This is the phrase that keeps popping up inside my head. What does this mean?
It’s a bit like pre-destination. People are either born with it or without. Despite DNA, personality, determination, physical ability. A master race is about who your parents and grandparents are. The color of your skin, the color of your eyes, the shape of your lips, nose.
Growing up, even as a little kid, I knew all these distinctions who so unfair. Yet, I didn’t know what to do. I remember my father shouting at the TV, at a black football player, C’mon you spook, pick up the ball! I remember Howard Cosell, TV sports commentator, calling an African-American player a monkey. My father referred to Brazil nuts on the bridge mix as “nigger toes.”
I also remember a tension rising up inside of me, an inner voice whispering: This isn’t right.
No one had to tell me. Of course I was curious. Were Jews schemers? Money grabbers? I had no idea, I’d never met any. Until one day in 3rd grade for show and tell one of my classmates brought in her mother, a woman who seemed small and slightly hysterical. Her eyes darted around the room. The story she began to tell was about a camp, but it was unlike any camp I’d ever been to. She and her family escaped. She recounted how when they finally got something to eat her mother screamed at her about dropping a crumb. The tone of the mom’s voice (the one sitting in front of our group) was high-pitched, tight with emotion. There was palpable fear in her voice and eyes.
Afterwards I read as many Holocaust survivor stories as I could get my hands on through the library and the Scholastic book club. Like this book where I read about the Brown Shirts:
Then there was this:
The day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed a teacher in a small town in Iowa tried a daring classroom experiment. She decided to treat children with blue eyes as superior to children with brown eyes. I must have seen a clip of this on the news because I remember a part where a young girl begins to tear up from shame, from the affront of racism, the coldness of the teacher and loneliness when her friends turned their back on her.
I have many more memories of—what can I call it? except—that feeling that this is not right.
God, it’s been forty years and why am I sitting here at the keyboard crying. Yet I can so vividly recall the horror and—here’s something important—the implied implication, the collective guilt I felt. I believe (this is not science, just a theory) that all children with a conscience must also feel this and how they act upon these feelings determines who they will be for the rest of their life. Either someone who empathizes with those being discriminated against or someone who denies that feeling, rationalizes it away, or decides it’s not important. Or maybe even a joke.
I can remember as if it were yesterday: my friend’s parents had adopted African American children. Nicole’s brother and sister were black. They came to the house to pick up Nicole, likely the parents were out in the car because they didn’t live in our neighborhood. Without knowing who the child ringing the doorbell was my brother made the wisecrack, Hide the chicken. (We were sitting down at the dinner table.) And this is what I remember the most, how hard my parents laughed. I was horrified walking to answer the door. I didn’t have the words back then. My anger only made them laugh louder.
I’ve watched the clips of the Unite the Right March in Charlottesville, the news conferences and press statements by --- and I’m telling you now—that feeling rolls over me like waves. A hand flutters to my mouth.
I cannot change my past, the color of my skin, eyes, my nose and lips, but I can use this mouth to speak. This is not right.
I think I’m going to be sick for a long, long time.