“Hey old man how can you stand to think that way”
From Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is.”
I often wonder where they come from, what shaped them and if they ever question anything.
And who is they? It’s such a vague impersonal word but I’m applying it here to an entire class of old white people. As an old white dude I feel qualified to talk about this. After all, I’ve been white my whole life.
But these are different white people, white people who seem stuck in some time machine, spouting racist nonsense and hankering for a mythical past that never existed.
I bring this up now because last night Kathy and I went to dinner at somebody’s house in Fort Myers. (No names will be provided).
While I was chatting in another room I caught bits of a conversation she was having with people at the dining room table. Kathy said something to the effect that it would be nice if health care were easier and cheaper and unemployed people could get coverage.
She was accused of being “anti-American” and a “socialist.” What claptrap. Twaddle from the uninformed and the heartless.
She walked over to me right after that and said she wanted to leave immediately. I got up and we walked out. Right then. Together.
From “South Pacific’s” “You’ve got to be Carefully Taught:”
“You’ve got to be carefully taught to hate and fear. … To hate all the people your relatives hate.”
I had a bad feeling when we were introduced to the old dude in the room. He seemed like a caricature of the stereotypical angry old southern white guy, the sort you know it would be a waste of time to mention anything to about literature or movies or the theater.
These sorts of people grew up different than most people I know and likely were taught to hate the people their relatives hate. I wanted to give the scowling gent a chance to display some wit or humor or interest in something but didn’t catch a flicker of curiosity about things I like.
Not sports. Or history. Or classic movies.
I wasn’t taught to hate as a child and my parents loved books and movies and going to shows at a local dinner theater. For that, I’m grateful to my parents.
An anecdote from my childhood I often return to occurred in St. Petersburg at least 50 years ago. I was a Rio Vista Elementary School pupil in the third or fourth grade.
I never and I mean never heard the “N” word in our home. I heard it at school, though.
I used to say things such as eenie, minie, moe, pick a tiger by the toe. That’s what I said. Some other kids used the “N’ word instead of tiger.
I was astonished and appalled and went home one day and asked my parents if these other kids would get in trouble for using a bad word for “colored people.” That’s the term – “colored people” – I would have used half a century ago.
My parents tried explaining the kids would not get in trouble because in their homes they probably heard racist language all the time. They were likely taught the word at home. They were probably encouraged to use such language.
They were being taught to hate.
Get in trouble?
For that word?
With their parents?
Not a chance.
Fast forward to April of 1968, to the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. By then, I was 15.
A moment stands out from the bleak days after he was shot. I was standing in the parking lot of Fossil Park on 9th Street North in St. Petersburg. My dad was there and so were my baseball teammates.
I don’t remember now if what I witnessed that long-ago day came after a game or before a game or maybe after a practice or before a practice.
But I was in the parking lot. I know that.
I can still see and hear a car filled with rednecks barreling south on 9th Street. The young fellows in the car were whooping and hollering and celebrating and exulting and I could hear their gleeful shouts, “The King is dead.”
Carefully taught, indeed.
It seems, if my memory serves me right, my dad and I and my teammates just stood silently as that car zipped past. What could be said about such unbridled hatred and bloodlust?
I couldn’t think of anything to say in 1968. I’ve had 46 years to think about it and still can’t think of anything to say.
By the way, Kathy did the right thing asking to leave last night.