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I'm writing this on the anniversary of my mother's birth.  She would have been 88 today.  She was an elementary school teacher, and that connection prompted me to write this story.

I've been going through old photos recently, and I came across two from when I was in elementary school.  They're from a play I was in, and I'd always been kind of proud of my performance, and of the whole show that my rural elementary school put on.  But now, as I look back, something that seemed a little peculiar at the time really bugs me now.

I'll take you back to the small town of Calipatria, California, located in the Imperial Valley.  Calipatria's claim to fame was that it was the "lowest down city in the Western Hemisphere, and that it had a flagpole that went all the way up to sea level: 186 feet.  It was right outside where the Cub Scouts met, and we would sometimes get to raise or lower the flag (that wasn't easy, the flag was huge, flapped in the constant wind, and took several of us to move it on the pulleys.  It took a whole troop to fold it.

Calipatria in the late 50s and early 60s was a very socially stratified town, like a lot of them in the area.  There was a group of predominately white farmer families who owned farms and ranches, and who were quite well off.  There was also a large group of Hispanic families who mainly worked for the white farmers.

Now you'd think that a town of 2500 would probably be able to get by with one elementary school, and indeed, the school I attended, Fremont, seemed to have plenty of room, and it was mostly quite modern for the time.  Yet there was another elementary school not that far away, called Bonita Elementary.  Fremont was attended primarily by children who looked like me, but we had a few Hispanic students.  Bonita, as I am given to understand now, had Hispanic students only.  Even then, although I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it, it didn't make a lot of sense to me why the Hispanic  kids had to go to another school.

Follow me down.

Then, in 1962, when I was in the 4th grade, the teachers decided to put on a big spring pageant/show featuring kids from both schools from grades 1-4.  It was circus theme, with acrobatic acts, lion taming, and music.

As it turned out, the teachers seemed to feel I was the best male singer, because I got the biggest singing part in the show.  It came early in the show.  My two friends Larry and Don, both good singers too, had singing parts, but theirs were nothing like mine.  Larry played the peanut vendor, singing a simple song of "Peanuts, Peanuts, hot roasted peanuts" or something like that, for one pass through the high school gym.  Don followed with his "popcorn, popcorn" song.

I was the organ grinder. I sang a real song with quite a few verses.  My dad built me a prop crank organ, and my mother made a nice costume.  I practiced my song constantly so I knew the lyrics cold, at least back then:

Beppo is fine-a monk,
Not what you'd call a-junk.
He's with me every day,
From me he never stray.

We go from town to town . . .

I think you get the idea.

Now since I was an organ grinder, I had to have . . . a monkey.  And I got one.  I just saw these photos for the first time in probably 45 years.  Here we are doing our act.

The Organ Grinder and his monkey.
We got paid, too.  As you can see there are kids throwing money to the "monkey."
I believe my co-star's name was Armando (it's been a long time).  He was in first grade, and wore a monkey suit with a tail and a kufi.  I liked him, and we practiced together a number of times.  I didn't think much about it, because I figured the little kids got those parts because they were little.

Once we got to dress rehearsal, I finally got to see the whole show, since I was the end of Act I.  I'm not going to say I had some big revelation, because I didn't, but I did notice that the lion tamer was an Anglo kid, and the lions were Hispanic.  I also noticed that all the monkeys were Hispanic kids.  At one point during the show, "my" monkey ran off to join the other monkeys.  There were several other acts.  The Anglo girls played the magician's assistants, while the Hispanic girls played the horses, and on, and on.

But I was nine, and just glad to get through my part without screwing up.  Then it was over, I moved away the next year, and I forgot about it.  I never saw Armando after the show.

So fast forward 50 years.  I got that song back in my head, and I began to see images of the show too.  What had seemed a little odd to me then became abundantly clear to me as an adult.

It's my understanding that lawsuits eventually closed the Bonita school, partly because it was a delapidated fire-trap that didn't meat earthquake standards for schools, and partly because it was pretty clearly a segregated second-class warehouse for kids the powers that be in the town had little regard for, except to be able to drive up in their Cadillacs to the fields, roll down the window, ask "aqua aqui?" to those kids' parents, get told "Si, Senor," and then drive back to their air-conditioned homes and offices.

I don't know if I'll ever get over it now.  I don't believe that the teachers (including my mother, who taught 3rd grade at Fremont), meant any ill-will or even thought there was anything wrong.  Nobody did - it was just the way things were.  But that may be what bothers me the most, that it seemed like it was normal to treat children who looked different like animals.  It hurts me a little to know I was a part of it, and I regret that this didn't come back to me sooner, while my mother was still alive.  I'd have liked to have talked it over with her.

Perhaps I'm making too big a thing about this, but it bothers me a little every day, especially when I hear these mostly Republican, mostly Southern politicians talk about race, Acorn, etc, and act as if we're in a "post racial" society.  I know that's not true, and sometimes it makes me feel as if nothing's really changed in 50 years.  I hope I'm wrong.

11:04 PM PT: Thank you for the Rec List.  My mother would appreciate that.

Originally posted to greggp on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 08:27 PM PST.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges and Community Spotlight.

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  •  Tip Jar (237+ / 0-)
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  •  This sort of thing still happens, sadly. (41+ / 0-)

    Long after school districts officially "integrated", de facto segregation continued.

    I went to elementary school and junior high in San Diego. I even went to a school named after Benito Juarez. Where were the Latino kids? There are none in my class photos.

    I went to high school in a very large suburban DC school; despite a sizable African American population in our town, I don't think I shared more than half a dozen classes with black students in four years.

    Where were those kids? Somewhere else on campus, I guess -- receiving a separate but unequal education.

    A few years ago my daughter's school put on a show in honor of the civil rights movement. All the little blondies got to be "white folks" in the front of the bus; all the dark-haired, darker skinned kids (like mine) got to be Negroes in the back of the bus. And the one actual black child in the class was assigned the role of Rosa Parks.

    I couldn't figure out if this little skit represented progress ... or not ...

  •  I forgot to add ... (38+ / 0-)

    ... my parents grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, when prejudice against Italians was widespread and ugly; my mom told me she had not been allowed to play with little dark-haired girls with pierced ears -- kids just like my own daughter, whose dad is full-blooded Calabrese.

    So, yeah -- your organ grinder: also an ethnic stereotype.

     I believe Joe DiMaggio had quite a lot to say about what it was like growing up Italian American in the City.

    •  this is such an interesting comment to me... (38+ / 0-)

      I grew up in the SF Bay Area with an 'Italian' surname...the only weirdness I got from it was from my grandfather (from whom I of course inherited the name) who perpetually pointed out that our family wasn't Italian (pronounced "EYE-talian in his vernacular) but instead our heritage could be traced to the Switzerland side of the Alps. Of course the pronunciation of the name was completely bastardized to boot (I semi reversed this so pronounce my own last name differently than my remaining family.) Oddly, we're mostly of Scottish of origin on that side of my family, but my grandpa was very clear that he didn't want us to be thought of as Eye-talian.

