Monday, April 2, 2012


I grew up in a community that was devoid of racism and this was for a very obvious reason - there was only one race. It's very hard to form hateful opinions of people in the total absence of any examples of those you are supposed to hate. There was one family whose skin was remarkably darker than that of everybody else in town, but they hastened to point out that were "Haitian" which seemed to be a satisfactory enough explanation for the color of their skin, if anybody needed an explanation. But they were nice enough folks and didn't give anyone any reason to hate them, so we all got along just fine. It's true that my high school did produce an annual review that included a minstrel act, complete with student-actors in black-face, and I now recognize the overt racism in that but it was done with such a total lack of malice that at the time it was hard to see it as wrong. It seemed like innocent fun, but of course it wasn't as innocent as we thought it to be.

So I grew up in the absence of conscious racism but that produced in me a total and profound ignorance of racism, and I think that may be just as bad as being racist. I didn't have any opinions on racism because I was completely ignorant of its causes and its effects, or even its existence! Thus when I went away to college (still in Maine and still pretty isolated from any racial diversity) and heard talk among other students "from away" who seemed to know about such things I listened but had nothing to add and certainly no basis to reject or dispute anything they said.

I'm sure it was during those college years that I first heard a reference to "NQW" - Not Quite White, which I now recognize as an obvious racial slur but at the time I don't recall finding it objectionable. I'm certain there were some more offensive terms used, too, but I don't need to repeat them here to make my point which is this: in my youth I tolerated racist speech, I laughed at racist jokes, and I probably liked some people who held openly racist views. None of this bothered me at the time, because I was ignorant - so I might as well have been racist myself. With racism as with many harmful situations, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

I won't go into detail about the events that finally opened my eyes to the existence and extent of racism in America, and I certainly won't make any claims that I am any kind of expert, or even to be moderately well-informed. But I know that it exists and I know that it is wrong on every level of morality. And I know it when I see it.

I'm telling you all of this because we have a president who is, you know - NQW. This is an issue for some people, and I have some opinions of my own about those people and I may feel compelled to express some of those opinions in this space from time to time. So before you read any of those tirades I just wanted to establish my credentials for writing them. There may be times when "ignorance is bliss", but this is not one of them. And as in matters of law, "ignorance" is no excuse for tolerating racism in any form. I won't and neither should you.

1 comment:

  1. I had this realization after publishing this essay: My ignorance, as a result of growing up in a monochromatic town, of racial issues which affect out nation is mirrored by the ignorance on the same issue produced by growing up in a gated community and attending exclusive (white) private schools. Isolation of the races, whether by accident of geography or purposeful design, produces ignorance (or "lack of understanding" if that makes you feel better) of issues that need to be understood and addressed to make us one people and realize the vision of our founding fathers. We are a multi-cultural nation - understand it, embrace, love it! It's who we are as a nation. Love it, or leave it! (As they used to say in the '60s, with a whole different meaning.)