The Saratoga Sun -

'Heritage' is no excuse for racism

 


My father’s side of the family are Virginians and have lived in Fauquier County for close to two centuries. It is a beautiful place with tons and tons of history. He was raised in a small town about the size of Elk Mountain and almost everyone is related to one of two families.

Family reunions in Virginia were made up of touch football games, picnics with awesome fried chicken, hams, salads, watermelon, corn on the cob, fresh baked breads and desserts that would be county fair quality.

Time stands still in many ways in this part of Virginia.

I used to laugh when I said my family there didn’t ever accept that the South lost the Civil War.

Even my father was a little slow about letting go of hurtful attitudes.

I hate to confess, my earliest memory of racism came from my dad.

I was in fourth grade at Arlington Elementary School, an almost entirely white school outside the city of Washington D.C.

Early in the year, I made best friends with the smartest kid in my class. We did a lot of things together in school and, as was custom my folks wanted to get to know who I was hanging with, they asked me to invite him to come to dinner.

The day before he was to come over, I somehow innocently told my parents, my friend was black.

My father lost it. He didn’t yell, but he said in no way could my friend come into the house and got up from the dinner table.

Huh?

Then my stepmother, who was a kind hearted lady, explained there are some things that are just not done. Black people didn’t eat dinner at white people’s homes.

Again, huh?

The next day in school, I had to disinvite my friend. I have never forgotten that feeling. It was awful. I remember this super intelligent kid’s face looking at me from behind his glasses nodding his head.

I don’t remember ever talking to him again.

To my parents’ credit, about three years later my sister had a slumber party where a black girl came. I know my stepmother had something to do with it.

My mother and stepfather were almost the extreme opposite of my father’s disparaging attitude towards people of different races. I have mentioned before in another column, my mother told me to look on the inside, not the outside when judging people.

My father did change with the times to some degree, but he still chafed under change. When the first black family joined our church, he seriously thought about changing, even though he was an elder.

He accepted I had black friends and gave up trying to influence me in that manner. He did tell my sister that she would be disowned if she ever brought home a black husband, so he was not tolerant in some respects.

Funny, he didn’t ever give me that ultimatum. Probably because he knew I had worked in a black bar at one point in Washington D.C.—he wasn’t wild about that, I might add— so forbidding me might actually encourage me to do exactly what he feared most.

Now before you have this picture of a man who was full of vitriol, let me assure you, he believed in helping others. The church was extremely important to him and he gave one third of his income to it for as long as I remember.

He also instilled in me pride in my Virginia heritage from John Smith and Jamestown to the many presidents that hailed from the state.

I also loved the manners he established in me he told me were Virginian traits. To this day, I try to be polite, open doors first for people and often kiss the hands of women when I first meet them. That last act has gotten me positive attention, especially overseas.

So I believe I understand heritage and celebrating it, but if there are painful reminders of a past that was not kind to some Americans now, it doesn’t make sense to me to keep them.

I am a Virginian by birth and breeding, but I am American first and foremost.

The history I learned in school said Robert E. Lee agonized about leaving the Union Army to join the Confederacy. He made a mistake and paid for it by losing his home on the Potomac (home of Arlington Cemetery).

He may have shown his love for Virginia by siding with the South, but I don’t doubt a black person finds him to be a representation of a time that was unfair.

Working in the black bar in D.C. exposed me to a lot of stories of oppression and prejudice about day-to-day life of being a minority. I gave sympathy, but truthfully I had no idea how tough it can be.

Moving to Hawaii, I got my first exposure to being a minority. It is the only state to not have a Caucasian majority. I didn’t get much of the negative attitude many “locals” had against “haolies” (whites) probably because I tan really well and can pass for local if I want although my pidgin (language of locals) is not great.

Asia was the place I discovered being a minority can be a daily ordeal.

Sometimes it was fun being treated differently, but being charged more money and taken advantage of when buying something gets taxing when trying to live your day to day life.

I do want to make clear, many people in Taiwan and China were awesome, but there was really a strong current of racism directed at me because I was white

Going to a nightclub I had to be careful to not offend the groups of men who hung together because I talked to a woman they felt I shouldn’t. It was common enough for a white guy to be dragged out and be beaten with bats because he trespassed in the group’s mind.

Then there were women I dated who made it clear their family was never going to accept a “Weigoran” (Western person). I was a novelty to date, but I was not serious relationship material to a lot of women. Shades of my father’s attitude about races mixing.

I can’t deny, that way of thinking is crazy to me.

There were many stereotypes thrown around by Asians concerning Westerners, that could be another column . . . but not this time.

I will say, many Asians felt white people were inferior to their race whether they said so openly or kept it on the down low.

I was in Asia for years and I learned to accept the prejudice, but it didn’t mean I liked it.

So even though I am a Virginian by birth and have great pride in being one, if statues of confederate heroes of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson make Americans (black or white) uncomfortable because of what they represent, it is time for them to go.

I didn’t like telling my black friend he couldn’t come to my home and seeing the pained look on his face when I was a kid. I also didn’t like being the recipient of bigotry when I lived overseas.

I have to close saying I have seen prejudice by black, white and brown people, and I really find nothing redeeming about it. Hiding behind a statue, saying it is heritage, just doesn’t cut it.

The world is crazy enough without adding more hurt when not necessary.

Robert E. Lee divided the country in life. He doesn’t need to do it in death.

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