      Jump forward some time and I'm getting married to a guy with Polish/Italian roots. Heavily Catholic (both small and large C) family. We put off telling one of his grandmas because we were afraid our non-denominational, non-Catholic wedding plans would actually kill her. When we finally broke the news that he was engaged, it was through his mother. The first question she asked was what was my name. Upon hearing it, she exclaimed "Oh Thank God she's Italian!" And the non Catholic wedding turned out to not be an issue...

      Strange world.

    •  My Irish grandmother NEVER accepted her (29+ / 0-)

      Italian daughter in law (my mom). Ironically, she had two Italian DILs, out of three. Nana showered her full-blooded Irish grandkids with gifts and time (actually, I'm quite thankful she didn't want to spend much time with us -- she always scared me. But ooooh I loved my Pop...).

      When my dad made a massive heart attack, subsequent surgery and then a stroke, my mom nursed him back to health. And my Nana actually thanked her and said "I never thought you would stay with him if he got sick." Wow. What exactly in the Italian culture would lead one to believe that Italian women would abandon their husbands in a time of crisis? (My Italian aunt also stood by her husband when he had a heart attack, but my uncle did not survive so she didn't earn props like my mom...)

      On a side note, when we moved to Texas in '69, the grocery store served "Wop Salad" and my ever-shy mother told them that was very offensive. It was listed as "Italian Salad" the next time she went to the store -- so kudos to them...

      It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. -- Molly Ivins

      by theKgirls on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 05:36:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My Irish grandmother used to tell my Irish father (10+ / 0-)

        not to hang around those "other people" too much. It wasn't until later he realized she was referring to Italians.

        Let's go back to E Pluribus Unum

        by hazzcon on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 06:06:44 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  My immigrant Irish mother was as open minded (12+ / 0-)

          as she could be. But her relatives (her mother's American relatives) forbid my at the time 16 year old mother to hang out with other ethnicities. So when she was 17 she moved out on her own and shared an apartment with friends. Another Irish girl, an Italian girl and a Pureto Riccan girl. (Forgive my spell check). My mother's relatives were horrified and I had little contact with them because relations between them and my mother got even worse when my mother married a Northern Irishman.

        •  ...wait, what? (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
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          My parents... My mom is Irish and my dad is Italian. Ive never heard of such things! I have no reason to doubt you at all, mind you I just...it doesnt make sense from what ive seen.

          I was born in the mid 1980s, if that makes a difference. Sorry its just...I find that all rather astounding honestly. Again its not that I dont believe you guys..I tend to trust this community a good bit!

          It just isnt what I experienced and im kinda shocked after reading these things. But I had to ask cause...it just confuses me.

          The only Bug-type Pokemon that can learn the move Fly - Volcarona and Genesect - Are not Flying types.

          by kamrom on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 09:22:11 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Being born in the 80's makes a big difference. (18+ / 0-)

            I was born in 1939, and my parents of German heritage, from conservative Nebraska, routinely used insulting terms for other ethnicities.  They wanted me to go to a high school that didn't have so many Jews.  Visiting relatives didn't want to sit on public transportation because Blacks had used it. On the other hand, my Jewish friends in elementary school wondered if my family supported Hitler, which they didn't.  

            Now my parents never were anything but conservative Republicans, but even they were changed by the sixties.  They didn't say anything when I dated a black man for a while, although I'm pretty sure they didn't like it, but I think the other prejudices that earlier were so common, against Catholics, Jews, Italians, Polish, and on and on, were dropped.  I think television had a lot to do with that, just because they were exposed to different groups that had been totally foreign to them, no matter that they were American. And it was becoming more and more evident that public opinion was turning against the old prejudices, so that what they had believed was no longer sure to be the norm.

            I don't think people born after the fight for equal rights have any idea how universal bias was or how much the world has changed for women, as well as for ethnic groups, gays and lesbians, and people of color.  The social revolution of the sixties and seventies changed even those who didn't personally participate, and there is no going back, even though the Tea Party and talk radio are trying to do just that. Young women in particular today just assume they can direct their own lives and try to be anything, even though there are still some barriers, but they owe a lot to the feminists who struggled for them.  When I was young, women were mostly housewives, secretaries, teachers, and nurses, and much of what women do today was either exceptional then or discouraged. It's often hard to see progress, when there is so much still wrong with the world, but there are so many ways in which these times are better than those of my childhood.

            •  Barbara Marquardt, so many truths in your comment (5+ / 0-)

              especially this:

              I don't think people born after the fight for equal rights have any idea how universal bias was or how much the world has changed for women, as well as for ethnic groups, gays and lesbians, and people of color.  The social revolution of the sixties and seventies changed even those who didn't personally participate, and there is no going back, even though the Tea Party and talk radio are trying to do just that.
              And this:
              When I was young, women were mostly housewives, secretaries, teachers, and nurses, and much of what women do today was either exceptional then or discouraged.
              I was raised in what was a very socially stratified era & communities- the early 50s, the 60s & entered "adulthood" in the early 70s.

              Although raised within a military community-aside from  school out of country-I attended local schools in both Georgia & Texas.  Until I entered high school, I never saw or knew an African American human being in school or in the community.

              Except as an occassional (adult) nanny or maid.

              Same regarding those living with disability. In high school, sadly, my few Jewish peers went to great lengths to keep secret that they were Jews.

              The first Hispanics I met & went to school with was when I was in middle school yet never in any of the multiple subdivisions in the town I lived in or at social events until well into the late 70's.  Same with the few African Americans that lived in my area.

              My first glimpse of racism was when I was in 1st grade in GA.  At the time kiddos lined up to enter the school when the bell rang.  The little white boy behind me was talking about "bringing a scythe to school if any "n word" were allowed to attend our school.  And chop their heads off".

              Having no clue what a scythe or a "n word" was or why anyone would want to chop their heads off, as soon as I got home I demanded from my parents an explanation.

              To add to the complexity of racism & discrimination that I was surrounded with, the military of that era also had rigid rules of no fraternizing between non commissioned & commissioned military (NCO+officers).  I kid you not, this extended to everything from separate living areas, pools, clubs to friendships & dating.

              In the mid 70s, the city I lived in hired the first 2 female law enforcement beings.  One was a US Marshall-the other a police woman.  I happened to be working for the entity that hired them.  It was horrific for both these young women on a daily basis (sexism & distrust) & for a long time our city was referred to as "petticoat junction" by surrounding law agencies.

              I've traveled a lot & lived in many places throughout my life both in & out of country.  Sadly, no matter the year or the place, I have encountered or witnessed both overt & covert discrimination, racism & plain soul mean-ess.  Which has never failed to astonish or affect me in a visceral way.

