Friday, November 4, 2011

Oh, To Be Color Blind

Every year, in early November when my father’s birthday approaches, I think about his legacy. Yes, he really was color blind--he couldn’t tell the difference between green and gray—but, way more important—he was philosophically and morally color blind.

Too frequently something happens that brings him back to life. When Jimmy Carter said that he blamed the opposition to President Obama on anti-black sentiments, explaining that he was from the South and was qualified to recognize prejudice, we understood. Why did someone shut him up? Why didn’t he every repeat his thoughts?
Isn’t it time we all faced the truth? If you live in the morally isolated northeast or northwest, you may find it easy to insulate yourself.
I remember a business trip to Richmond, Virginia. I entered a large store and felt almost at home. The street was clean, the stores were familiar. Then I left the store through the rear exit. All I could think of was that I had been transported to downtown Newark (before it was somewhat gentrified). No, there weren’t signs to tell us who could drink out of each fountain, but it sure felt like a different city.

We spent many weekends in the Lake Okeechobee vicinity in central Florida. When we asked the locals where we could get some good barbecue, they suggested two restaurants. So we proceeded to try each. Why were we the only whites in only one of them? South Florida may be like New York south, but the rest of the state, not so much.

 I really must be naïve. I thought that my father’s lessons and attitudes were heard by more than just me. He was a real pioneer. He was the president of the local Brotherhood Council for years while I was growing up. I never knew who would appear at our dinner table: the local Catholic priest, the Methodist minister, a member of the NAACP, his doctor friend from India. I still doubt that my mother accepted my father’s friends without question, but she was smart enough to keep quiet.
Where did my father, who would be 99 on November 7 of this year, learn? He grew up in Brooklyn, but served in the Army during World War II. Could it be that when you have to depend on someone for basic survival, you become color blind? Or was he just a good person?
When the time came to vote in the last presidential election, we chose to vote early. We selected a polling place where we knew we would wait in line for hours with the local Haitian community. I just wanted to experience pure joy and excitement. There were people distributing drinks and chips and cookies, and it felt like a block party.
 When Barack Obama won the election, I felt the euphoria of my freshman year in college, when we stayed up all night to see John F. Kennedy elected. Will we ever feel that way again?

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