Saturday, June 28, 2008

On Racism

A friend of mine has written about how he shook the racist upbringing he received while growing up under apartheid. Reading this reminded me of some of the stories my mom told me about growing up on the gulf coast of Florida.

My grandfather ran fishing tours out to the gulf and got lots of flack for being hired by a black man. But to him money was money, that's what he told the men who were giving him a hard time. But in reality he had no problem with people of any color. Neither did my grandmother. In the days of buses having separate sections for blacks and whites she make my aunt give up her seat when an old black woman got on and there were no other seats free. This was something many people in the south just didn't do.

I remember hearing my grandfather come inside after working in his garden and saying "Boy, I'm sweatin' like a nigger goin' to election." I was only about 5 at the time so hearing nigger being used like this was just funny to me. I didn't understand what he really meant though. When he was younger blacks had to worry about going out to vote. But his use of the term nigger shows, to me at least, that he was still a product of his time. I judge him by his actions and not his witty quips!

Personally, I was fortunate to have parents who had no outward hatred of blacks. I'm pretty sure they would have shit a brick had I ever come home with a black girl but they held no other ridiculous views of people of different colors. I also benefited from living in multiple states and out of the country for a while so this helped to solidify my world view that we are all just about the same.

Yet, as I left college in 1994 I met up with racism again. Working for a large southern company I learned about the "good 'ol boy" club. I met people who thought blacks didn't swim because their bones were too dense and they would sink. I met people who told me to my face that "it's not black people I have a problem with, it's the mixing of the races." At one point my boss asked me "You a Jew?" I wish I had my smart-ass attitude then that I have now. I've replayed that scene many times and come up with a dozen good answers. They tried to see if I was gay during my first interview by asking "So...ya married?" Totally illegal here to ask that but they did. I replied "Not yet..." I figured I would keep them guessing. Fortunately, the good ol' boy club has been broken up over the years but I'm sure it exists elsewhere still.

Now having met someone born and raised in South Africa and seeing how he overcame the racism I'm filled with hope. He is, like my grandfather was, a pentecostal Christian. They were both raised in a climate of racism but they both saw through the lies and came to their senses. We disagree on religion but when it comes to race I think we are on the same page.

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