              That being said, I whole heartedly agree with this comment of yours:

              It's often hard to see progress, when there is so much still wrong with the world, but there are so many ways in which these times are better than those of my childhood
              My heart & soul hope is that going forward, progress continues, past hard won victories are never forgotten & abused so that all future children will only know a world better than those before them.

              Kudos for sharing & for such a comment that enlightens & holds truths that need to never be forgotten.

            •  Half the CEOs I have reported to have been female (3+ / 0-)
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              Tonedevil, Powell, sethtriggs

              but when my wife first graduated from college and was looking for a job things were different.  At Household Finance (now known as HFC) she was told that they were going to go out on a limb and offer her a management-in-training position, the FIRST time they had considered doing that for a female .... but of course they couldn't pay her the same as the male MITs.....

          •  Might depend on what part of the country (7+ / 0-)

            someone was raised in, and when. Local customs, ethnic groups and time of arrival in the US dictated alot of the bigotry. In Chicago the old Italian and Irish neighborhoods were next to each other. Many of the childen went to the same Catholic schools, so there was "intermingling" at school among the younger generations. Familiarity and hormones led to a lot of "mixed marriages". As long as the other was Catholic it smoothed the road.

            My mother fell in love with a Jewish man when she was a young woman. The families absoluttely forbid it. She pined away for her true love the rest of her days. And her father's family had Jewish roots!

            Don't "boo". Vote! President Obama, to the voters at his rallies

            by lexalou on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:59:59 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  that makes a GINORMOUS difference! (0+ / 0-)
            I was born in the mid 1980s, if that makes a difference.
            my ny jewish mother was practically disappeared from her family, when she married my ny irish-welsh, catholic father, back in the early 50's. worse yet, dad is only first generation native born, as both his parents immigrated in the early 1900's, so as far as my grandparents on my mother's side were concerned, he was only just barely out of the trees. for all they knew, he probably spoke gaelic as a first language!

            if it makes you feel any better greggp, i went to catholic schools, in the south (NC & VA), in the 60's. at neither institution do i remember any children of a non-white hue attending. of course, my brothers and i were oddballs ourselves, as we were the only children who's father wasn't a navy or marine officer. i still have memories of "Whites Only" signs in stores and eating establishments.

  •  Question for you...... (7+ / 0-)

    I sure hope this doesn't rustle any feathers, but were your maternal grandparents perhaps either from a deeply conservative family, and/or sympathetic towards, say, fascism or the KKK, or ANY other authoritarian ideology or group at any point? If so, any of these things would definitely help explain why, I think....For a couple of examples, back in the '20s, at one point, the Klan had several million members, and in the '30s, Bill Pelley's Silver Shirts were the terror of many a Michigander, not to mention the popularity of Charles Coughlin, another Michigan-based fringe-right figurehead.

    And I should also mention that support for hardcore racial eugenics was widespread amongst conservatives(although a few supposed progressives dabbled in it as well)in between the World Wars. And if your grandparents were old enough to have been adults in those days, I do think it's possible they could have involved themselves in stuff like this, because a LOT of bigots in those days warmly identified with certain groups & ideologies(including fascism, sadly. Though thankfully, at least fascism's popularity was nonexistent after the horrors of WWII were revealed, with the massacres of Chinese, and the Holocaust and all.), even if they weren't particularly reactionary or from a deeply conservative area(such as most of the South).

    Sometimes, I can't help but think that as bad as things may have been in places, we were kinda lucky not to have seen the rise of a quasi-fascist regime in the U.S., because it very well could have happened, if all the chips had fallen in the right spots. =(

    Let us hope that we truly HAVE learned our lesson....because if not, we may not be so fortunate the next time extreme reactionary ideology becomes a major player on the national stage(and we already have to deal with Teabaggers now!).

  •  Good diary, Gregg. (14+ / 0-)

    Sadly, I'm not so sure we've been making much progress over the past 10 years. If you look at the Tea Party "movement", and their origins, as well as just how popular they're becoming with disaffected conservatives, that's definitely a sign of something very concerning.

    I do think progress will still win out in the end, as it always has, but I am very concerned about the next 10-15 years as the far-right makes one last desperate move to salvage themselves; there are those, in fact, who would resort to terrorism, or even worse, in their death throes.....if you've heard of the "Turner Diaries", that book was the primary inspiration for Timothy McVeigh, the OKC Bomber.....and who knows how many more far-right lunatics and monsters could be plotting something right now?

  •  Something pretty intense happened to me as well. (25+ / 0-)

    I say happened, because when I was in kindergarten I was dressed up as a southern Mammy character from GWTW complete with black face for a Halloween Party.

    Upon arrival my host - another kindergarten age person turns around and says, Who invited the ......... to my party?.  Mercifully my last memory of that event is the sobbing.  

    I am 52, so we are pretty much from the same time period, and it was a strange time period.  You describe it quite well.

    I have come to believe that looking back and trying to understand these past points of ignorance helps me re-examine my current values.  Realizing our past ignorance can help us avoid such stupidities in the here and now.  

    Racism can exist at so many levels.  Often we cannot even agree on what should be classified as racism.  From an early age, I was taught that racism was wrong because it was low class and impolite.  It was this that made it such an ugly and unacceptable thing.  

    I remain haunted by the racism that was present at various levels while I was growing up.  I marvel at my own ignorance over the years as well.  

    My mother once told me that the last straw for my family was during our family roadtrips.  The family adults became much more sensitive to the plight of black folk upon encountering black families on the same time of road trips that were being refused basic access such as taking children to the restroom of getting a cup of coffee for themselves.  

    Of course no one in my family marched - it was impolite as well.  However, they did begin to respond to comments.  They became "unsilent".  

    It gets on my nerves, and you know how I am about my nerves...

    by ciganka on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 11:01:26 PM PST

  •  Good you see it's wrong but you can't undo history (13+ / 0-)

    You were a kid who didn't know any better.

    What's the old saying hind sight is 20/20?

    Thanks for sharing the story and seeing what was wrong then but you can't undo history - it happened. You can only move forward and work to make sure those kind of things don't happen now

  •  I can only tell you a little of my story (11+ / 0-)

    My parents moved into the blockbusted Weequahic neighborhood of Newark NJ in 1960 so that my brother and I could have more experience of the real world than we had been getting in a lily-white suburb, East Orange. Unfortunately, our half-White, half-Black school was in no sense integrated.

    You can find out much more than I have time or ability to tell you about what happened there afterward in the DVD Heart of Stone, named after Principal Ron Stone.

    It doesn't get into the fate of the local Native Americans who named the area, however, and who were in my time long, long gone. That will have to be a story for another time.

