Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll reflects on A LIFETIME OF UNFORCED DIVERSITY. She writes:

Merry Christmas tonight and tomorrow to all our Christian readers, commenters and friends. On these days that are sacred to so many, I offer what I hope is an upbeat paean to this great and good land. I grew up in a small Minnesota town where there was not one person who was not white. It’s not my fault, just a fact. A “mixed marriage” was between a Protestant and a Catholic. As young adults just out of college, Max and I lived in a yet smaller town where a “mixed marriage” was between a Polish Catholic and a German Catholic!

It’s not like dozens of African-Americans tried to get into either small Minnesota town, but were rejected by racists. Apparently, most black people had no interest in being the first in an all-white, frigid little town with no industry, only farms and small businesses. There is a reason that towns sprang up called “New Prague” and “Little Canada” and “New Ulm.” The tribal impulse is strong within us all, probably deep within our DNA; we like to live among our own.

Much later, in St. Paul, I used to go weekly to a lovely series of interviews with various singers hosted by pianist Dan Chouinard called “The Singer’s Voice.” One of the singers, a wonderful African-American Gospel singer named J.D. Steele, said that until he was 18 years old, he had never even SEEN a white person who was not on television. He grew up in Gary, Indiana. That wasn’t his fault either.

My first beautician, for that is what they were called then, was a hard-bitten divorcee who chain-smoked while working out of the three-season porch of her home. She had been married to what they call in the South “a sorry man.”

These independent ladies ran businesses in every small town in America, their shops called things like “Sy’s Beauty Box” and “Judy’s Cut ‘N Curl.” They were very busy on Prom nights and for weddings. The prominent ladies of the towns had standing appointments every week. Sy had one large, uncomfortable sink and two old clunky hair dryers that were roughly the temperature of the sun and scorched what part of your ears that were not already chemically peeled from the solution for the ill-advised perm. Good times, good times.

Many decades later, my stylist (for that was the new name) was a gay black man who, sadly, was not at all careful with his private life, and who died of AIDS. Lonnie was a sweet guy. I did not choose him because I feared that I would be a racist if I did not or because there was a mandate that I HAD to use an African-American or a gay man for “equity.” I chose him because he was a talented stylist and amusing guy.

When I bought my first new car, a VW Rabbit, I bought it from a guy right out of central casting for a car salesman. His name was really and truly Art Whaley, and it was like his parents foresaw his future and named him appropriately. He was a big and portly man in a loud plaid sports coat who used MY name in his initial pitch about 22 times per minute, as he had learned in some sales seminar. “So, Susan, what color, Susan, are you thinking about today for that new car, Susan?” Other than that little tic, Art was a hoot. When I bought my Saturn many years later, I saw one lone woman on the showroom floor and thought I would give her a shot out of sisterly support. She worked out fine, too. It was an impulse, not on principle, that I chose her.

When we bought our home in the Dusty Little Village, we used a Jewish real estate agent because he had done a good job for other friends. He was an excellent real estate agent, a nice guy, and a hopeless liberal. He was shocked, SHOCKED, that as fellow Jews, we were not fans of Barack Hussein Obama. Sigh. But, I would recommend him to anyone in a heartbeat.

I have mentioned in a previous column that I chose a black OB/Gyn to monitor my pregnancy in 1972-73 because I had had two miscarriages and wanted the best no matter what it cost. He was part of a three-man clinic that was touted as the best in all of San Francisco. Since he had gotten his medical education before Affirmative Action, I figured that he would have had to be twice as good to be accepted in an era when there definitely was still discrimination. He was also handsome, charming and soft-spoken, which never hurts.

My favorite grade school teacher was a man, just out of Teachers College, full of enthusiasm and innovative ideas. He was a breath of fresh air after a series of bitter old women displaying various degrees of mental illness and hatred for young children. On the other hand, in high school, my two favorite teachers were a Korean war vet and in 9th grade, a wonderful “tough but fair” older woman who was a stickler for good grammar. One of her dreams was to be a guerilla who would go around to D.O.T. road signs that said “Go slow” and append an “ly” to the “slow.” It really bothered her. She encouraged me to become a writer. Ta-DAH!

When I was a young secretary, everybody said, “You don’t ever want a woman boss.” But Miss Burnie was the best boss I ever had – exacting, demanding, another “tough but fair” woman who also gave you credit and rare but valued compliments when you had done a particularly good job. She demanded – and got – the best from those she “bossed.” Letters had to be perfect – no Liquid Paper allowed! Pity the fool who tried to “sneak” it in.

And today? After living in big cities and small villages and traveling to all but four states in this great and good land? I think the vast majority of our fellow Americans are kind and generous and willing to give anybody – black, white, gay, straight, young, old — a chance without prejudgment. The notion that we are still living in some kind of systemically racist society is useful only to those who would divide in order to conquer and those who want to weaponize and monetize some inadvertent (or made up) “micro-aggression.” It is demonstrably false.

When the Obamas tried to come up with times in their lives when they had been “victims of racism,” it was downright embarrassing. Why, Barack had once been mistaken for a valet, and Michelle had – wait for it, I hope you’re sitting down – been asked to reach something on a high shelf. Oh, the humanity. If only I were EVER asked to reach a high shelf!

When Halle Berry whined about all the terrible racism she had experienced in her mostly-white Ohio high school, her classmates said, “What?” Halle was a cheerleader, the prom queen, an honor student and school paper editor – they were shocked that she had found the experience of going to school with them racist. When such things are pointed out, the professional victims always fall back not on THE truth, but “my” truth. If they FELT discriminated against, then, by Jove, they WERE. It’s all so very tedious.

I now live in the most racially diverse place I have ever lived. I interact every day with Mexicans, African-Americans, Indians, and, of course, white geezers. My days are rich with friends and acquaintances and absolutely not one whit better or worse than when we all were white. Diversity is neither “our strength” nor some kind of disaster. It is a neutral factor. We are all just people, disappointing, inspiring, striving, frustrating, loving, imperfect people! And we forget that at our peril. If you don’t agree that ‘All lives matte,r, I don’t even want to know you. But you know who agrees with that in polls in greater numbers than white liberal suburban women? Black people. That gives me hope.

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