One Man’s Personal Journey Into Self-Discovery
After my father came home from the Second World War I heard the first words of hate at the age of 6 when my dad would proclaim how much he hated Germans. As I grew up he would warn me to never bring a German girlfriend home to his house. He also disliked the Irish and several other nationalities after his war experiences. He was a good man and brought me up to respect all men because we were all equal. He explained that there is always one bad apple in every barrel. He also taught me about compassion.
I grew up in Lancashire England. My family immigrated to North America when I was 10. My first taste of prejudice was when I went to school here in the USA. I had a thick Lancashire accent, and every time I spoke my class would roar with laughter.
The teachers tried to explain to the class that I was speaking proper English with a Lancashire accent and would have me read famous English stories like Oliver Twist out loud. The teachers loved it but the kids in the class thought it sounded hilarious. I was teased and prodded to say certain words because of my pronunciation. I would retort by telling them that I thought they were all daft or a bunch of twits, which made them laugh even more.
It did not take me long to learn how to imitate the American accent to escape the ridicule. Later in high school I used it to my advantage by getting all the Englishman parts in school plays. I still to this day have the ability to put on an accent of a character from Birmingham or Liverpool or a cockney from London. While working in advertising I wrote a commercial for the late John Houseman to read and had the opportunity to imitate him and his accent reading the script out loud to him. He laughed at my portrayal of his character. Everyone seems to laugh at my accent.
During the 1960’s I was still a teenager and saw prejudice but did not understand what it was about things like swastikas painted on Jewish buildings and the name calling. I moved to Florida in 1968 after the segregation turmoil, yet the remnants were still there if you looked. Things like bathroom doors that had been painted over yet the word Colored could still be seen since it had been painted over and over it stood out in 3D effect.
The problem with prejudice is that it leads to racism and bigotry. Lately the words bigotry and racism have been bandied about in the media, but prejudice not as much. Prejudice is a normal part of being human, left over from early man who distrusted any human that did not look like him. It is however the root of our human problems. We react and form opinions based on our human feelings. Racism is something deeper. Opinions are fed to us from many sources and if we have some respect for the source we quickly accept and start to believe that those opinions are true and unwittingly we become racist.
Twenty years ago I took a job working with a group of men who were mostly from Haiti. The rest were a mixture of Jamaicans, Mexicans and a cross section of nationalities with even a few Florida crackers thrown in. I caught one of the Florida crackers stealing from the company and turned him in. He returned after being fired and approached me with fire in his eyes ready to do harm to me. A group of the Haitians seeing this jumped in front of him and protected me. He was escorted off the property.
I asked the Haitians why they had done this and they said, “You see the man not his color. The Cracker had called us Monkeys!” . The Haitians became good friends and would ask me to write poems in English for their girlfriends, since it was well known I wrote poetry. I happen to have a few friends who I know are bigots, that I tolerate because they also have shown that they can become compassionate under the right circumstances. I do not talk politics with them since they are Trump followers and they have heard my views on immigration, so we tolerate each other and respect each others views.
While living in Florida I made friends with a lot of Jewish people and fell in love with their humor and compassion for other people. For some reason I relate to them more than any other group. I have discovered prejudice in myself. I once found myself in an unfamiliar part of town at night walking to my car when I was confronted by 4 African American men. I became scared and wanted to run. I felt so afraid I took a defensive posture. They walked up to me and asked if I needed help with my car’s flat tire. For a moment I was confused until I glanced at the tire and saw it was flat. Two helped me change the tire and I gave them $10 in appreciation. They laughed and refused the money and walked away leaving me standing by my car wondering what had just happened. I had allowed racism to get the best of me through fear. It taught me a lesson that although you might not think you have any racism in you, it is there, lurking deep in your mind.
I am a liberal at heart, an Immigrant and a human being who after 75 years of experiencing the American way of life is still surprised when I see intolerance, prejudice and hate become common place and so few of us know what to do about it. I still eat my favorite food, English fish & chips, and sometimes I try other ethnic foods and I have some ethnic restaurants that I really enjoy. But this leaves me with only one question. With all the different ethnic foods we eat and support all kinds of ethnic restaurants, what and where do bigots eat?