    America—We built that!

    by Mokurai on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 12:49:25 AM PST

    •  For a time, about a dozen or so years ago, (9+ / 0-)

      I lived in an apartment in Montclair. There was a guy who lived down the street who used to chat with me every time we passed one another. Eventually, he asked where my parents were from. I said, "Paterson." Then when he asked what area I said that my mother came from South Paterson and my father came from the Totowa section. He said, "My family was the first black family to move into the Totowa section."

      Wow, I just wrote that and realized that if you're not from that area of New Jersey and over a certain age you probably have only a vague idea what I'm describing. But if you're from Newark, you probably do. I remember reading Goodbye, Columbus in high school and we all had a good laugh over the references to various locations which were all nearby.

    •  Northern NJ is tribal territory (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53, Powell

      I lived in North Newark/Belleville for years and watched the last of the Italians making way for the Latinos.... and the Puerto Ricans coming to grips with the Central and South Americans

      now, East Orange is the most Ghanaian city in North America.

      and the city fathers, with Cory Booker in the lead, are doing all they can to bring white folks into downtown

      Honestly, who wants to live in downtown Newark? It has great transportation, but no parks or open space, and it's just not pretty.

      Meanwhile, the neighborhoods are neglected.  Weequhaic, Down Neck,  Forest Hill, Vailsburt are shadows of what they could be.

      It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

      by sayitaintso on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 06:31:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My grandmother (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powell

        (born in the 1890s) used to tell us about when Newark was the nice, desirable place to go to shop.

        •  I remember going to Newark as a kid tagging (0+ / 0-)

          along with my mother & grandmother on shopping trips before the malls started to get built in Short Hills, etc. -- this was in the early '50's (e.g., when Philip Roth was growing up in the suburbs).  I think 4 things killed Newark:

          1. New Jersey's crazy tax laws, which made it difficult for Newark to invest in itself;

          2. The mob & its corrosive corruption (e.g., by the late '60's my father, who was an electrical industry manufacturer's rep, couldn't do any business in Newark because so many of the electrical contractors and distributors were mob-controlled; my wife's uncle best childhood buddy was Hugh Addonizio, mayor of Newark, who went to jail around 1970;  my best friend's father almost went to jail because he was corporation counsel for someone he thought was straight but turned out to be mob-controlled; I could go on -- suffice it say that the Sopranos gave me PTSD);

          3. Massive building in the suburbs & thus shifting of population there -- e.g.,  half of my friends in grammar school in the '50's lived in houses built since WWII;

          4. The '67 riots, which were not just massively destructive of housing & infrastructure but accelerated "white flight."

  •  Royalties? Movie deal? have you had their people (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ciganka, CA wildwoman, ladybug53

    call your people?  ;)

    Occupy- Your Mind. - No better friend, no worse enemy. -8.75, -6.21<> Bring the Troops Home Yesterday

    by Thousandwatts on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 02:19:29 AM PST

  •  I remember going to see my sister (9+ / 0-)

    singing in the HS musical.  Old  Man River and everyone was in blackface,  I do not remember all the songs but I know Dixie and many Al Jolson songs were done and they were encouraged to talk like many of the poor black people of the era, and had to practice the number four,  The teacher sould say, don't say four..say foe.  Think back on the old Amos and Andy radio days.   I cringe thinking about it today and that was in 1962.  It was also Georgia..rural Ga and probably funded by the KKK.

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 03:39:40 AM PST

    •  I remember watching movies with my mom (5+ / 0-)

      like Holiday Inn which featured actors in black face and my mother explaining to me how wrong this was and how uncomfortable it made her. She also told me about segregation in Maryland in late 40s and early 50s. I also remember her talking about the death of Dr King and the riots and the intense hurt like the intense hurt of the killing of Michael Collins in the 20s in County Cork and how we white people needed to have understanding in our hearts for the pain felt by especially by African Americans.

  •  Great piece of social history. (9+ / 0-)

    thanks.

    Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

    by dadadata on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 04:09:42 AM PST

    •  Well, socially unacceptable yet (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53, Powell

      people accepted it.   Not much has changed in the privacy of closed doors.

      We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

      by Vetwife on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 05:01:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, social history in some sense is (6+ / 0-)

        vignettes of culture at a specific place and time.

        This is a good story about coming to realize that things you didn't quite understand as a child happened for a reason.

        Not necessarily a good reason.

        Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

        by dadadata on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 05:27:43 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  That is so true but I wish I could remember (0+ / 0-)

          who took me to a Klan meeting of cross burning,  Maybe we just stopped and watched about 100 Klanssmen off the highway in sheets burn a cross in the late 50's.  It horrified me.   I remember being afraid and had to be really young...under 5.  I don't recall.  Maybe uncles or aunts because I don't recall any of my immediate family being racist.  I just remember the cross burning off the main highway visible from a state road and sheets and being terrified.    I think I was held as well.  Rural Ga.  so typical.  I have had my doubts about some autns, uncles and some grandparents.   The more I remember.

          We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

          by Vetwife on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 03:14:10 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  The nature of assumptions (10+ / 0-)

    Assumptions are always invisible. They're "natural" and "how things are." That's why they're dangerous. It isn't because they're wrong, because they aren't always wrong, but because they take on the force of nature and slide into the atmosphere.

    This is why Americans can't see that we assume competition is the way to determine value. This is why most Americans can't recognize that our health care system isn't planned, but accidental. It's why "feminine" and "masculine" always seem "normal" and like laws of nature, when they're never very old or stable.

    When I was seven, I loved a very, very old book I had found at my grandparents', Little Black Sambo. I never thought it represented Black children or anything of the sort -- I knew real Black children, and the idea was absurd. I was inoculated, to some degree, in 1970, against what would have been imperceptibly natural in 1960. I wince now.

    Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

    by The Geogre on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 04:14:48 AM PST

    •  Sambo is interesting (6+ / 0-)

      since it actually represents multilayered racism, being originally British racism against ethnic Indians, and only later adopted as plain old American racism against the usual suspects. I use the term suspects in full knowledge of the term's implications.

      We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

      by bmcphail on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 08:03:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sambo was one of my grandmother's favorites. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powell, bmcphail

        Along with Uncle Remus (featuring Br'er Rabbit and Tar Baby), and The Five Chinese Brothers.  I remember her reading them to me, and I loved the stories.  It was in the early '60s.  Appallingly racist in retrospect, but I remember being in awe of most of the characters, especially the Chinese brothers -- I thought they were the coolest dudes ever.  

        •  I have mixed feelings about Br'er Rabbit (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eikyu Saha

          The stories have been buried in layers of racism but I don't think the original intent was racist nor the stories themselves.

