I hate to admit it but I grew up in a home environment with parents who were somewhat uppity and very judgmental of others. They used terms like “they’re not our kind” and made disparaging comments about those of certain races and creeds.
This kind of attitude was very confusing for me. Growing up on Long Island and going to public schools I was exposed to people of all races, backgrounds and creeds and I guess I was naïve to think that because of it everyone should be able to get along.
The other confusing part of my parents behavior was that neither of them came from particularly wealthy or privileged backgrounds and the only reason we had a really nice home and other trappings of wealth was because my parents lived well beyond their means. It was also very confusing to me that they still held onto those ideas and behaviors even after my father’s business went bankrupt and we lost most of the things we had.
Despite my resistance to embracing their ideas and beliefs, it was still difficult not to wonder at times or fully understand where all of the hatred and bigotry came from and how it felt to be the ones who people denigrated.
During the summer following my freshman year of college I found a job working on the docks in Long Island. One of the guys I worked with was a black man named Johnny. Johnny was a former football star at J.C. Smith University and a mountain of a man. He was also a great person. Johnny had an Irish wife and two beautiful children.
One day that summer of 1967 Johnny took me to the horse races in NYC. On the way we stopped off in his town of Amityville so he could check on things at his fish store. As he knew it would take him a while he asked me to hang out at a local bar.
At the time Amityville had a very large black population and it was during a time of civil unrest in the country. When I walked into the bar all went quiet and I saw everyone staring at me like I had two heads. I found I was the only white person in the place and most likely the only one who had ever stepped foot in the place.
At first I felt very uneasy and it struck me that this is how any minority must feel in a similar setting. After a bit of third degree questioning, a few beers and a bit of banter, however, I started to feel at home and very safe. After a while we even discussed race relations and they were very open and honest about how tough it was being a minority in this country.
They confided in me that they really respected Johnny but couldn’t understand why the local girls in the town weren’t good enough for Johnny so that he felt the need to marry a white woman. I knew Johnny well enough to know he married for love but I could certainly not argue with their logic.
That episode helped to clarify for me that we are all the same regardless of race, background, nationality or sexual persuasion and that we all want the same things in life and to be treated as equals.
I later became very interested in the freedom movement led by Martin Luther King. I had a black roommate for a while my sophomore year who led a protest at Belmont Abbey College where I attended that year and I saw how he was treated because of it. As a matter of fact my parents forced me to change room mates because of his color saying they would disown me if I didn’t. Although my room mate understood, I was both embarrassed and heartbroken over it.
We used to play a lot of card games in the suite so my later room mate taped the ace, king, queen, jack and ten of spades (royal flush) on the want. Later in the evening the day that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated I returned to my room to find the king of spades lying face down on the floor. Although it may have been a coincidence, to me it seemed like it was God’s way of showing us how saddened he was over this great man’s death.
What Dr. King, the constitution and the bible has tried to tell us is that we are all equal and have the God given right to be treated as such. I hope Dr. King’s legacy lives on and we never forget as a nation what he and so many others have fought for. After all, that’s what our nation was supposed to be founded upon in the first place.
Thanks for checking in this week and I hope none of us ever give up the fight for the things we believe in and that we will always be open to a better idea and way of looking at things.