Sunday, June 06, 2004

Watch out for Tractors (Part I)

Hi. My name is AJ, and I’ve got a problem with prejudice.

Hi AJ.

Besides my aforementioned difficulty with staying on task, another thing that I battle with is prejudice. As you might guess in examining structure of the word, prejudice is a conjoining of the root words for, “previous judgement.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge.

You see, I’ve always had this problem with prejudice — I’m prejudiced against prejudiced people. Actually I think that a lot of folks are — It’s quite the “PC” way to be these days. However for me, it runs deeper than political correctness and concerns more than merely racial discrimination.

I don’t have a lot of memories of my real mother (I was primarily raised by my Step-Mom). However one thing that I’ll always remember is her disdain for racial prejudice and those who espoused it, even during a time when such attitudes were to a large degree the common, accepted mode of thinking in this country.

My Mom and her family lived “on the other side of the tracks” in the small Indiana town she grew up in. She was a middle child among 10 siblings to be born in this country to parents who immigrated from Eastern Europe. They started life from scratch here in the United States and were poor, but proud. They had no preconceived notions about their neighbors, most of who were black and usually poorer than they were. My Mom grew up with them, played with them, and respected them. To her, there were no barriers of race or class. They were all of common community, just trying to survive the Great Depression and life in general.

And although Indiana wouldn't be considered a “Southern” state, the Klu Klux Klan were nonetheless active locally when my Mother was a child. I can still remember the expression of fear in her voice as she told of the many nights she watched from her bedroom window, frightened motionless as hooded Klansmen rode through her neighborhood; the vision of their burning crosses etched into her memory.

From as early as I can remember, the “N-word” was considered as vile as any 4-letter word one could utter in our household. Even hinting that blacks were due any less respect than whites was subject to immediate retribution via a good spanking or slathering of soap across the tongue (it’s called “getting your mouth washed out with soap,” for those of you who thought it was a myth — and yes, it really happened…often).

So as you might guess, I grew up with disdain similar to my Mother’s for those who are racially prejudiced towards blacks or anyone else for that matter. We lost my Mom to a long illness in 1968 and soon thereafter moved to Southern California for a fresh start. I was 13. Coming from a town half the size of my eventual high school graduating class, it was definitely a culture shock. But at least in a single regard my beliefs were already in line with those of the culture that I was being transplanted into.

Next: The Evil Empire
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