          We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

          by bmcphail on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 03:45:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's hard to separate the intent from the (0+ / 0-)

            environment of discourse.  Given the science and economics and social power distribution of the time, I don't see how anyone could have NOT been racist, even those who were fully aware of it and tried to fight it head-on.  Even the great works that offered the most powerful indictments of race relations -- like Uncle Tom's Cabin, Max Havelär, or Noli mi tangere -- embodied precisely the attitudes that they attempted to undermine.  

    •  There used to be "Sambo's" restaurants ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... in California. They were coffee shops, similar to Denny's.

      The last one (Santa Barbara) closed not too long ago.

      I can remember going to the Palm Springs Sambo's, as a child. The place mats and menus were illustrated with snippets of the classic children's book, The Story of Little Black Sambo.

      The Sambo of the book was Indian, as the story was written by a Brit (Scottish woman, actually) during the Kipling/Colonial era.

  •  A great example of how racism is taught (10+ / 0-)

    and how it is handed down from generation to generation. It can be subtle; insidious. Although you and the other kids at your school didn't realize what was happening, and though I'm sure most of the teachers and other adults didn't know what was happening, it still seeped into your conscience (that Hispanics are "less than" whites). And trust me the Hispanic parents there knew exactly what was going on. And I'm sure there were at least a few white adults there who knew exactly what was going on as well.

    Great diary. Thank you for sharing. The fact that you now realize the problem with the school program is a sign of progress for our country.

    •  And the horrible part is (4+ / 0-)

      that children absorb, subconsciously, the racist attitudes. So that even when we become adults, and consciously reject the racism, it's still baked in to us at a level below conscious thought.

      The Implicit Association Test can tease out our subconscious beliefs. If you take the test, and discover as I did that you are indeed biased against some people subconsciously, you can't easily get rid of it! You can consciously monitor your actions and  your words, but you can't extirpate your own wrong subconscious reactions just because you don't agree with them.

  •  Don't beat yourself up over it, greggp (8+ / 0-)

    In things like this, intent matters and your intent was pure. The school's intent might be questionable.
    This diary reminds me that I was in a school play that, taken out of context, would be seen harshly:
    One of the many schools I went to was Cambridge Friends School, a Quaker school, K-8 and one of the best schools of the bunch. Having come from a lily-white town on the CT shoreline, I had very little contact with people of color (and no sense of my own skin tone). But at CFS, I had half a dozen classmates that were African American. Quakers are very strong on equality, leaders in the struggles for rights and fairness. The school was as far from racist as you could get.
    We decided to perform "Cry the Beloved Country" (about which I remember almost nothing) and since there were many more roles for black actors than for white ones, many of us were in blackface. I remember looking at my painted up friends and looking at my friends that were naturally brown and just being perturbed that makeup could never approach reality, that it was such a clumsy thing and ugly, compared to say, the beautiful Corinne (class hearthrob!) or Jimmy Hardaway's deep chocolate color.
    It was years later that I realized that blackface was an insult.
    But was it in this context?
    The intent was not racist, this wasn't a white actor playing the one black role, it was trying to fill the primarily black cast when we didn't have enough black actors. I'm positive that our teachers and advisers were not pulling a racist prank, even unconsciously.
    But I never would do blackface again.
    As for "post-racial", we've made huge progress. we just RE-elected our first black President by an overwhelming majority despite voter suppression, et cetera. Obama's election stirred up stuff that had sort of settled and was covered over, but was still there. The forces that oppose Obama find an easy tool to work against him.
    Part of it is generational, the younger folk are MUCH less racist than their grandparents (same new generation that is so much more tolerant of LGBTQ folk).
    Part of it is that there have been major integration efforts that, while not 100%, have broken down the rigid barriers that were ubiquitous 50 years ago. Although there are many more miles to go, we have made great progress and I believe it's important to recognize incremental improvement while continuing the struggle. I don't believe that the uptick in visible racism is a returning wave, rather it is a countercurrent stirred up by reactionary forces and that we will eventually see that rip die out.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 05:33:05 AM PST

  •  No better example of... (7+ / 0-)

    the extent to which the racism in a society affects otherwise good people in ways that play out unconsciously.  And that self-reflection not finger-pointing is the only way to deal with racism.

    In American culture, one is either a repentant racist or an unrepentant racist.  It's not a matter of good people-bad people.  Although it is clear that consciously and behaviorially unrepentant people have made the decision to play out the role of bad people in a "bad is good" sort of way.

    And the institution of formal discrimination on the basis of ethnicity holds racism in being even when the majority of the population is not consciously or intentionally racist.

    In California, Texas, Florida, and other states, there might not be separate schools by law, but that discrimination still exists. (Of course, as the immigration issue shows the racist attitudes still exist.)  And one of the institutional results is toleration of peonage or outright slavery by labor contractors.

    50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

    by TarheelDem on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 05:52:08 AM PST

  •  Another example of systemic white privilege that (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lonespark, worldlotus, Powell

    cries out for atonement. Public mea culpas are a first step. The world awaits your next. 1962 America remained largely segregated and a ten year old suffering under those conditions, even as as Anglo, was perhaps equally disadvantaged as compared to the joys of our post racial America today...which I believe is true.

    "If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future will be lost." Winston Churchill

    by Kvetchnrelease on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 05:56:06 AM PST

  •  All of us had experience with this... (6+ / 0-)

    I am old enough to have enjoyed the fake language imitations of Sid Caesar on early 1950s TV. What I remember of that act was mostly in terms of European languages, French, German, Italian, Russian, but not any truly racist imitations (they probably already were aware that playing minstrel show characters would not do?). I remember Amos 'n' Andy. I remember Rochester on the Jack Benny Show (Yas, suh!). I still love the movie "Song of the South" and I justify that I can look past the bad moments in the film to see just the good.

    And I think that's the point here. We can't go back to that time and give what for to the teachers who made us do these things. We can't remove the memories of which we now are embarrassed. And we can't take away the hurt that might have occurred to people who were the unfortunate target of the writers/actors.

    What we can do however is to review these actions and experiences as you do, apologize where necessary, to apologize and promise to do better (in some cases when it's better to repair and reinforce bonds of friendship than simply apologize and move on).

    And most of all, we can use these experiences to teach the new generations how to be better human beings.

    Ugh. --UB.

    "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of East Somalia!"

    by unclebucky on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 06:05:12 AM PST

    •  Ok, it wasn't racist.... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      unclebucky, worldlotus, Powell

      That was ethnic humor, and "ethnist" isn't a word like racist is.  

      I grew up north of the Salton Sea, where the town was less brown, but where there was still a social strata in place.  There was even an African-American part to our town, and of course, given the stratification of the day, they went on the very bottom rung of the ladder.

      Small minds can't deal with diversity and personal differences, so they take one feature, say skin tone or family ancestry and make it an organizing principle.  Jews are lawyers, blacks are maids, Mexicans are cooks and gardeners, and to be a banker, you have to be a WASP.  The simple Archie Bunker view of the world is what keeps bigotry alive.   And it will probably be with us, as long as there are poorly educated and stupid people.

