Tom was sitting in the rowboat with 3 of his buddies, they had the afternoon free of classes in the seminary and they decided a rowboat ride on the Mississippi was just what the doctor ordered. They had their lunch and their drinks and were prepared for a great afternoon. They were kidding each other as twenty-somethings will do.
It was hot – I mean summer in the deep south kind of hot. The boys hadn’t anticipated that amount of heat; the aluminum boat and reflections off the water only intensified that heat. Smitty decided he was so hot he’d jump in the water to cool off. He didn’t understand the currents of the Mississippi – nor could Smitty swim; neither could any of his buddies.
It happened quickly, they knew he was in trouble and they knew they were unable to help.
As they watched Smitty thrash around, trying to stay afloat, they could only scream for help. A passing boat heard the screams and Smitty’s buddies pleaded for help to save him. One question was asked by the would-be rescuers, “Is he a N***** too?” Smitty was.
They never saw Smitty again…
As you note, even in recounting this story I cannot even type the real word that was used, most everyone simply knows it as “the N word” – it’s just too painful and brings too many memories of my childhood and youth to even type.
I tear up nearly every time I recount this story – for Smitty some I guess, but I never met him. I guess I weep for those times, for the people who lived in that aura of outward hate but mostly for Tom.
You see, Tom was my father. The time was around 1940. My father was on the way to becoming the 1st Diocesan Catholic priest in the State of New York, the fourth in the entire country. Many people knew my father but extremely few knew he had been a Catholic priest – it was something he hid from nearly all – including me.
I don’t know if it was merely his level of privacy that made him keep this secret or maybe some level of embarrassment or shame. Perhaps it was simply that he didn’t want to have to explain; explain that while he was so honored to have been one of those who’d broken the color barrier of the priesthood, that he’d been equally disappointed that the Church still would not let the “colored” priests have their own parishes. Perhaps that was it.
But I’ll never know for sure because he died without us ever discussing – he’d felt his children would have been disappointed in their father. He would never be able to understand the strength I knew he had needed to have.
From his experiences, it would have been wrong – but understandable if my father taught his children to fear White people, even understandable to hate. But he didn’t, he taught compassion, understanding and acceptance of the views of others… but don’t get me wrong, every time I got into a fight over my color he was always wanting to make sure I didn’t start the fight, but that I would finish the fight. “Turning the other cheek” was seemingly a sentiment that only went so far when we were attacked. And by the way, I grew up in Vermont – the state with the lowest percentage of minorities in the country; so there were a few fights.
But he didn’t teach us to fear or to hate, my parents taught us equality; in ourselves and others.
Over 70 years later the subject of race is still one of the most powerful “hot buttons” of conversation and has been riddled in the news as of late. Whether it is the stupidity of Paula Deen, the actions of George Zimmerman, the recently banned “stop and search” of New York City or the continuous conversation of Hispanics entering the country illegally – racial bias, prejudice and blatant racism is of topic.
All the media seems to be talking about it and it seems very cyclical – but few are offering solutions; and as we know – it is not going away. And in my opinion, it is the greatest threat we have.
I have attempted to stay away from the topic, I guess out of fear that I might alienate potential future corporate clients – but no more; after all, if they don’t truly want to eradicate the problem I wouldn’t want to work with them.
I made a presentation last year at a Diversity Symposium of a large corporation and explained that the elimination of racial, cultural, gender, orientation and religious bias is possible. Afterwards, I was approached by several participants asking whether I’d be involved in some sort of program furthering the discussion within the corporation – of course it would be up to the organization. I never heard back from them – I may have offended them as well, perhaps because I told the truth.
The solution is not merely continually re-hashing of injustices done to Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, Gays, etc. The truth is that the solution involves understanding our histories, accepting our histories and understanding the fears these histories have in common. I call them Carried Generational Perspectives.
And by the way, though it’s a new term – Carried Generational Perspectives explain the otherwise inexplicable devotion or rebellion of political parties within households and allegiances toward sports teams. It is based on the unconscious connection of alliance with our caretakers; and of course our caretakers unconscious connection of alliance with their caretakers, and so on and so on. This unconscious connection of alliance is closely connected unconsciously with the love we have for these people.
When we understand the concepts of Carried Generational Perspectives we can all begin to understand the why’s. If we allow ourselves to understand that IF the parents, grandparents and great grandparents of the majority had the knowledge of today, things would be different – they would understand that Blacks didn’t have tails, that Jews weren’t evil, etc. But they didn’t have the knowledge. They, like all humans feared anything different.
There are no logical or scientific bases of racism or prejudice and therefore when we become aware of, accept and embrace the understanding of the views of previous generations we can immediately begin to address the conflicts we have within ourselves of prejudice; because we know it is wrong. Understanding and forgiving our ancestors for passing on fears that future generations allowed to evolve into Hate is the key; this process is powerful and life altering.
Many “experts” continuously claim we all need to be able to have “the conversation”; others spout statistics of the problem. But conversation isn’t enough. And hearing the statistical evidence that a White man with a criminal record has a higher likelihood of being called back for a job than a Black man with exact qualifications without a criminal record, doesn’t help either – in fact, it just pisses people off.
Today with science, DNA and ancestral documentation we know we are all the same – but they didn’t know that. And if all minorities of culture, race, religion, etc. are able to stop wanting any retribution or at least some sort of generational apology, we may be able to move forward.
My father also wasn’t above passing along Carried Generational Perspectives – I’m sure it was because of my father’s experiences I was unconsciously taught to fear the south and the Confederate Flag and he did worry when I moved to Virginia. I was aware of this wariness I also had – until the day, many years ago I saw the bumper sticker with the Confederate Flag and it read, “Heritage, not hatred”.
That was the day I began to truly understand. We don’t have to carry on the madness.
I’ll leave you to ponder this and how it might impact your life and maybe touch that of another, as well as a humorous anecdote that perfectly explains this phenomenon:
One Easter a little girl watched her mother prepare the holiday meal. Upon seeing her mother cut off the end of the Easter ham, the girl asked her mother why she cut the end off. Her mother thought for a moment and realized she didn’t know the reason but that her mother always had. The mom told her daughter to ask her grandmother. The little girl went to her grandmother and asked the same question, she too didn’t know but just knew that her mother always had done the same thing.
So finally the little girl approached her great-grandmother and asked, “Great grandma, Mom cut the end off of the Easter ham but doesn’t know why – only that her mother always had. She told me to ask grandma but she didn’t know either but that you always had done the same! So, why did you cut then end off of the Easter ham?”
The great grandmother replied simply, “Because my dear, I never had a pan large enough for the whole hame and cut enough off so it would fit.”
What if we all asked ourselves – are we cutting the Easter ham without knowing why?