Pete's Blog


When I was a child in the late 1950s there were, I think, five grade schools in my school district and field trips often included all five, students riding in their own buses from their own schools. Only one of the five schools had any black students, as I recall. So on these trips, especially in the times when we all milled about waiting for our buses, they tended to stand out. Except "stand out" isn't really the term. I remember, as probably everyone does, that these trips gave the tough kids an opportunity to act out, especially sitting on the bus where they could call out insults without being seen. Girls were insulted, and weaker boys, but when the black kids from Tracy School came into view something changed. "Hey! Black babies! Hey! Chocolate!"I remember being shouted out the windows of the bus. (This was before "black" was the correct term.) It was not the usual catcalling - there was an electric edge to it, a pathology that I recognized but did not understand. What made these particular kids so much worse than the stuck-up girls and sissified boys that were these bullies' normal target? They didn't dress or act any differently than the rest of us, it seemed to me then. Why did these boys react like wild animals at bay? As the years went by the Civil Rights movement came and prospered. I got used to being alternately amused and put off by the excesses of our racial politics, the parade of self-serving demagogues claiming the mantle of Martin Luther King, the tortuous logic used to justify manifestly silly positions, the constant invocation of racism to nullify any criticism, however restrained and respectful. It got to the point, for me, that racism had been claimed so often and so speciously that the word didn't have any real meaning left. But in recent months the mindless hysteria among critics of President Obama has given the word its definition back. The pious horror at the thought of the President of the United States addressing schoolchildren on closed-circuit television isn't about any policy disagreement. It's the same pathology that made my grade-school bullies react as if they had been touched by a cattle prod, a rabid, fearful, snarling, attack on The Other. It's a pathology I had come to think didn't exist. But it's there. It needs to be faced. It needs to be named.

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