31 March 2009

Checklist for Lent ~ Question Six

What is your relationship with people of color or different ethnic origin of your own? I've written about this a bit in a SweetWilliamNow entry called Odetta. In my family the American negro was a particular category. Ethnic origin, well, it's a little different, but often not so much. 

My birth family was white Anglo-Scotch-Irish; not a hint or a whiff of color in our wood pile. My parents were defacto racists and openly anti-Semitic with me and my siblings. My mother taught us to be polite and respectful of all people. Her racism was of the kind that, if I were to openly express what I had heard at home, she'd consider me rude, a disappointment, and punish me. She's use the word "punish." I can't ever recall her once openly questioning her social, educational, and cultural supremacy.

Somewhere around the age if 13 or 14 I considered it my personal duty to welcome and be kind to any person who was of a different ethnic background. When I went to the 1964 New York World's Fair in New York City I must have thought I was some kind of ambassador. I look back on it and I think, "Oh God, please, no . . . ." What a kind little boy I was greeting vendors at the exhibits of foreign nations. I can't imagine my behavior came from my father. It could only have come from my mother.

My birth family's racial and cultural primacy was taken for granted. Caribbean culture was attractive to both my parents. It was exotic, to be aspired to, something like The Copacabana of New York City of the '50's. Yeah, the same one Barry Manilow sang about. They both liked travel. Jews, Semitism, and the State of Israel were foreign. Asian cultures and Arabic cultures were non-existent. African culture was, ironically, accepted. My mother's brother traveled to Nigeria to live and conduct medical research with aspirin amongst Nigerians.

My sister Tara was accepted and was sent, with great pride by my parents, to the International School of America. Tara traveled the world for a year studying at universities and living in world capitals.  As an adult she dated Arabic and Jewish men; she married a Jewish man. She and her husband adopted a girl of African American and Thai heritage. Tara and her husband travel to and from Mexico for their art import business. My brother Tom married his beloved, a Korean woman. She and her Mother had emigrated to America. He was a journalist. He became a public relations professional, a wonderful gentleman and amabssador, and traveled for and represented Mobil Oil Corporation to governements and peoples around the world.

I know how to travel. I like to travel. I do not yearn for travel. I lived in New York City for twelve years. I moved to and remain in East Tennessee. It's a particular southern culture. While similar in ethnicity East Tennessee culture is very different from my mother's famliy's post-Puritan farm culture and traditions. It's not the nouveaux post-World War II suburban New England northern culture my father's family and his bride aspired to and created.

I have the human experience of being an "other," the stranger, the foreigner, the outsider, the alien, of being unwelcome in a new land from my moving.  And I sense this can only come about it one adopts and is adopted by a different culture.

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