Dewey grew up in Appalachia, in the southwestern area of Virginia. His father was an itinerant farmer and he worked on farms near the towns of Fries (pronounced “freeze”) and Galax before moving the family to Lynchburg. Dewey quit school in the 8th grade to join the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. That was a program that President Franklin Roosevelt started to give work to young men while sending half their wages back to their families. It was the Great Depression and families were starving. Dewey worked building some of the park facilities we now enjoy along the Blue Ridge Parkway before heading to a munitions job in Virginia Beach.
And then he decided to enlist, even though he was underaged and had a finger that never had grown fully. He was trained as military police and served World War II in a detainment center for US GIs who had broken laws and also gone AWOL. When the war was over, he decided to stay in Tennessee and took a position with the Air National Guard in charge of the motor pool. As such, he was called up to serve in Korea. He never talked much about his experience except to say the “mamasans did a great job with the laundry for next to no money”.
He finally got his high school diploma and so, continued on his way. He never dreamed, just worked hard each morning before he headed to his job. He had 10 acres for a while and grew large amounts of food. He served as a helper for a local auction house on the weekends. He stayed very busy all the time. He didn’t play much, but he nurtured a flock of white doves and encouraged his boys to play the guitar and sing. He went on assignments with the Air National Guard. They ended up in Paris one year on July 14th and he said he headed right back to the airport because there was too much fuss going on. It was Bastile Day and he did not understand the cultural celebration.
Dewey was my father-in-law and when I got to know him, he already was in his 60s. I was the interloper, a Yankee married into his Southern family. I was pretty sure he did not like me but I knew he fiercely loved me because his son has chosen me. Dewey and I often did not see eye-to-eye but his actions were always easy to understand.
First point: Things were good because they had been done a certain way before and they should always be done that way. The fact that something or someone did not work well did not matter. Something was rated “good” because it had been done before. So, no need to drive on the new interstate highways when the old highway, you know the one with all the traffic lights, is right there. Also no need to go to college because there are jobs that don’t require that.
Second point: Those people who are bothered by things that don’t work well don’t really matter. They may be nonwhite, or nonmale. Probably also nonChristian. The acceptable people, the people who matter, are white Christian men…and maybe their womenfolk…maybe.
So, Dewey had some beliefs throughout his life that were based on lessons he had in the impoverished rural Appalachian culture of his youth and held strong his lack of opportunity or desire to learn other lessons from other places and times. And so, he was stuck in a rut that often caused family discord.
We all know people like that. They are so set in their way, so sure about their information, that no one can sway them off their mark. They can get downright ugly in their stubborn way.
The big difference between my pigheaded uneducated father-in-law and the people who remind me of his curmudgeon side is that Dewey was honest. Always. He also did nice things for other people. Always. And he never ever tooted his own horn. Never. And he was always polite with his words. Always. He also was a classic white southern male who grabbed a handful of female butt as he tried to french kiss what had been an attempted kiss on the cheek. Yup..that kind of good old boy.
Despite all the stubbornness, that fact that Dewey was honest, that I always knew his “WORD” was good, made me proud to be his daughter-in-law. I learned things from this unhappy man. And yes, one was to avoid his hands.
The history of the Jewish people includes how we have been the focus of hatred by many. Historic reasons, tribal reasons, hatred, and bigotry against anyone who has a different belief system all have been part of our 5000+ year history. And yes, I was carefully taught to KNOW my history while being careful not to let HATE enter my life in my feelings with people. I have caught myself thinking comments of generalization as this teaching rose up and I could say THIS person is a problem, not the whole group of however that person identified.
When I was in 6th grade I had my first in-my-face experience with bigotry. It was a “dirty Jew” comment over something pretty inconsequential but disappointing to that person. I immediately went to sarcasm and told her I took a daily shower, but it stung and I carried that all the way from the mid-1960s to my 40th high school reunion planning when I was asked to pick out names I remembered to make contacts and urge attendance. One name I very much recognized and told my friend, the organizer, why I would not call. He challenged me to TRY to clear the air, if ONLY for myself.
