Monday, January 19, 2009

Thoughts about America

Lately I've reflected on how proud I am to be an American. The pride is nothing new, of course; there has never been a country where I would rather live. But we have often lurched along. Memory doesn't reflect the past perfectly, but a number of impressions linger from my childhood and early adulthood. No black faces in my Beverly, Massachusetts neighborhood or in any neighborhood I knew of; "nigger-lovers" as a term for anyone who thought blacks had rights; my dad saying he liked Negroes in general, but specific Negroes he disliked were "niggers"; segregated rest rooms and water fountains on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and points south; my dad refusing to let us eat in a Georgia restaurant that had a "no Negroes" sign in the front window; my older brother turning off the television specifically to prevent me from watching Martin Luther King's great speech in Washington; that same brother years later working for a black supervisor and not complaining; a Ku Kux Klan storefront in Montgomery, Alabama; cousins in Mobile joking about "darkies"; hearing comments about interracial marriage and how thoughtless and cruel those couples were to produce children who would be rejected by both races. (Give it up, Barack. There's no hope for you, man.)

My son turns 35 in a few weeks. He has never seen any of this. We are a different society now, and we are the same. We are still sinful, virtuous, vibrant, outrageous, arrogant, powerful, prejudiced, accepting, and free. We are the country so many foreigners love to hate, and the country so many yearn to live in. Some day, my white son will no longer be in the majority in America, and it won't matter. We are a country that can and does remake itself.

Many of my friends supported John McCain, a good man, for President. Had he won, of course I would still be proud. But to see Barack Obama enter the White House is a remarkable statement about how much this country has grown.

11 comments:

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

I remember my grandparents talking about coloreds, and how lazy and criminal they were. I challenged them on that but they didn't give in. My parents taught me people were people no matter what color their skin. There are good and bad in every race. I am proud that I voted for Barack Obama for president. What a battle it has been to reach this point.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

My 91-year-old uncle was raised with certain prejudices and was the manager of a store that at one time had separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks. Yet, he was able to castoff his bias and vote for Obama. I am so proud of him and our country.

Jane Kennedy Sutton
Author of The Ride
http://janekennedysutton.blogspot.com/

Joy said...

Well said. I grew up in Puerto Rico. My first encounter with racism was in 8th grade (1968) when a white boy from Texas and a black girl from New York came to our school. I couldn't believe the stories they told. Now, I didn't like the girl just because I didn't like her. She said I was prejudice. I was hurt that she said that, I just plain didn't like her, not her color, that made no difference to me then or now.

Many years later I lived i Key West, FL. The city moto is "One Human Family". That's the way it should be everywhere.

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Christina E. Rodriguez said...

McCain is a good man and I hope the administration won't forget the things he can bring to the table. It was hard for me to see a war hero get clobbered during the election, but I'm sure he's going to bounce back.

Katie Hines said...

Good post. I don't recall my parents talking about any of this. I do recall my native American grandfather calling our African-American "niggers."

He should talk. When he first married my grandmother, because he was a native American, their marriage was not legal in many states.

Glad our country has risen above those challenges.

Marvin D. Wilson said...

I absolutely loved this post. I think you and I are from the same era, Bob - I too remember all those racial tones from years gone (thankfully) by. I remember when I started dating and getting serious about a black girl in college, my Grandparents, strict religious Christians, argued that the Bible was against the mixing of races.

Well phooey - I married her anyway. And our racially mixed fully grown kids are wonderful well adjusted members of a society that today has dropped a lot of the crap we had to grow up with in terms of misunderstanding and racial inequities.

Ruth D~ said...

Well-said, Bob. We are a remarkable country because we strive to better ourselves. And change is good.

kriswaldherr said...

I agree with you. I'm old enough to remember being bused to another school, so it could be racially integrated. Decades later, I don't think my daughter notices that her best friend at preschool is a different race than her. Hooray for progress!

Annay Dawson said...

Thank you for such and insightful piece. I am not old enough to remember what you had talked about but am not young enough not to have seen some of the leftover affects of it. The one thing a friend of mine said back in the eighties (I was in college then) was that he was surprised when he visited the south. In some places the African Americans still stepped off the sidewalks for white folk. Glad things just keep on getting better and better in this country!

Leon Basin said...

I like your thoughts! How are you doing? Hope all is well.

Chester Campbell said...

You prompted an interesting discussion, Bob. I grew up in Nashville when "nigger" was a normal term, but my mother forbade us to use it. One black family lived in a house a few blocks up my street. They had a boy who walked home from school through the alley behind us. I worked at The Nashville Banner in the fifties and we had a black reporter who wrote his column at home and brought it to the office. Happily things have changed completely since those days. I was a McCain man and didn't vote for Obama, but I wish him well and have high hopes he will be able to make some of the changes he espouses.