Archive for March, 2014

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Racism: Things Really Have Changed

March 3, 2014

Racism has always shocked me. When I was 7 I was astounded to hear a neighbor declare, “Randy’s father doesn’t like black people.” I can’t remember how old I was before I understood what the “N word” employed as a quotation in a comic book adaptation of The Cross and the Switchblade meant, because I had never heard the word. In my family, thanks to my parents, racism simply wasn’t employed, ever.

One of the things I am proud of with my own children is that they don’t “get” racism. I tried watching one of the few sports films I like—Remember the Titans—with them a few years ago, and it was meaningless. The main point of the drama’s racial tension went completely over their heads, as they had no context for it.

It is very rare now for racism to intrude on my life, and it still surprises me. In Florida, I overheard someone claim that a recent increase in drug problems in the local area were all due to blacks. I laughed, though, when, the next morning, a photo of the two major drug dealers in the town was on the front page after a sting operation had gone down: They were both most certainly Caucasian.

Over time, though, with so few reminders of our country’s very racist past, I’ve tended to minimize it, much like Louis CK explains in his appearance with Jay Leno.

Then I read this week’s “Honorary Unsubscribe” in the “This Is True” newsletter to which I subscribe. It tells the story of Lee Lorch, who passed away last week. Give it a read.

Due to his stand for equality, Lorch, a Jewish mathematician:

  • He was fired from his teaching position at City College of New York
  • He was fired from Pennsylvania State University
  • While at Fisk University (a historically black school), he argued (but failed) to prevent a meeting of the Mathematical Association of America from being, as per policy, “Whites only”
  • He was ordered to testify at the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he directly denied being a Communist, and then refused to answer questions about his politics, citing the First (not Fifth) Amendment to the Constitution. This got him indicted, and tried (but acquitted) for contempt of Congress, and then fired from Fisk.
  • While at a Black College in Little Rock, he and his wife volunteered to help escort the Little Rock Nine to school, earning them numerous death threats, and leading them to move to Canada.

This is greatness. Not winning an Oscar, not being elected to office, not amassing wealth …

May I be so determined to fight, and live, for what is right.