I had to think about it but realized I had taken more difficult steps in my life. What happened next was a case of redemption. She did not remember it. Of course not, it was not impactful to her as it was to me. We tend to remember things that make huge impressions. It was just a regular school day for her, which indicates the way she had been raised. However, here it was, essentially 45+ years AFTER the incident and her immediate words were the key: “I am SO sorry. Believe me, please, I am no longer that way.” Wow…..what a wonderful feeling something horrible dissolving inside me.
I have had other issues being a Jew in a nonJewish world. I’ve been asked “Where are your horns?” which many people do not even know is based on the Michelangelo statue of Moses. Turns out it is a Bible translation error once again…and so, based on a choice by someone in the Middle Ages, we have a concept that is ridiculously believed by some.
I was the only white person who sat and ate lunch with two African-American women in one workplace. We were the same age and it was good to hear their stories and learn more about life there. It was fun; they even corn-rowed my hair once. When I told them I am Jewish, they got very still, frowned, and said “But you’re so nice.” I told them they were also and they immediately recognized their bigotry had just been cracked a bit. They also had been “carefully taught”.
There’s more but all my stories have not included an element of being afraid for my life. That’s a key component that our society has been imposing on all people of color here. Yes. They FEAR for their lives. And rightly so. We EARNED their anger.
There are bigotry and even hatred of people who are different. WHY? Most of the perceived issues are very superficial: skin color is obvious. And yet, even many people who say they are not bigoted have no close friends that look “different”. I started asking people who argued with me that I was exaggerating the issues “Do you ever invite them to your home to break bread?” Here’s the answer most of the time.
I irritated my mother when I made friends with the parents of a kid in my oldest son’s kindergarten class. His dad called himself a Persian. He was here in the US attending university when the Shah was disposed and his family told him not to come home. He applied for refugee status and later achieved citizenship. He cooked for us, we cooked for him, and the world felt better, less scary. I had broken one of my “carefully taught” issues of being very watchful around “Arabs”.
My mom also had concerns when I seized the opportunity to spend six months in Germany on business. I arrived, flying from JFK, an hour or so before my coworkers arrived on their flight from Atlanta, so I sat in the Frankfort airport people-watching and became very aware that they “look just like me.” Then, we boarded a train at the airport to travel south about an hour…and I couldn’t help but think “here I am, a Jew on a train in Germany.” The next morning we reported to the American army post located on a kasern built for WWII. There were swastikas carved into the architecture. I had to spend the first few days overcoming my “carefully taught lesson” by repeating “I am here. He is not.” I think the most horrible part of my trip is that I had to work and delving into travel exploration was restricted to weekends. It was overall a good experience with a lot of teaching and a lot of learning.
I had heard that after the war, the new government in Germany wanted to make sure they would never again fall into such horrible sheep again, disconnected from moral decision making. First, the American army made locals who swore, despite the odor in the air, that they did not know what was happening, to clean up the camps. Then the German government outlawed the symbols of Nazism. This was a “heritage” that was not to be honored ever again by people. We visited Dachau and watched the students act like typical unruly teenagers as the information film started, turn into open-mouth silent beings. They could understand what I call the Hitler rants. And they did not admire it at all.
Why am I sharing this? My personal story is minor compared to so many of the people of color who live as our neighbors but, too often, not as our friends. I wanted to remind you that the world is full of hate, even here. We can not fix the world. All we can each do is fix ourselves and help heal this nation.
A song was shared in the We Are Here: A Celebration of Resilience, Resistance, and Hope twice……that’s how good an anthem it is. The ‘Partisans’ Song’ – Zog Nit Kein Molwas written by Hirsch Glik, 22, in the Vilna Ghetto in 1943. It is one of the most powerful songs of resistance and defiance ever written when you consider that Hitler boasted that his Reich would endure for a thousand years, and it is the Jewish people who resisted the forces of hatred and have endured, not the Third Reich, which lasted twelve years.
