This column will end where it starts.
With some trepidation almost two decades ago, I passed out one of my earliest Tribune columns entitled “I was a teenage racist” at a local NAACP meeting. (Barbwire Jan. 12 1990 et seq.)
Former NAACP President and LDS Elder William Moon stood up and termed it “excellent.”
Thanks, old friend.
“How could a kid like me have had any racist leanings? Didn’t I grow up and go to school with ‘Negro’ kids? Sell newspapers with Mexican and Portagee buddies? Hey – color never mattered during a good game of sandlot baseball or parking lot basketball,” I reminisced three decades ago.
“You’re not born with racist leanings, you’ve got to be carefully taught,” I added.
“Even living right next door, your world is white and theirs is otherwise. You hear adult relatives harshly criticize that big-lipped black Baptist preacher from Georgia: ‘Their real goal is racial intermarriage so there will be only one race.’ “
I believed exactly that. It took me many years to wash away all the teachings of my white elders.
If I have learned anything in the intervening half-century, it’s that black people truly do view the world differently than white folks. (I apologize for continued use of the scientifically indefensible and totally phony skintone distinction.)
In George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” (aka “My Fair Lady”), Eliza Doolittle asserts that “the difference between a flower girl and a lady is not how she behaves but how she is treated.”
In the area of honorable treatment, the United States of America remains sorely lacking. Right down to this very day.
The New York Times just sent journalists to Onancock, Virginia, hometown of embattled Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam who’s under serious fire for wearing blackface in college.
His old friends support him. “We didn’t see race,” said Rev. Robert Garris, Jr., who played basketball with Northam when the future doctor was one of only two whites on a segregated high school’s team.
“As a pediatric neurologist and volunteer medical director at a children’s hospice, Mr. Northam visited the homes of hundreds of African-American families in crisis. And yet, many people who know him best now worry that he may have missed some basic lessons about the struggles of his black neighbors,” The Times reported on Feb. 11.
“Gerald Boyd, who is black and has lived on the Eastern Shore since 1951, said Mr. Northam’s case was a cautionary tale that the nation’s racist conditioning can snare even well-meaning people.”
Reminds me of me.
“ ‘That conditioning slips out in the form of thoughts and feelings and words, jokes and deeds,’ he said. ‘Until white people have a chance to talk about how they have been conditioned, it’ll sneak up on them,’ “ Boyd said.
Been there. Done that.
So what’s the cure for the ancient hangover of toxic, chronic, superficial, hard-wired, corrosive, societally manufactured “differences” originally used to justify slavery and oppression?
How about total intermarriage? Everyone’s cultural heritage will survive just fine. Witness the popularity of Ancestry.com/ (Blacks, whose roots were severed beginning 400 years ago, will have a bit more trouble.)
As wiseman Bill Maher once noted, “Americans don’t do nuance.”
Thus, only when everyone exhibits the same café au lait tan skin will this adolescent, superficial society, increasingly imprisoned within pocket-sized TV screens, begin to grow up.
Text me in 100 years.
“IN THE END, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” — John Lennon
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Be well. Raise hell. Esté bien. Haga infierno.
Andrew Barbano is a 50-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com and RenoSparksNAACP.org where a greatly expanded version of this column will appear. He serves as first vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail email@example.com Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.