  •  "Armando", huh? hmmmmmmmmm.......... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lonespark, skwimmer, greggp, Powell

    Just kidding. Excellent diary!

    Let's go back to E Pluribus Unum

    by hazzcon on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 06:10:22 AM PST

  •  It has changed --not enough -- but it has. (5+ / 0-)

    I am at least your age. I grew up in a wealthy New Jersey suburb. There were African-Americans in my high school, but not many. They all lived on a couple of streets grouped together within a town of 25,000. It was as you say just the way it was.

    There was one, that is one, African-American per year admitted to the very expensive private Northeastern university I attended. The one in my year was in my dorm section in Freshmen year. He was wealthy, his father was a noted musician who owned a bunch of radio stations, he went to an elite private high school.

    I remember being wary of inviting him to my house one school break for fear a) that he would not be welcomed in my neighborhood and 2) that he would see that I was not nearly as rich as he was. We met in NYC and went to a backetball game in MSG (saw the great Oscar Robertson amng others play). I have often thought about his life -- thrust into a white world deliberately by his parents (I am virtually certain he'd have been the only Black in his school both in high school and university).

    He did well materially (went to work for IBM back went that was totally ground breaking), but he had to have experienced slights and discomforts continuously. I lost contact decades ago, but I often think about how he must have experienced Obama's election (even if he is a billionaire Republican).

    I'll assume he is not a Republican and wrote a few big checks. What is really different now is political, the racist rump in America is truly a minority. The young are mostly just not uncomfortable socially with each other. America needs to take hold of this shift and realize that the shift is its number one asset.

    We have only just begun and none too soon.

    by global citizen on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 06:18:54 AM PST

  •  At my school too (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    skwimmer, Powell

    I grew up in a southern university  town that prided itself on its liberal open mindedness.  Sure the schools were segregated--although a "freedom of choice" plan that resulted in one African American attending my elementary school and no whites attending the Black school--had been adopted the year before I entered 5th grade. It was spring of 1963,  Civil rights marchers marched in the streets of our town like others in the south. And one of the 5th grade teachers continued her tradition of having her class perform  an adaptation of the 1935 Shirley Temple vehicle "The Littlest Rebel." The play aggrandizes  the love of slaves for their white masters. I think the production involved at least one white kid in blackface.  I was not in the class the put on the play, but looking back on it, I am astounded that this happened in this town and that it did not, to my knowledge raise a furor.

    As fifth graders we were not totally politically unaware. I remember Sunday school classes that focused on and supported the civil rights movement. But it was a time when we did not question the wisdom of our teachers. The discussion at school focused on the fact that the play had one girl rubbing the head of a boy and that the play was performed in the school parking lot so  they really could burn a mock up of the plantation house in the production. The omnipresence of racism and our innocent blindness to it was not a subject of discussion.

  •  Don't tell PETA. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    liz dexic, Powell

    Because 62 years ago I appeared in the Hartwell Lane Elementary School epic version of the "Three Billy Goats Gruff," as the biggest billy goat, and who because of my dedication to Method acting, broke the arm of Steve York, the troll, when I butted him off the bridge (um, table).

    My career in theatre ended that day. I did not want to injure again any fellow thespian, but I never lost the thrill standing under the klieg lights or smell of greasepaint.

    "There are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be realized until personal experience has brought it home." John Stuart Mill

    by kuvasz on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 08:50:38 AM PST

  •  I found a program not long ago for a show my (6+ / 0-)

    dad was in...a Minstrel Show.
    Believe it or not, mistrel shows were popular back then. Folks would dress up, put on black face, and sing songs that I doubt few black people ever sang.
    Even into the 70's, minstrel shows were still around. I remember an episode of All In The Family where Gloria goes to the hospital to have her baby and Archie has to come straight from the theater still in black face.
    Then there's the classic, "Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe..." which ended (when I was 5 or so, back in the early 60's) "catch a nigger by the toe."
    We didn't think much of these things when we were kids. We grew up in white suburbia. there were no black folks in my town - the only minorities I was subject to were those in Boston when we went to visit my grandmother. I even had to ask my mother (re the rhyme) "mommy, what's a nigger?"
    I turned out fine. I'm not the least bit racist. And most of those who participated in the ignorance of the day turned out fine too. It's because we learned. It's because we had the ability to think.
    Sadly, there are some parts of this country who thought there was nothing wrong with all that racism. Minstrel shows were just "fun". Sadly, they never "got it."

    Isn’t it ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray. ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring ~

    by MA Liberal on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 09:15:03 AM PST

    •  Hmm. I learned it as "catch a tiger". n/t (0+ / 0-)

      The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

      by Panurge on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 03:10:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, tiger is how it changed (0+ / 0-)

        although monkey was also used. I'm talking very late 50's or early 60's ( I was born in 1955). And for the life of me, I don't know how it came to be that the N word was used. it might have been from one kid. It might have been how everyone did it. All I know is that my mom as appalled (as was I when I learned what the word meant).

        Isn’t it ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray. ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring ~

        by MA Liberal on Sat Dec 15, 2012 at 06:31:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  All well and good, but the top prejudice today is (4+ / 0-)

    against Moslems. They are so "other" that we bomb, drone and torture them. In today's world, I can't imagine USA treating a Christian nation the same way. And woe to one of our own who becomes a M----- lover.  

    Quick quiz: what is your guess --
    What country has the largest number of Moslems?
    Which are the top three Moslem countries by population?

    No checking

  •  Thanks for the diary (5+ / 0-)

    It shows how insidious racism is - and those of us born in the 60s and earlier have unconscious reference points to these kinds of elementary school activities.

    Helping a food pantry on the Cheyenne River Reservation,Okiciyap." >www.okiciyap.yolasite.com<"

    by betson08 on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 09:23:55 AM PST

  •  Yes, this is how it was. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gffish, worldlotus, Tonedevil, Powell

    I think we just try to do better.  I never did convince my mother (born in 1926) that the words colored and negro were racially charged.  She said they were the, "proper terms."

    My dad (born in 1925) always liked "n---- baby" jokes.  I never convinced him that the jokes weren't funny and could hurt people.

    It caused a separation between them and my children.  My parents embarrassed them a few times by saying inappropriate things.  Sometimes near or directly to people of other races.

    I can't explain it.  My parents weren't bad, mean, or hateful.  My dad thought he was funny, my mom thought she was being polite and sometimes inclusive when she said the things she did.  

    I just had to accept what I couldn't change and do better myself.  Teaching my children to be tolerant of all kinds of differences - including their grandparents'.

    •  ...not to say tolerant of racism.. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      worldlotus, Tonedevil, Powell

      I didn't mean to say I taught my children to be tolerant of racism.....just tolerant of people of different generations. It doesn't make what my parents said ok.  It it still behavior impossible for me to understand.  

