No, I do not think I’m a racist. But, I do wonder how my thinking towards race has evolved over the years and especially in light of recent events in my life.
My boys are bi-racial. My two wives were both of a different race than me and I’ve dated different ethnicities and races, religions, and other varieties of women plenty before I married the first time, at 39.
Nor am I homophobic having worked in showbiz for decades and losing a dear friend to AIDS back in the early eighties.
But, my views on other political issues could be characterized as moderate or conservative and it seems all too often that conservatives are labeled racist, homophobic, islamophobic, sexist, xenophobic, and any other phobia that can be used with the goal to marginalize their views rather than engage in a fair and honest debate. It’s a heckuva lot easier just to call them “ists” and “phobes” rather than deliberate the issue.
I grew up in the fifties and sixties. I came from a liberal – JFK liberal, that is – Jewish family where FDR was a G*d and my parents only voted democrat. I was in college during the Vietnam era and participated – unwillingly – in the draft lottery where I received a high enough number for it not to be an issue, shortly before the war ended.
I did not attend anti-war rallies or get active in any “peace” movement, though I did love Phil Ochs, a very political “protest” singer of the era as well as all the big folkies and rock ‘n’ roll groups of my generation. My interest in the politics of the time was limited except for the potential sexual opportunities that seemed available to everyone but me in those days.
Later, I entered showbiz where being Jewish and Democrat/Left are synonymous. Again, I didn’t participate much in politics, but did sort of go along with the general flow of Hollywood.
In my thirties, I started to become politically aware and began listening, reading, absorbing, and forming my own opinions. The issue of race equality was already borne deep into me from my childhood, my parents, my religion, my college years, but also my own gut instinct that a human being should be judged on their actions rather than religion, race, or ethnicity.
Nothing in my political education ever changed that belief that an individual should be judged on his or her merits, period.
Yet hanging recently with my urban chick friends and hearing their stories I’ve reflected, perhaps deeper than ever before, on how lucky I was to have the background I had and how – for many – their backgrounds can truly be a hurdle to overcome.
Their stories include ample use of slang, swearing, and phrases like “baby daddy” and other references to their large and varied family structures. One of them had two kids before she was twenty. The other did not finish high school, though she came from a family that wasn’t poor, but she just gravitated towards the wrong group of kids.
Both have extended families that would need an Excel spread sheet to keep track of. The number of half-siblings is considerable as is the lack of marriage between most of their parents, stepparents, and other adults in their lives. This is their natural order, their view of the world.
Further, both spend money like it’s going out of style. They were never taught to save and the things they spend on seem so wasteful to me. I was taught from the moment I could add to be conscious of money and spending.
Little things such as ordering soft drinks ALL the time is their norm. Spending any available cash on so-called beauty supplies, alcohol, weed, and fashion is just their way. And, their parents do much the same.
Their view of the government is simply get whatever you can. Their view of society is sue if you can get something, regardless of whether it really is right.
And, all these views are accompanied by a sense of knowing-it-all that is astonishing to me, given their financial travails and struggles, let alone their youth since both are in their twenties.
But, I began to see how their backgrounds informed their thinking. How we differed so much on basic ideas, especially when it came to money and spending. And, further, though I surely don’t think of myself as racist, I did begin to think of myself as incredibly fortunate with my upbringing in comparison to theirs.
I suppose the only part of their lives I sort of envy, is the extended families they have. Mine is so small that holidays often are melancholy events while their families could fill a stadium.
Yet, one of these young women is seeing her “birth” father for the first time since she was a little girl. He’s fathered ten kids from a number of different women. He’s now open to renewing his relationship with his daughter and she is terribly excited about it. Wow.
Am I racist? Absolutely not. But, was I fortunate in having the upbringing I had and the parents I had. You bet!