My father was born in 1920. He never served in the military but TRIED to join every branch of the service. Rejected due to bad knees from playing hockey. He tried to do his duty. Ironically he was too cracked up to get shot-up.
He was a college educated man that often sounded like an anti-semite and racist. He would ridicule those he thought were jewish in the media. He would use the “N” word around the house and yet when it came to person’s of color living in our neighborhood, he was very kind and supportive. Ironically, it was the people he perceived as “white trash” living next door he had the most trouble with.
As a child I took on and adopted many of my father’s bigoted ways. There was never any feeling to it. I parroted. I never felt any bigotry. I never understood the WHY of it. In my teens and adult years I questioned it all. I have NO recollection of being racist at school. Nor did I have any friends that were not all white. I found people of other races interesting and baffling. Other worlds to me.
Through reading and living, I feel I never became the bigoted man my father was. I came to see those different from me as simply different PEOPLE. When I became an atheist I briefly flirted with my own form of anti-religious bigotry but learned to accept the religious as PEOPLE – simply with different views. I have learned to embrace the HUMANITY of all or most people.
I realized in my middle aged years I never truly KNEW my father. He was that towering god-like man to me as a child. That unapproachable man I knew in my adulthood never talking about himself. He ridiculed and I think feared, psychology. He feared what many fear: The Different. What was alien to him.
Because I was a difficult child with mental problems of anxiety, a very different problematic child and person, my father hated me in his later years. He tried to be a DUTIFUL parent but eventually he became an angry fearful very bigoted man.
Time softens the ugly emotion we may have for someone. The PAIN. We want to feel loved by a parent and when that does not happen, we feel pain. After my father’s death in 2008, I learned to look into his life to know him better. His youth, the times and his own personal sufferings in life. Where he grew-up there was a culture of bigotry. A small mining town with many immigrants that were very different from the locals. There was a CULTURE of anti-semitism that was like a broad FICTION of that time with few if any of those anti-semites actually KNOWING any jews. I doubt if my father ever knew any jews. I know he knew some blacks. They were often menial laborers at the university where he taught. Yet I knew and SAW dad could CONNECT with them and I never saw or heard him speak to them in any negative way. NEVER calling them by that horrid “N” word. The kept his bigotry in the house. It was like an act. Something he was not really conscious of. I think it was his MEAN streak coming out. Maybe it was alcohol fueled. It was CONTRARY to how he was in public and face to face with people. Looking back it reminds me of how I was when I would drink: I would say stupid stuff and not mean it. Often regretting it. I think that the whole racism/anti-semitic thing with my father was a GENERATIONAL thing. He was born to it. Culturally. Socially. Many of his generation learned it was a sick thing. Maybe he did, deep down. As I said before I think it was the MEAN ugly part of him that came out sometimes. Came out without his thinking about it.
I feel I understand where my father’s bigotry came from and forgive him for that. HAD he been more educated and exposed-to different PEOPLE in his sheltered university world, he may have become a different man. I think too he had much pain he kept a tight lid on but that would come out expressed as stupid anger and FEAR expressed in some bigotry.
In our present times, I can understand how some of ALL races can be bigoted. Racists. Anti this or that. It is often from a deep FEAR inside. A fear that comes out as ANGER. Few adults will admit they are “afraid”. Especially MEN. There is a FEAR of those and that which is different. An ages old fear. That fear fades with FAMILIARITY. A familiarity and connection with the shared HUMANITY in us all. That is something I was exposed to in my high school years. My working in a factory years. Simply going to a grocery store with a highly DIVERSE customer base. Where I live I am fortunate in this. This … immersion into the DIFFERENT is like an immersion into a phobia triggering experience: It REMOVES that fear with the FAMILIARITY. Those different languages heard do not hurt. Those different skin tones either. Those different religious symbols worn do not hurt. It is the IGNORANCE of them and the fictions of them we create that hurt.
When I see and hear hate speech now, I can feel some compassion for the haters. I understand it comes from fear, ignorance and stupidity. The STUPIDITY is something I lack compassion for. That CHOOSING to be hateful. There is a choice to NOT be hateful. To educate one’s self about the Others. To edge closer and lose that fear of the Different. By seeing and embracing the shared humanity.
I wish I could have educated my father about bigotry. I think that FEAR was too deeply ingrained in him. That fear of the Different. The Other. The ego identification with that arrogance of I am or my kind or tribe is BETTER than those Other or Different. My father would have had some peace and more joy in his life had he been able to let-go of all that FEAR and ANGER that was the bedrock of his bigotry.
Just as it is for so many.