      My kids really never got past it - it is difficult for people who have seen a more enlightened path to believe that those who don't see it are truly blind - not just stupid or stubborn.

    •  Well... (0+ / 0-)

      ...it is the NAACP.

      The 1965 World Book I grew up with had a feature article for "Negro".  (You can't call someone "African-American" if they're not from America.)  They also had a short article on MLK Jr. with big photographs, which from what I can tell is what they would do for someone new on the scene who'd obviously be a historical figure eventually.

      Maybe the solution is to "de-charge" the words?

      The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

      by Panurge on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 03:07:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yes, that attitude of that it's just that way (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tonedevil

    The "poor dears" can't help that they are inferior, not as good looking, not as intelligent, not as reasonable, not as cultured as us white folks are.

    There are those in my family that are still like that.

    Makes me want to barf...

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:07:52 AM PST

  •  So what do we do with Chico Marx? (0+ / 0-)

    The scene on November 6, midnight: Barack Obama holds up newspaper reading "Romney defeats Obama" as he heads to give his second term acceptance speech.

    by alkatt on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:08:25 AM PST

    •  And it's a legit question. (0+ / 0-)

      I'm a Marx Brothers fan.  I want to know what people think.

      The scene on November 6, midnight: Barack Obama holds up newspaper reading "Romney defeats Obama" as he heads to give his second term acceptance speech.

      by alkatt on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:11:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was a chubby child, and defensive (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, Powell

    about it. (I come from a family of toothpicks and beanpoles.) When I was in third grade, we got a new classmate. He was chubby too and got picked on. I figured it was his weight and didn't want to draw any attention to me. I never noticed his sisters or younger brothers being picked on. I look back, and wonder, was it really because his dad was Dr. King? I never saw anyone pick on Dr. Abernathy's daughter, who was also in my class; actually, I thought she was one of the coolest people and wanted to be like her. Who knows - I have only my memories, and hope we were just typical nasty small children, not reflecting any sicknesses of parents.

    "Until death it is all life." Don Quixote

    by cv lurking gf on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:33:39 AM PST

  •  Me too (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, Tonedevil, Powell

    In Wilmington, Delaware, at Evan G. Shortlidge Elementary School, which opened when I entered first grade in 1961.  It was the first school in Delaware where African-American teachers taught white children, and reflected its neighborhood not only in racial mix but in mainstreaming special ed kids.  

    When I was in third grade, we put on a play.  I don't remember how it was chosen, but it was about pioneers, a fort, and an Indian attack.  I remember my one line: I ran across the stage wearing a boy's jeans and jean jacket from the Lost & Found closet, and someone's hat (army hat?  I don't remember) shouting "Captain! Captain!  The Indians!".

    The Indians came from stage left with tomahawks, feathers and war paint.  There was a mostly-theoretical wall at center stage, and lots of fake guns of all kinds - mine was a plastic ray gun - going bangbangbang, and the Indians all died.  All.  A few had been provided with prop blood bags to squeeze, which scared hell out of their parents.  

    Until this moment I never thought of it.  Killing Indians in third grade.  First Nations, Native Americans, I'm sorry.  I'm really sorry.

    "Republicans are poor losers and worse winners." - My grandmother, sometime in the early 1960s

    by escapee on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 11:39:17 AM PST

  •  but the nice man on Fox and Friends comment line (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tonedevil, Powell

    said monkey is not a racist term :-D

    "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
    Four More Years! How sweet it is!!!

    by TrueBlueMajority on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 12:54:30 PM PST

  •  This diary example seems mostly much ado about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powell

    relatively (for the time) little. What I find offensive are things like portrayals of African-Americans in 3 stooges and such movies.
    These can be contrasted with better c.'40s portrayals such as Sherlock Holmes Goes to Washington (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) where a black porter's observation "He said something really strang." "Permit me!." Was basically a culture difference characterization, and he also says (I think) "My boy's a flyer." If I recall that correctly, perhaps a surprising (for the time) allusion---to Tuskegee?

    "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere ". C. S. Lewis

    by TofG on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 01:10:34 PM PST

  •  It's another point of White Privilege that (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tonedevil, Powell, greggp

    that rarely gets discussed: White children get to be children much, much longer than Black and Brown children in this country:

    Bonita, as I am given to understand now, had Hispanic students only.  Even then, although I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it, it didn't make a lot of sense to me why the Hispanic  kids had to go to another school.
    You see, those Hispanic kids knew exactly why there were two different schools - because they were second class citizens.

    I am ever reminded of this whenever I have discussions with White people and they tell me at what age they became "aware" of various things (social, political, cultural, economic). Even poor White kids get to enjoy a certain protective bubble not afforded to Black kids.

    Anyway, good job - thanks for posting!

    If "elitist" just means "not the dumbest motherfucker in the room", I'll be an elitist! - David Rees from "Get Your War On".

    by Oaktown Girl on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 01:18:54 PM PST

  •  The land of peonage. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tonedevil, Powell

    The land of peonage.
    Today the whole agricultural system is Imperial Valley.
    We’ve come a long way back...

    Love Me, I'm a Liberal!

    by simplesiemon on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 01:55:05 PM PST

  •  I grew up way upstate NY and have similar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powell

    things to remember from early 60's in school.  
    One that really messes with my kids' minds is what we used to call Brazil nuts.  Anyone remember that one?  N toes.  To the extent when my own kids were elementary school aged we were at a school function where I called them Brazil nuts and another mom came up and whispered a thankyou because she'd never known what they were really called, she only knew them by the old name and she knew that was wrong.

    Look at it as how far we really have come.  And, no, you don't have to learn to be racist in an environment where those things are so pervasive. Maybe we were fortunate our parents weren't so bad, but still it was everywhere.  We did learn to be better.

    "If you go all day without hitting or biting anyone, it was a good day." Patrick, age 4

    by Meggie on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 02:40:14 PM PST

  •  A quote (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    from Sozhenitsyn:

    "And thus it is we must be beaten on flank and snout, again and again, so as to become, in time at least, human beings, yes, human beings."
    Solzhenitsyn gets processed through the prison system and finally winds up in a large cell, which is run by professional criminals. They take inventory of his meager possessions, just some food he has as I recall, and then relieve him of them. The cell is crowded and he has only the floor to sit on, so he demands compensation for what they have taken in the form of a bunk. They say sure, and kick out some other political prisoner. Later he realizes what he has done - causing this other innocent political prisoner to suffer for his own "comfort".

    We make mistakes, even innocently, but the revelation of what we have done informs our lives forever after.

