I am the firstborn (in June of 1953) son of a proud and vocal racist, a man who claimed to be part of the original John Birch Society in Los Angeles. That “Society” was a far-right organization often linked with white supremacist rhetoric and anti-government agendas. As a Los Angeles Sheriff Deputy, dad often bragged about his freedom as a cop and his ability to use his “Sam Brown” on the heads of black men.” It was a short, spring-loaded woven leather club with a lead-filled end. Growing up we heard lots of racial jokes and epithets, not just about blacks – but about any other ethnicity different from ours. I thought they were funny and just normal talk. How would I know any different?
Growing up in Los Angeles
I grew up in El Sereno (East Los Angeles) until about 3rd grade and then in Arcadia/El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley; I don’t remember any black kids in our schools. There were 2 primary groups; the white kids and the Mexican kids. Sure, some of the Mexican kids were tough. There was a section of El Monte near our High School (Arroyo) we called Little TJ, where mostly lower-income immigrants from Mexico lived. But I don’t think I saw them as any different than us – just a little poorer. My only personal experience with prejudice was as a freshman in high school. I was terrorized by a senior named Andy (from Little TJ of course) who was rumored to box with his bare hands on old metal trash can lids. He could bench press 3 or 4 times his body weight and there wasn’t an ounce of fat on him. For reasons I never understood, he hated me. If it was a racial thing, I never knew it as such. Even now, I’d probably classify it as bullying rather than anything racial.
New Life in San Diego
Sherry and I got married in Feb, 1972 and moved to a little suburb in San Diego called Pacific Beach. At this point in my life, there was no awareness of racism or prejudice. We still lived among predominantly white neighbors with a smattering of Hispanics and Asians.
College . . . Finally!
I didn’t come face to face with my own prejudice until September of 2005. I’d taken what I thought were all the General Ed classes I needed to graduate at a local Junior College, but found I still needed one more. It ended up being a course at Cal Poly Pomona, with something like “Bi-Racial Identity” in the name of the class. I needed it to graduate – my final General Ed class for my Animal Science major.
My first day in class, I was a bit overwhelmed. I was by far the oldest in the class – like by 30 or 40 years! I was also the only white male. Most of the kids were (as in the class title) bi-racial, with a smattering of Black and Asian and Hispanic. Their stories crushed me. I couldn’t imagine just walking along in my own neighborhood and being stopped by the police and asked what I was doing there. It apparently happens all the time to black kids, especially boys, in predominantly white neighborhoods. I found myself feeling a need to apologize for how people like me treated people like them.
However, just because I’d never seen the racism they experienced didn’t mean I perpetrated it as well. Growing up in a blatantly racist family inspired me to offer a different “face” to those whose skin was a different color than mine. Maybe that’s why we lived in Uganda twice and South Sudan and the Philippines and Bolivia?
Conclusion: I’m NOT a racist.