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Racism in Modern Day America

Marcus and Mason - Idyllwild, CA - 2005

A few years back, we had a cabin in the beautiful mountain village of Idyllwild, CA. We cherished our weekends there, and talked often of moving up permanently. Our unique family of two white gay dads and two African American boys never seemed to garner even a raised eyebrow. We had many friends and felt incredibly connected to “the hill” and its inhabitants.

Then, one day while driving through town up to our cabin, we passed the village’s ultra-tacky Christmas store, only to see a Confederate flag hanging outside.

That flag hung in my thoughts all weekend.  Why would a Christmas store fly a Confederate flag?  What did it mean for us?  For the community?  What underlying hatred did it speak to?

I decided that, instead of letting the question fester, I would get an answer.  I took the kids into the store and asked to speak with the manager.  He wasn’t in and so, instead, I spoke with the saleswoman and asked her about the flag.  She glanced at our kids and was obviously embarrassed at having to justify the sales of such.  She made a half-hearted attempt, but quickly summed it up:  “We’re diversifying, you know?  We’ve got all kinds of flags, and those were just, um, in the box.  Others have complained, but the owner wants them left up.”

Hitting a brick wall, I took another tack and wrote a letter to the local paper.  The store was called “Christmas Is…” and so my letter was entitled “Christmas Is…Bigotry?”  As you can imagine, it provoked a firestorm of responses.  While most were in support of us, what was most interesting to me was the response of the store owners.

They were downright giddy about the attention that I’d brought them and very defensive about their selection of flags, encouraging the readers to “hurry and get one before they’re all gone.” They then got very personal, writing they “knew who we were”, as if that negated my concern.

What was fascinating, though, was that I was later told that the store owners themselves were gay.  Gay men, who’d likely faced discrimination on some level themselves, defending racism.  Promoting economics over a history of hatred, and unconcerned about any angst their flag caused in others.

Now, everyone is entitled to be racist.  You can dislike whomever you choose.  But there is something so ironic about people who come from a community who has long battled against such hatred, easily embracing their own.

I have some acquaintances who are Jewish, and to hear them spew their hatred of illegal immigrants on an ongoing basis really gives one pause.  Don’t they see the connection?

Racism, of course, rears its head in more subtle ways as well.  One of our boys has a best friend whom we have invited to every single birthday, yet our son has never been included in his parties.  Is that due to race?  Having gay dads?  Who can say?

But I notice it.  And while I’m not certain that our sons do, at some point they will, and we’ll have yet another conversation about the effects of racism.

We all are born a clean slate, but learn quickly from those around us who is “worthy of respect” and who is not.  We are taught to hate, and if indeed we have negative feelings within us, we owe it to ourselves to explore our belief system, find the tangled pieces, and re-wire ourselves.

We can make this a better world, if only we try.

 

6 Responses

  1. I completely sympathize with your horrible experience here – how deeply saddening to feel suddenly unwelcome where you once felt safe. But I also would not want to see a society where some dictated what others can or can’t sell or promote. Who gets to decide, then, what flags the rest of us can fly? That to me is frightening and un-American. Tolerating diversity means also tolerating that which you would not personally endorse. ( I would also point out that the Confederate flag has been a bit maligned. It represents many things to many different people, not all of it negative, not all of those people racist. )

    October 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    • Thanks, Lichen. My larger point isn’t who can fly what, but that I wanted the store owner to have to defend their choice to sell it. I wanted that person to explain their rationale to the faces of my kids. Regardless of their reasons, there are real-life consequences to their decision. I’m not in total agreement about the flag being maligned. Both my folks are from the south and we go there quite often. And at least in that world, it is a symbol of oppression.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:51 am

  2. Clarice DeArmond

    I think we are all guilty of being racist, without thinking about it. I do my best to teach my children that we are equal no matter what color of skin and to treat everyone the way you would like to be treated, not the way they treat you! We all bleed red!!

    November 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm

  3. Catherine R.

    Kergan,

    Just wanted you to know that that second to last sentence is really quite quoteable. I love it.

    Cath

    July 29, 2011 at 10:00 am

  4. Bill Richardson

    As my own story tells, it IS taught – and can be overcome. The song in “The King and I” is brilliant regarding the “teaching” aspect of bigotry.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm

  5. Rebeccca Reynolds-Johnson

    I am proud of you for writing that newspaper. Yes, racism is learned…and passed on by those who do not care for human beings, whom are all in the ultimate group of God’s children.

    July 11, 2011 at 11:27 am

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