average white person doesn’t feel this at all, I believe; but I believe it to be true (having been married to a black woman helps sensitize one).
It is probably fear-based, as you say. And it is deeply affected by denial. And it has been turned inward by the black community itself, which struggles with its own version of self hatred and racism.
It is not just this country–racism against dark skin is pretty worldwide. But it’s pretty bad here; and all the more because we’ve gotten rid of the more blatant, obvious versions. We have left behind the shape, the skeleton, the shadow and the smell of racism, even if the overt body of it isn’t what it used to be. And that conjures up even more fear.
Please keep speaking out on it, digging courageously into your own experience to elucidate it.

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