Last night I way lying in bed, thinking about all the political news going on right now. There’s so much of it, that keeping track of everything is next to impossible! My mind wandered over to the fact that win or lose, whether you agree with his politics or not, the candidacy of Barack Obama for President has been nothing short of historic and remarkable. Think about it -
Judging by all the recent polling data, the presidential race in North Carolina is neck and neck. This is in a southern state, not even 50 years after the worst of segregation and Jim Crow. And while I have blogged about the fact that voter demographics in my home state are changing, that’s not the sole cause for the strength of the Obama campaign’s effort, another part of it is that southern attitudes on race are changing.
As I thought the reasons for this, I thought of the long journey that many native, and frankly older southerners have walked as they were once part of a society that embraced racism and a social order that kept one group below another solely on the basis of skin color. As I wrote about when Jesse Helms died, this was an inherited norm, rather than some diabolical desire.
And then my thoughts led me back to my parents. My Mom and Dad are both products of the rural south in the 1940s and 1950s. If there is anyone who would have naturally inherited, by no fault of their own, racist views, it is the two of them. They certainly had siblings and parents (though not all) who had racist views to some degree or another. But for all of my time growing up in my comfortable middle class home, I never once heard my parents say anything racist.
In fact, I vividly remember my parents having African-American friends both at work and in their social lives. We bowled (yes, my family bowled, that’s another blog sometime…) with an African-American family, shared meals in each others’ homes and went to bingo parlors together. I have faint memories of my parents discussing the “looks” they would get from other white friends for hanging out with a minority family - but it never bothered my parents one bit, and they never backed down from any of those friendships.
My parents’ attitude naturally found its way into my values. I made best friends with an American Indian in second grade and consider him to be my brother to this day. Though it was natural that the majority of my friends were white, because there was still much social segregation, I can remember having many friends from many different ethnic groups.
There’s not anything particularly remarkable about that - many children who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s had similar experiences. And my generation has certainly had our own biases and prejudices to work through and improve on. (For example, growing up, I would tell jokes about many ethnic groups. Though I grew out of that, I must be frank and admit that I still find humor in cultural differences where I probably shouldn’t.)
But I use my own life as an example to say this; My parents gave me both material things and values growing up. I wanted for nothing and am eternally grateful for my upbringing. But what they didn’t give me, was any hint of racism. They didn’t give me the idea that someone from another ethic group is worth less than I am. They didn’t inherit or pass on to me racism, despite the fact that it was the cultural norm when they grew up.
What they didn’t give me is probably one of their greatest gifts of all.