    Bold at inappropriate times.

    by steep rain on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 02:53:46 PM PST

  •  It was the autumn of 1956, I was 8.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powell, Oh Mary Oh

    ..years old and my Dad was working with the Pennsylvania State Insurance Commission. He was assigned to inspect a company in St. Louis. Mom was early in her pregnancy with my little brother, and battling the blues. Dad got permission to pull me out of school "on an educational trip," and we took the train to St Louis to spend a week or ten days with Dad.

    One day, after visiting Busch Gardens, we stopped to have lunch at a place called the Salad Bowl. It was on Lindell Boulevard, I believe. It was nice and clean and the food looked good. But there was a sign on the wall that said they reserved the right to serve patrons of their own choosing and to deny service to anyone...or something like that.

    "What does that mean, Mom?" I asked.

    "It means they don't serve colored people," she said.

    It was my first experience with segregation.

    "Well, if they don't serve colored people, they won't serve me," I said, getting up from my seat. "Let's go."

    Mom was stunned, but quickly agreed, and smiled as we walked out and headed back to the Hotel Windsor, where we were staying.

    There i kibitzed with the black help, including the piano player in the lounge. Looking back, I would imagine the Hotel Windsor was probably segregated, too, but the presence of black faces among the employees blinded me from the absence of black patrons.

    When Dad got off work that day and returned to the hotel, Mom couldn't wait to tell him what had happened at the Salad Bowl. She spoke quickly and excitedly, and there was more than just one tear in her eye.

    "We taught him well," Dad said, also smiling and dabbing his eye.

    He came over and hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. God, how I hated the feel of the stubble of his five o'clock shadow rubbing against my face!

    My parents kept telling me how proud they were of me, and told the story to just about everyone in Pittsburgh when we got home - how I had taken my own personal stand against segregation.

    Like most people, I am often conflicted by issues of race, and, at times, am tempted to ignore the better angels of my nature.

    At times like that, my mind wanders back to the seasons of my youth, and that afternoon in St Louis. And then I am haunted by the words of Bob Dylan.

    I was so much older then,
    I'm younger than that now.

  •  I went to grades 4-6 in Barstow CA in the late 50s (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    davidkc

    I don't remember any racism in school. My best friend was a latina girl named Esther. It is true that she lived in an area that was on our bus route toward where we lived on the Marine base called “Riverside Drive”, a kind of shantytown for laborers. A number of people at my school lived there. I don't recall ever seeing any kind of racial discrimination in elementary school in Barstow (although I'm certain that outside school and maybe inside it occurred).

    Esther was just the nicest person. We often had long talks typical of upper elementary kids. Over the years, I've often remembered her fondly. I certainly hope her life turned out well.

    For contrast, when my dad was transfered, we went to Albany, GA. Now that, that was racial discrimination and outright apartheid of the most blatantly ugly kind.

  •  People forget how bad things were back then. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Panurge, Powell, Oh Mary Oh

    My folks were unusually tolerant for their group -- Irish-Catholic professionals who were mostly the first to reach that SES level.  My folks, for example, wouldn't join the country club their friends belonged to because it had a formal policy that excluded Jews.  Some of this was because half my father's customers were Jewish, but much of it was resentment of intolerance, in part because my father's father had been such a victim of it that around 1900 he had changed his  name from Patrick to George in an attempt to pass for Scoth-Irish Protestant instead of Irish Catholic. Thus, for example,  I remember my father's being intensely moved by LBJ's "We Shall Overcome" Speech & angry at the violence directed at civil rights workers/demonstraters in the South.  

    But in 1959 these parents, of all people, thought it was perfectly OK for their 12-year-old son (me) to get up on stage, made up in black-face and dressed in some fantasy of slave clothes, to make a speech in a minstrel-show accent & lingo that gave thanks to the founder of our nuns' order for all that she had done for slaves.  I have absolutely no memory what I thanked the founder of the order  for -- she was French Canadian and for all I know she worked for a terminal of the Underground Railway.  But no matter how justified those thanks may have been in the abstract, remembering that role has never failed to make me cringe in the last 50 years.  

    Obviously it was a measure of the times that maybe the most racially tolerant parents in the audience thought it was more than OK that their son make a fool of himself in that way.  But I've often wondered how it was that none of the nuns realized that they would have had a riot on their hands if I had gotten up there and imitated a semi-literate "Mick" or Italian or wondered to themselves whether they would've included that role in the "pageant" if there had been any black students in the school, which, of course, at that time there were not.  Like I said, I still cringe.

    •  One thing I notice... [AXE-GRIND ALERT] (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh

      ...is that lots of people on all sides seem to want to forget the '60s and '70s as well, or at least they did by 1980.  But liberals and progressives seemed not to understand (and still don't) that giving up on the Sixties Matter as something that failed/went off course/was co-opted/didn't work out as expected/whatever would ultimately work to the benefit of conservatives.  Trying to find Something We Can All Agree On in the form of the Civil Rights era meant that conservatives were only too happy to help liberals sweep the Sixties Matter under the rug--by then just about everybody could distance themselves from Jim Crow and the kids wouldn't know the difference.  The Sixties Matter helped us put some mental distance between what was then the present and the Jim Crow past; it may seem like just a surface matter, but giving up on it wasn't that smart in the long run.   I don't think it's a coincidence that the historical amnesia we keep complaining about is largely a product of the changeover to the Reagan era.  If that amnesia weren't there, America would've been even warier of it than it really was in 1980, but it had already taken hold by then.

      OTOH, part of the amnesia might've been a product of the distance the Sixties Matter provided, as certain details were lost to the collective memory or just not brought up.  So we have the Sixties Matter putting some distance between the '70s and the old paradigm, then neo-conservatism rushing in to fill the void created by the (partial) dropping of the Sixties Matter, rewriting history so that most people's hands are clean and the things you and the OP write about might as well never have happened.  And if people don't understand that things were like this, the Sixties Matter becomes harder to understand or explain.  Which is the way the GOP likes it.

      I think that the official appeal--the sales pitch, anyway--of Reaganism is "Just like things were before Those Darn Hippies Ruined Everything, but without the racism and prejudice, without which squares obviously rule and hippies drool".  But it just doesn't quite seem to stick--it seems happy enough to make people live with the legacy of prejudice and suggests that simply not being prejudiced anymore is all the solution America needs.  And then you get into Social Security and Medicare...  Eventually the idea comes to mind (well, my mind) that conservatives win because they have an idea of how they want the world to be and liberals don't, really.  Progressives do, which is a difference between liberals and progressives.  (Another point is that conservatives have successfully sold their picture of how the world ought to be as The Unquestionable Nature Of The Cosmos or some such thing.  Sometimes liberals take on the appearance of this picture for ironic purposes--cf. This Modern World or a thousand indie-rock and "new wave" bands--but ultimately it simply helps to reinforce conservative memes.)

      [END AXE-GRIND]

      The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

      by Panurge on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 09:19:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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