I grew up in some of the best slums on the west coast, so I’ve had more than a bit of experience with discrimination.
As you may have noticed in the headline, I’m Caucasian, so the discrimination I personally faced was based on economic status.
Now, while I’m not about to equate that with some other forms of discrimination, it still hurts when you are a kid, and looked down upon because your clothes are a bit shabby and you don’t have the money to do a lot of things other kids get to.
Of course, I got to see, first hand, other types of discrimination based on race, culture, religion and gender. And, even as a kid, none of these made a damn bit of sense.
I was raised by my grandparents. My grandfather was an alcoholic and my grandmother was a true daughter of the South, particularly when it came to race and religion.
I grew up hearing the “N” word a lot, but I knew a lot of “Ns” in the areas I was in, so that really didn’t take. I had far more trouble from my white classmates than my black ones. And, when I got married, my grandmother would not attend the wedding because I married a Catholic girl in a Catholic church.
When I was middle-school age, my family became Mormon and we moved to Mesa, Arizona. My grandfather quit drinking, but would die a few years later from the accumulated effects.
Mesa was a great place to grow up. (If you were a white Mormon, which I was.) If you were black or Hispanic, not so much. Back then, blacks could be Mormons, but couldn’t hold the “priesthood.” Almost every white Mormon male over the age of 12 was in the priesthood, including me.
The not-so-amusing thing is that the church didn’t start off to be bigoted. Back in the days of Joe Smith, blacks held the priesthood and several church offices. It wasn’t until Brigham [The Bigot] Young took over the church, that it became racist. Of course, a few years ago, under pressure, the church had a “revelation” that blacks were no longer cursed by being denied the priesthood.
Then there are Hispanics. The prevailing attitude by the “Saints” (That’s what Mormons call themselves.) towards Hispanics was one of disdain.
In my senior year in high school, I became friends with a classmate that had just moved up from Mexico City. The family was cultured, intelligent and VERY WEALTHY! (Hell, their wine cellar was bigger than my house.)
As 17 year-old boys do, he got a crush on another friend of mine. The girl seemed to feel the same way, but when her parents found out, they hit the roof! How dare she stoop to going out with a (I won’t use the language they used, but you can probably figure it out.)
I don’t believe in “class,” in its societal meaning. And, I certainly don’t believe that wealth makes you any better than anyone else. However, as human beings, his family was a couple of elevator rides above hers.
But, in her family’s eyes, he was just a dirty……
I escaped Arizona after college. The first place I ended up was Waynesville, N.C. Back then it was a bitty burg a tad west of Asheville. I started working at a clothing store that had an old black janitor. He had lived his life in the area and was a very interesting person to talk to. However, after a few conversations, I found myself ostracized by the other (all white) clerks.
When I asked one about that, I was informed that the town had quite a number of Ku Kluxers and being friendly with a (here’s that “N” word again) was not a healthy thing to do. This was right in the middle of the civil rights marches and people were getting beaten and killed.
The stories go on and on, but the point is, discrimination is stupid, wrong and damned counter-productive. Unfortunately, it’s also a valuable political tool.
Politicians down through the ages have mobilized “bottom of the pile” groups by giving them somebody else to look down on. The Democrats did this in the south for a hundred years following the Civil War. Then, as the Dems moved more to the left, (Civil Rights Acts, and that sort of stuff.) The Republicans moved in to take their place.
Dick Nixon’s political strategist, Kevin Phillips, explained their strategy in a New York Times interview:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats. – Nixon’s Southern Strategy: ‘It’s All in the Charts’ New York Times [May 17, 1970]
Even worse than the humiliation, frustration, and desperation that discrimination causes, is the fact that it is tremendously wasteful. If you hold someone down, they have a much smaller chance to succeed.
Yes, there are some that make it despite all the roadblocks, but there are a hell of a lot more that don’t!
How many George Washington Carvers? How many Hillary Clintons? How many Cezar Chavezs? How many Barack Obamas have we missed because the individuals were held down and not allowed to reach their potential?
Think of where we’d be if we really were an egalitarian society!
p.s.: If my ramblings don’t revolt you, check out my FaceBook page (“Grouchy’s Grumbles”) you might just enjoy it. Better yet, you might “like” it. I’d love it if you did. It’s free (and worth every cent) and almost completely painless (other than the usual bad jokes).
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