Odds ‘n’ Ends

A Different Conversation for US —

26MAY

May I propose  —  rather than a ‘conversation on race’, we need a ‘conversation on prejudice’. There is rather a lot of talk in our country this year about race and misunderstandings. I have a slightly different outlook on this topic. If once you have experienced being on the wrong side of prejudice, you have an entirely different perspective on the subject, as well as a different definition of the word.

Prejudice is insidious, it crosses all boundaries. Nationality, religion, skin color, sex and/or sexual orientation, age, occupation – you name it. Any classification of people by category is prejudice. If we are all human, then what matter all those other distinctions?

I am a 70-something white female. Ordinarily, that should be a rather generic category. Except that it isn’t, of course. I was a child during World War II, an American citizen having been born in Detroit, Michigan, of an American-born mother, and a German-born father. He had left Germany on March 1, 1929 (his 21stbirthday) for Detroit, where it was hoped an uncle could help him secure work as a skilled-tool-and-die maker, which he was. Not surprisingly, this trip was in rebellion against the ‘old-world’ ways and beliefs of his father. As the oldest son, there were certain behavioral patterns he was expected to follow, and he disagreed with them.

He was indeed skilled. He was hired immediately by the Chevrolet division of General Motors, and held that job until perhaps 1943, when he applied to be an observer in the Civil Air Patrol. As soon as he was eligible, Daddy had applied for US Citizenship and a more patriotic person would have been impossible to find. He tried to enlist in the US Army, but was declined for two reasons: he had a wife and small child, and at some point in the past, a metal chip had lodged itself in his left eye. He could still do precision work, nevertheless it was sufficient to warrant a deferment. To make up for this disappointment, he thought the next best thing would be to volunteer to be an Air Raid Warden or part of the Civil Air Patrol.

We lived in a rural area some fifteen or so miles north of the city proper, on land he had bought, and in a house he had built mostly by himself. Oh, perhaps a cousin or two, or even a friend might have helped, but I was too young then, to be certain of that after all these years. Daddy had been taught English in school, but by a German–born teacher.  Until the day he died at age 71, he sounded as though he’d just come off the boat yesterday.

Because of his heavily-accented English, and his natural curiosity about all things mechanical (which he passed on to me, his only child) we would walk the half-block to Auburn Road, the main thoroughfare in that area, which allowed tanks and ‘ducks’ and other such instruments of war to be conveyed from the Packard Auto Plant in the east to Pontiac in the west for train transport south. At 6’4”, he was a commanding presence, and I felt especially advantaged to be perched on his shoulders for this parade. Whatever childish questions I asked, he answered, in detail, thus encouraging my curiosity.

There was instant disconnect between our neighbors and our little family of three when Daddy’s application to CAP became known to the small community around us. These persons, who had always been at least friendly to us, immediately became unfriendly and convinced that this was exactly the type of behavior one could expect from those Nazis! Never mind the fact that his wife and child lived there, too, everyone knew Daddy would be in contact with the Luftwaffe to signal exactly where to drop their bombs and annihilate our neighborhood. Why the Germans would want to blow up a peaceful neighborhood was never made clear. But the fear was enough to drive us out of that home to another location some five miles away. Granted, Selfridge Field was not far from us, but it wasn’t a very likely target either, being mainly a supply outpost, providing easier access for parts needed for the war effort by the local manufacturers.

As if that wasn’t enough, Daddy had been born Catholic while Mama was raised in a Baptist household, and their marriage was consecrated in a Baptist church. But her parents (father was a Baptist minister) never approved, and did their best to malign him at every opportunity. Even after the divorce (when I was nine) they continued disparaging him at every turn. They happily took Mama and me into their household, however, when we desperately needed such shelter.

I’m not entirely sure why, but Mama remained clear of any prejudice, and instilled this trait into her child. She never hesitated to scold me if I indicated such crass behavior. This stood me in good stead when I moved to Detroit to live with her and her new husband as a teen-ager about to enter high school. I was most fortunate that the suburb in which we lived was Highland Park, which was at that time (1950) approximately 35% white, 35% black and 30% Armenian. This suburb and the schools within maintained a rainbow effect for a good many years.

In fact, shortly before he was killed, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made a highly-lauded speech at the church we attended – Highland Park Presbyterian Church. I was no longer living there, but I certainly knew about it.

To this day, I try to live by his precepts, which emanate from The Golden Rule. To me, one should be judged by the type of person they are, not by any other standard. I believe that at some point in every life, that person should be put into a minority situation, to see first-hand what it’s really like. Only then, will the terms ‘minority’ or ‘majority’ be able to be removed from our everyday vocabularies. Only then will we find peace. Not only do we need to lose our prejudices, we need to gain back the basics of humanity and society: honesty, integrity and civility.

Comments or questions? bookmechanicATgmail.com

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In the coming weeks and months, hopefully, this section of my blog will contain miscellaneous writings from the past twenty or so years of my life. Sometimes they’re poignant, sometimes opinion, sometimes humor. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

Best regards,

my-sig

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