Let’s get to work and realize that indeed to prove all lives matter we must pay attention NOW to fixing things so BLACK LIVES MATTER also and don’t stop there….we have a lot to do to raise all people. And please remember that YOUR status is not diminished in any way as we raise all who need to be.
I think ALL of us can agree on one thing: our American society is sick right now. So much finger pointing is going on about the causes, but there are some truths that can’t be ignored.
One is on male anger: our young boys are taught to “man up”, to suppress their natural dismay and fear and unhappiness and learn to be stoic. And the hurts build up until it festers. Some people turn inward and we have a lot of teen depression and anxiety. Others, unfortunately, turn outwards and access a way to strike out. Such are mass murderers nurtured…..and it is all of us who parented that one. Because we are part of the society that encourages this way of raising boys. Today there was another shooting in Texas with 5 dead and 21 injured..and it was a young white male who is the (now dead) suspected perp.
The other is white male privilege. I read an opinion piece I urge you to read. It’s long and you might want to close it down. I urge you, instead, to read it in bits. Take it in. Share it. It may not resonate with you but when I read it, I had a few insights of enlightenment. Perhaps you can, too.
It is apparent to anyone who is not a white male that the white guys have access to many things that people of color and women generally have to work harder to achieve. And we know pay scales are different. We know perception of why people act the way they do is different based on color and gender. This article develops the historic reasons why.
The ONLY time I ever was close to a position that the white males of the USA enjoy was the summer of 1972 when I went to Israel. It took a few weeks there when it hit me: most people around me were Jewish. It was the first time in my life that I was in the majority. I was no longer an “other”.
While I had entered the identifiable group, I was only on the fringe because I did not have the language nor a lot of the modern cultural knowledge, but, once learned, I would be there. I propose to you to consider the experience you had when you visited the country where your family’s heritage is based. You may not been able to speak (fluently) in that language and you would not know the day-to-day societal norms, but you could learn them if you immersed. If you have never gone to the “old country” nor ever really learned any ethic cooking, dances, or stories, if your family has lost its cultural heritage and you just “know” you are part Irish, for example, you probably will not be able to access this point of insight. It is NOT the feeling you get when you are on your 5th green beer on St. Patrick’s Day and just looovveeee everyone in the bar.
That feeling of “belonging” to a group that is in the majority and has a strong voice in the society gave me a sense of calm……and I had not recognized prior that I was otherwise anxious. That anxiety increased greatly when I lived in the Bible Belt and was very definitely an “other” much more than when I grew up in the ethically and culturally diverse New York metropolitan area.
So, without even going into the God-given rights as discussed in Christianity and the Cult of Trump, I could see that white men subconsciously feel safe. Since they have been the predominate group, they have the power. And when I felt for the experience I had, the feeling of being IN the group in Israel, I could finally grasp just what white male privilege is.
Part of the pushback by angry white men MIGHT be because it sounds like they are being considered “inferior” because of skin color and that is an impossibly hard concept to swallow (and yes, ironic as hell). No, it’s not your skin color……it is your attitude. But your skin color gave you access and so your attitude is that everyone has equal access, which is not true. Once you wake up to the difference, we can begin the job of healing this society.
The second insight I received reading this article was related to religion. As you know, I am Jewish but married to a Christian. For twelve years I have been attending church with him, learning about the stories and practices of this faith. And what I have learned has taught me that Jesus was all about teaching love by actions. He tried to simplify things, since people then like people now seem to have issues with reading long and deep. He acknowledged the Ten Commandments but basically said it comes down to treating others the way you want to be treated. That really should be simple enough for people to understand….but it is not.
