Racism, bigotry, and hatred for anything different have been around since the beginning of man. Fear of the unknown and things that are different is a human instinct that only education can overcome. It is a plague upon man that must be eradicated but no one knows how to do it.
It starts in the home. You have heard about my white trash upbringing and how I overcame the teachings in my home to become a successful man who takes personal responsibility for my actions and for my future. It should not surprise you that my white trash stepfather was also a racist. The N word was not used frequently but it was used inappropriately when discussing someone of color who he did not like. At about age nine I made friends with some black kids in my apartment complex and was quickly discouraged from hanging out with them. Mind you that they were probably the behaving kids around.
That was a long time ago, but looking back I do not recall ever thinking about their skin color when I first started playing with them. I had moved from Chicago two years before and was playing with kids of all colors there. My best friend was a Puerto Rican kid who my mom would give a pair of my socks to because he had none of his own. When I moved to Arizona I was surprised that there were so few black kids. My schools were pretty much 50/50 white and Hispanic. Asians, blacks, or Indians could be counted on one hand.
I don’t remember racism being a huge problem in school and if anything I was called a gringo a lot. Like cracker, gringo never really felt like the N word to me. The school was not split up into whites vs. Hispanics; it was split into stoners vs. jocks. This really confused me since I knew some of the jocks smoked weed.
The Air Force was my first experience with people from all over the country and of many different races and backgrounds. You had poor and middle class, country and city, White, Black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, Polish, Irish, Italian, just about the perfect melting pot. In the AF I don’t remember any racism, but I do remember having long conversations with my black friends about racism.
Since I got out of the AF I have worked with a few black guys, but I wouldn’t say I have had any black friends. The guys I worked with had families when I was single so we didn’t have much in common. Now that I am married I don’t work with any black guys and well, I just don’t feel the need to actively search out and recruit. But I sure would love to have black friends who I could discuss current politics with. (Is that statement in itself racist?)
Somehow, though my home life would suggest I should be otherwise, I am not a racist. To quote Martin Luther King, I judge no person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I applaud anyone who works hard and succeeds in life, and I abhor anyone who expects something for free.
Teach your kids that racism is bad. Speak out against racist comments when ever you hear them. Shame people for it and do not remain silent hoping it just goes away. It is only through educating both adults and our children that we can overcome our prejudices.