My Life as a Racist

I have never thought of myself as racist, but in recent times, when everyone and his siblings seem to be designated as racist, I began to wonder if I ever had tendencies to think that way.  I checked the definition, and it seems that most commonly, the word is used to describe people who are prejudiced or have dislike for others of a different race.

In my formative years, I recall no prejudice, because I don't remember instances in which I was exposed to those who were racially different.  Like most young children, I was always asking questions.  Why was that man in a wheelchair?  Why does she have gray hair and so many wrinkles?  Why is his skin different from mine?  But I don't think I considered those others as less than myself — just different.  Is awareness of difference a prejudice?  My childish mind probably did not think of myself as better or worse than those people.  I simply started to become aware that not everyone is the same in this world.

I graduated from high school in l954, so I was aware of racial difficulties pointed out in the news.  If I thought about segregation at all, I suspect I saw no reason for it.  I have always been a voracious reader, and for some reason, one of the novels I read in high school was about a white girl who fell in love with a black man.  I remember finding out that it was against the law back then for black and white to marry — I even looked it up because it struck me as odd.  Characters in books often become my best friends for a time, and this couple truly distressed me because I wanted happily ever after for them, and I think they ended their relationship.  They could have married in other countries, but they wanted to remain in the United States, and because of their families (and any children they might have), they chose to separate.  I grieved for their loss.  I failed to understand why there should be a law against their caring for each other and eventual marriage.

I went to a state college after high school in order to utilize a scholarship and found there were a few black females in the dorm to which I was assigned.  I think I was curious about them, but then I was curious about so much related to starting my college experience that I gave it little thought.  Over time, I got to know these girls (and many others who were different) and seem to recall being surprised that they were not very different from me.  While still in high school, however, I heard my Dad saying his father (who lived his life on the south side of Chicago) refused to watch baseball games when the first black player joined a team.  I found that extremely hard to believe; he was a grouchy old man but was essentially kind

Time heals many things; I have learned that lesson many times over the years I have lived.  I married, had children and grand- and great-grandkids.  I have had a wonderful life overall, despite rampant addictive illnesses in my family.  In time, I realized that we grow mainly because of the challenges we fight our way through in life.  Earlier this year, I was widowed after 60 years of marriage, so this year I am learning to deal with yet another kind of grieving process.  

Those of us who live in this United States are so lucky, and for the most part, we take far too much for granted.  I am no better.  I know how important having an attitude of gratitude is, but I often need to force myself to think about all I am grateful for in my life.  Recently, I have heard many comments related to racism and how many people feel it has grown worse in recent years.  I am here to tell you this is simply not true.  When you have lived as long as I have, you can look back and see how it was, what happened, and what it is like now.

Today, black and white people marry.  Our recent president was black.  Now, he was also half-white, so it bothers me that he is considered a black man.  He is both black and white — he is biracial.  Tons of people are biracial.  Racial mixtures are fairly common today.  I used to fantasize that all racial problems would someday disappear because we would be so mixed, such mongrels, if you will, that we'd all be a blend.  I never understood why any amount of black blood would seemingly make an individual black.  My guess is that that came out of fear, because somehow being white was mistakenly accepted as better than being black.

I will admit that for many years, financial success seemed far easier if one had white skin, but that is truly not the case today, in my opinion.  With black and white intermarriages, I gather that offspring from those marriages can have variations in color.  This should be a good thing, but perhaps there might still be fears that a white woman could have a black child?  So what?  I see lots of folks in my town where black children appear to be with white parents.  It would not surprise me to see the other side of the coin.  These days, many people adopt children of other races, and in my experience, few even notice.

Sometimes this whole issue appalls me to the point where I want to scream.  What is wrong with us that we focus on such stupid things?  We are all human beings.  We are all unique, yet we are all similar in what we look like, what we think, what our values are, what our life experiences have been.  Skin color is such a small part of who we are and what we can become.

I lean conservative and always have, but even in my own immediate family, there are conversations we can no longer have because they quickly get out of hand.  I want to love, not hate, my family members.  They don't have to accept my thinking, but it saddens me that there are some subjects that we can no longer freely discuss.  We lack the open-mindedness to consider variations in thinking, opposing views.   We become brainwashed and spout off memorized platitudes we have come to accept as gospel.  We are unable to see that thoughts can meander in multiple directions, and all generally have some valid points.

My sons call me "wishy-washy" because I seem to be mainly able to see both sides of most questions.  Most things in life blend and combine so that they are not black and white.  Perhaps we would all benefit from broadening our perspectives.  I won't live overly much longer, but I pray that those coming after me will have at least as good a life as I have experienced.