I told my husband I would go to church with him but only as long as people respected me. His answer, “If they don’t, we’re in the wrong place.” So I was embraced by people at Ascension & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Pueblo, Colorado for my introduction. The people at Huntington, West Virginia’s St. John’s Episcopal Church asked especially for me to participate in study groups because my point of view would be different and would lead to more interesting discussion. Now in McMinnville, Oregon at McMinnville Cooperative Ministry, a blended Lutheran-Methodist church, I am participating in actions to help the community and even though I am not baptized, I am recognized as a full member of the congregation.
Simply, the exposure I have had to Christianity has lead me to understand that we are all imperfect but should be striving to BE LIKE JESUS.
In contrast, the Christianity I saw on full display living in the Bible Belt was, for the most part, significantly different. When I first moved to Nashville in 1975 I was greeted “Hello! Welcome to Nashville! What church do you belong to?” in one continuous breath. Sunday mornings were the best time to go grocery shopping (except the beer was inaccessible until noon, not a big problem for me.) because people either were in church or sleeping in; basically not going out in public if not at church so not to be identified as “one of those”. It also was when I learned not to expect to schedule anything on Wednesday night, as many had midweek church suppers at the very least.
So, if they were so tuned into church life, why was there so much anger towards “others”?
I worked for 18 months (way too long) in an office in Vanderbilt Medical Center where the electronic medical equipment was repaired and kept running at peak efficiency. The assistant director was a guy in his late 30s who proudly told me he was an elder in his church. He also told me that all the other people who thought they were Christian were not. He belonged to the XYZ Christian Church and others went to Southern Baptist or Church of Christ or some other denomination without “Christian” in their name. Ergo, they were not Christian. He said all this with a straight face.
This same guy stumbled into work bleary-eyed one morning shortly after his second child had been born. I asked if the baby had kept him up. No, it was another problem. At his church. Apparently, one of the Sunday School teacher positions had to be filled and the congregation had been asked for volunteers. Two men had offered but they just could not be considered. Why? He was hesitant to speak it….I wondered if he knew his indoctrination was not quite right and that caused him distress? He finally said that the two guys were “a couple.” I responded with “What’s the problem?” He was shocked I didn’t automatically “get it” and asked “Would you want one of THEM teaching your kids?” I kept calm and asked him if the Sunday School has a curriculum that the teachers use to teach the religious training they want the kids to get. Yes. I asked if any of the curriculum included getting naked and touching each other. NO!!! “Well, then,” I repeated, “what’s the problem?” He stomped away in frustration. (I seriously hated using that argument because it feeds the convoluted concept that homosexuals are pedophiles even as we hear at LEAST once a month about some ordained Christian minister being caught in incest or some other inappropriate act with a minor. And THAT gets no discussion so it really is a GREAT example of white male privilege.)
The next morning the boss stumbled in again and I played coy and again asked if the baby was ok. Yes,….it was “the other thing.” Turned out, after kids were asleep and his wife also and he was just drifting off he clearly heard a deep resonant voice (James Earl Jones?) “Love your brother!” And a few seconds later, it was repeated, “Love your brother!” I asked him if God had ever talked to him before and he slowly said ” noooo”. So then I told him the message was pretty clear…..and was he going to approve hiring the two volunteers for the teaching spot. He didn’t want to. So, I pushed a bit, “But God told you to LOVE YOUR BROTHER and I think God would be okay if you just let him teach the class.”
I have no idea what eventually happened there. I would prefer to think that those guys found a better church family, one that could respect and love them as Christ taught. (Is it considered teaching if teh lesson is not learned?) But this was only one of many many incidents related to the need to make everyone believe the same that I experienced and for many, I was the one they were trying to change.
These experiences, when compared to the ones I have had at the churches where I attended, have been significantly different and when Miguel A. De La Torre wrote in his essay Christianity and the Cult of Trump, he mentioned that Christianity as practiced in the South IS different from Christianity practiced elsewhere in the USA.
