A columnist’s call for Republicans to grow up gets a response.
(Page 2 of 4)
I attended school at a thoroughly modern high school, grades 8-12. There was a duplicate a bare six miles away — for the black kids. Except that this was 1965 and integration was arriving. There was one black girl in our school — one among about a thousand white kids. Maxine was her name. She was in my French class and rode my school bus, since we both lived on the same route. While she was actually closer to the “black” school her parents wanted her to go to the allegedly better “white school” — and thanks to the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, she could and did exercise that right. Now that the law was slowly — very slowly — taking effect, she was literally the first black child in the area to do so. Shy but friendly, I made friends with Maxine because, it finally struck me, I was one of the few kids who would speak with her. We were both outsiders, something that her blackness and my new face and New England accent only emphasized. (“He talks like one of them damn Kinidy boys” was a comment I overhead.)
After about two weeks, I began to realize that when Maxine boarded the school bus coming and going every day, something odd happened. School buses have seats for two, and as such the safety rules require only two kids can sit in the same seat. Curiously, I realized the other kids were scrunching three and sometimes four in a seat with the silent assent of the bus driver — because no one would sit with Maxine. I talked with my parents. I knew who Rosa Parks was, and I certainly knew of Dr. King. But there was no pretension to leading some sort of teen-age crusade. I was just mad. Maxine was being deliberately, quite publicly humiliated because of her race. Since she was picked up in the morning well after I was, my chance would only come in the afternoon when everyone boarded the bus at the same time. That next afternoon, as school ended and we all clambered noisily aboard the bus, I took a determined breath and sat down with Maxine.
You could hear the proverbial pin drop. For the entire ride to her home no one said a word — except Maxine and me as we shyly chatted about French class. When she got off the bus, the silence gave way to taunts. Friendly kid that I was, I just grinned. And did it again the next day, and the next and the next. Friends were eventually made, and after a very long time — almost the rest of the school year — Maxine got other seatmates than me. But it was abundantly clear that racism, as thick as it could be cut, was in the air.
Meanwhile, Dad had a bigger problem. As was his customary practice, he would always leave the house after dinner and go tour the hotel one last time for the night. Checking to see that all is well in the disparate parts of one of these operations, he said, was a managerial must. That particular night he walked into the hotel coffee shop, stumbling into an incident that would change his — and our — lives. The hotel owner, perhaps intoxicated, was in the process of publicly berating a frightened waitress. She was black. The owner, white. Dad said racial epithets filled the air. Loud. Abusive. Humiliating. Very, very public. In an instant my father physically positioned himself between the terrified, tearful black waitress and the white owner, telling the owner that whatever the young woman had done or not done (it was something of a trivial nature), this behavior towards an employee was unacceptable. Whereupon the owner promptly fired both the waitress and my father. On the spot.
Now what? Dad had moved our family hundreds of miles from familiar turf. Civil rights — racism — was no longer an abstract. This wasn’t grainy gray images of Walter Cronkite from the old Zenith. This was real life, vividly so. Shaken but determined, Dad decided to try again. Taking the family savings he bought an old diner in the middle of town, turning it into one of the new fashionables of the day — a pancake house. There was a glistening new grill in the window so passersby could see the product being made. He interviewed for cooks.
Now came “mistake” number two. The best qualified cook was a black woman. He gave her the job. A job that meant she had supervisory authority over others — who were white. Word spread like wildfire that Dad had made a black woman a boss over whites — men and women both. Only months ago as the manager of the brand new hotel in town he was a new part of the town gentry, a regular attendee at Rotary meetings and the like. Now, his restaurant was boycotted and he was the subject of scorn, fighting for his —- and our — economic survival. I will never forget the sight of my dad, the collar of his old World War II jacket up to protect against the cold (a jacket that bore the insignia of a Captain of army artillery) walking the streets to hand out fliers advertising his pancakes, all too frequently to be brusquely ignored. Sometimes, after school or on weekends, I went with him.
It was no use. Phone calls were coming into the house now. Ugly, whispering anonymous calls to my mother. The “n… lover” phrase snarled through the phone line. The water was cut off, requiring a special trip to the water department to verify that yes, the bill had already been paid. Did Mom wish to register to vote as a Republican? Sorry, said the registrar — the books were in the attic. Get them, Mom said with a smile. I’ll wait.
There’s more here, but you get the idea. After two years of this Dad simply had to yield to common sense and our family retreated across the Mason-Dixon line to Pennsylvania, which is the family home today. He passed away just shy of 90 not long ago. I mentioned this story in his eulogy, startling his friends who had never heard it. Mom, I assure you, has never forgotten.
As a lesson in racism, this was, for me, a “defining moment.” Kids being kids, I spent lots of conversations discussing race with my white classmates. Gingerly at first, curiously and eventually quite openly, my classmates opened up. Both boys and girls. Racism, I learned, was not a gender thing. I heard many arguments about the importance of the white race. About the superiority of the white brain. About the need to maintain racial distinctions and accept the wisdom of whites over blacks. To my mother’s horror I was invited to a Klan meeting as the guest of a classmate’s uncle. Politely, the invitation was declined. My classmates and I just agreed to disagree on the subject. I made friends, was elected a class officer, had a girlfriend. But I was exposed to the very hard reality that racism could so permeate someone’s thinking that they never think twice about it. Casual racial references are made that are simply off the charts — yet no one speaks up because in that universe this behavior is considered the norm.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS have to do with Judge Sotomayor?
There is much more to her now-famous “wise Latina” speech.
Here are other sections from Judge Sotomayor’s speech, the full text courtesy of the New York Times.
To illustrate the point I have changed the racial and gender references:
* “I intend tonight to touch upon the themes that this conference will be discussing this weekend and to talk to you about my white identity, where it came from, and the influence I perceive it has on my presence on the bench.”
* “The story of that success is what made me and what makes me the white man that I am. The white side of my identity was forged and closely nurtured by my family through our shared experiences and traditions.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?