Monday, July 16, 2012

Some People Never Evolve.


Bronx rainbow. Rare, but they do occur...
My dad was a simple, unremarkable man by most standards. He immigrated to America with his parents at the age of five. His parents pulled him from ninth grade to work in their grocery store during the depression; not finishing high school was his biggest regret in life. WWII got him drafted and sent overseas, where he served without incident; that was how he obtained his citizenship. My mother, also an Italian immigrant, got her citizenship when she married him.

In the sixties, my father believed that a woman's place was in the home. When his daughter and millions of other women became career-oriented, he understood the inherent logic, and changed his opinion. Raised as a Catholic Italian, he thought his children should marry within their faith, of their own kind. When his daughters married Irish and German, respectively, he realized it wasn't so important. Later on, he met Jewish girls I dated and told me that if I liked them, that was good enough for him.

When I was young, he called Afro-Americans "colored." When they demanded to be called "black," he said he didn't understand the reasoning behind it, but adapted soon enough. My dad wasn't prejudiced in any way that I can remember. When he retired, he went on a cruise with my mom; at their table every night was a gay couple. "I tell you Charles, they were the nicest people."

The same couldn't be said of our Italian neighborhood. It has since integrated somewhat, but when I was young, potential buyers or renters had to be interviewed by the neighborhood "Association" first. If you were a minority, you weren't moving in; it was that simple. I saw an organized protest down the main street only once. Blacks and latinos were marching and chanting, signs in their hands. Police paddy wagons simply came and carted them away, like so much trash.

I heard the worst racial epithets you can think of when I was a kid, saw terrible acts of cruelty and violence...maybe one day I'll write about them. I was in my twenties when the Howard Beach incident occurred. Some black youths had their car break down in a white neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were beaten with bats; one young man ran into traffic and was killed by a car. I was fresh out of college, living in Manhattan, dating an older black woman. Because of my relationship, it was all very personal to me, and somewhat surreal. With my naive idealism, I could no longer understand racism, even though I had seen it when I was younger. It had all but disappeared from sight when I moved into the city. I figured people had finally realized how ignorant the concept was, and now it was gone. I thought the world had moved on.

Obama becoming President was obviously a big milestone; I guessed that only isolated, backwards pockets down south or in rural areas wouldn't vote for him based solely on his color. Then I went to my grammar school reunion last week.

I saw people I hadn't seen in 36 years. Some had become successful, some had not. We had some 'bad' kids show up, as well as 'good' kids. Two of my classmates had rented the backroom of a restaurant; there was food and a DJ, spinning music a bit too loud. I saw some of the men having a smoke outside, and figured I'd get some air as well. One of them was talking about how the neighborhood had changed. He bemoaned the fact that the Association no longer had any power, and then unleashed a string of racial vulgarities that I hadn't heard since I was 12.

I quickly walked away, unable to listen to another word. I was utterly shocked; one part of me couldn't believe the words I'd heard. Another part of me time-tripped instantly: a mental slingshot 40 years backward in the blink of an eye, to a terrible world of bullying and mindless hatred. How could someone still hold the same ignorant beliefs after 35 years, after so much had changed in the world around them? Is it possible to drown out all reason, all evidence of an evolving society, to emotionally castrate oneself against a greater good for mankind?

Apparently so.

2 comments:

  1. I agree with your sentiments in principle but man, have you been naive. Racism is more prevalent and widespread than ever before, maybe not in terms of percentage but definitely in terms of numbers. The fact that you're blogging indicates you're on the Internet - have you heard of sites like 4chan and encyclopedia dramatica? And those are just examples of bigotry for immaturity's sake. Try chimpout.com and it's linked partners for instance - racists are enabled by the net in ways they never were before, there are entire communities online of hateful ignoramii. Have you done an unfiltered google search of the "N" word at any point? It's time to wake up my friend.

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  2. Thank you for your comments.

    The only racist website I've visited is stormfront.org, a white supremacist organization. It's probably not even one of the more egregious offenders.
    I think the problem is that the internet and cable tv now allow the individual to live in their own echo chamber, hearing commentary and seeing images that reinforce their own internal narrative.
    I hadn't heard of the sites you mentioned--which leads me to believe that civil rights groups and the greater public spotlight hasn't either.

    Online child pornography is monitored and pursued by law enforcement with great vigor--if that same vigilance were applied to racist sites, some headway might be made.

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