I want to interject that I know there are “liberal” churches in the South, just as there are “conservative” churches throughout the country. In the 21 years that I lived in Tennessee I had five active Christian friends who walked the walk and loved me as I am with no “need” to fix me. And I have also met others in other areas of the country who very much want to “save” me.
The point Mr.De La Torre wrote and I sensed is that when a culture has a majority population with a similar mindset, it influences the mores of the area. So, with a pervasive attitude in the Bible Belt that the fundamentalist spin is the ONLY right way to Christ, it makes everyone else an “other”. That means the unchurched, the nonChristians, and so many others need to be fixed or made to leave.
I very much felt like an “Other” in the South and there are a few people around me that may try also. Because white men essentially run this nation and the conservative Christian church has learned how to make their voice heard, we are all immersed in this struggle. The first step is to stop denying it.
I grew up in an all-white neighborhood. It’s not that way now, but it was back in the 1950s and 1960s. My dad got our neighbors all in a tizzy when he would have meetings about civil rights in our dining room. Cars would park at our curb and “colored” people went into our house. There probably is a file in the storage area of the FBI with my dad’s name on it and that makes me proud.
Vacant prior to demolition, one of three buildings in the complex.
Same dad: when I was selected to play violin in our all-county-orchestra, so was one of my friends. She lived in one of the 8-story apartment buildings which was the model in the 1960s for low income housing. I have to assume that phone conversations between my father and my friend’s mother occurred, because each week we would park, go into the building and up the elevator to get her, returning her a few hours later the same way. I do not remember being afraid, because I was with my dad, and after several weeks the crowd comments changed from something a bit challenging to ones of encouragement for the music.
In 1978 I moved to Memphis, Tennessee to work with an engineering/planning consulting firm. Everyone took lunch at the same time and most people used the 45 minutes to leave the building. I often brought my lunch and sat eating about once a week with three women who were my age. They were the company “gofers” and were surprised I would sit with them. I was, after all, white and they weren’t. I was, after all, educated, and they weren’t. When I found out one woman had never learned to swim we arranged for her to come home with me overnight, and I taught her in my condo complex pool. She was actually shaking before we got there. I assured her I wouldn’t let her drown. No, she was more concerned that the white people would be ugly about her getting into the pool.
This is what she knew.
In more recent years while my son Sam was running track for his high school, Graham and I enjoyed the 5-hour meets by becoming the team photographers. The other athletes got to know us and trust us over each season and as the years went on, those in Sam’s class cohort because more and more friendly with us old geezers. Two guys in particular came and spent time in our home and one even went on a road trip with us. They shared stories about their lives that opened my eyes. While Sam could go anywhere for his practice runs, these young black men had to be very careful selecting their routes if they ran alone. They were stopped just about every time. They were stopped driving their cars at least once a week. They were pushed and shoved and treated in ways that made no sense at all, especially considering the courtesy they always showed and the way they spoke.
We white people have NO idea how bigotry is so alive and well. Well, maybe you do, because you feel the hate. If you say there is no bigotry, you don’t know what you don’t know, but you can take steps to model tolerance and brotherhood. “Tis the season to start.
The Way It Looks…….It’s not going to be pretty tomorrow when the Grand Jury hands down its decision in Ferguson, regardless of what the ruling is. Presumptions have been made. Regardless, it is not going to be friendly.
The Way It Looks…..People are going to remain bigoted, righteous in their position, and angry as hell. There will be no effort to work it out.
The Way It Looks….there will be many people hurt, many people arrested, many people who feel they have no other way they can express their feelings.
The Way It Looks…there will be many people who will take advantage of the situation to break the law.
The Way It Looks…the cycle will continue.
Unless YOU change YOUR ways.
Unless YOU step up to help offer solutions.
Unless YOU look in your own neighborhood, your own town to make sure everyone is treated equally and fairly.
The Way It Looks…you will be just as apathetic tomorrow in your anger as you are in anticipation of it today.