Magnifying Intentions

My last two posts have sort of flirted with the issue of racism.  I provided a couple examples of comments I heard and how they impacted my feelings.  Now I think it’s important to go back a bit further to when I was a young boy growing up in suburban Seattle and the influence my parents and family played.  Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Week continues.

The suburbs of Seattle in the early 70s weren’t so diverse.  Of course this meant the public schools I attended weren’t either.  My parents chose the neighborhood for the size of the home and the amenities it offered.  When they left California in 1970 to start a new life in Seattle, they already had four children therefore a big house was a must.  Three more children would arrive and thus the seven children called Seattle home. 

My dad was born in Arkansas, but spent most of his formative years in Northern California.  My mom grew up on the East Coast, making nearly daily trips into New York City in her teenage years.  Her dad was a banker and they moved west to pursue a job in California.  My parents met in college, wed in their early 20s, and gave life to seven blond hair blue-eyed kids. 

Anyways, that’s an abbreviated history of my parents.  I recall many racist remarks my father would blurt out.  Most tended to be disparaging towards Asians for some reason.  My wife and I lived above a popular Asian grocery store before we bought our first house.  My dad happened to pay us a visit once and sadly made jokes at the expense of Asians.  I bring this up because as an adult it pained me to see he hadn’t changed his ways.

As I typed this post I recalled hostility my father had towards hispanics too.  I distinctly remember a time when we were visiting my aunt in California.  My dad was highly suspicious of a hispanic man.  My mom later explained to me there was a time (before I can recall) when they were robbed at knife point by a "Mexican guy".  I don’t think my dad ever let that incident go and had a blanketed distrust of all hispanics.  (Typing this paragraph really bothers me.)

Experience: As a child I was very active.  I rode my bike all over our neighborhood, spent hours in the pool during the summer months, built "forts" in the woods, played hoops at my neighbor’s house, and all that other stuff boys do.  Thankfully for me I didn’t care about race as long as my neighbors wanted to go outside and play, that’s all that mattered to me.   I didn’t care if they weren’t white like me.  If they wanted to play basketball, that’s all I cared about. 

When I was about 15 my friend’s mom sat me down in their house and gave me an Islam 101 tutorial.  It was the best thing to happen to me.  No I didn’t convert, but it was so kind of her to reach out.  She was a quiet woman so I could tell it was necessary for her to share the importance of her family’s beliefs.  The event had such a lasting impact I can remember the talk as if it happened yesterday.

Thoughts: racist thoughts happen in my head.  Yes, it’s true and it really eats away at me sometimes.  For example, I catch myself locking the car doors if I drive through a part of town deemed unsafe.  There are plenty more examples, but for some reason none stand out.  I try to strike these thoughts from my mind the minute they happen.  Nobody is free from these thoughts.  My thinking is this is a fairly normal process, kind of a filter so to speak.  Whether you choose to verbalize these thoughts or act out is when it becomes more of an issue.

Actions: I’ve told myself not to use race to describe someone if at all possible.  If I’m telling a story there’s no need to point out "my Chinese buddy and I went skiing last week"…   There’s no significance to his race here.  Now with the case of yesterday’s post it played a pivotal role to identify their races.  As a whole though I try to avoid using races to modify a noun. 

Monkey Boy’s Final Thought: I don’t really have a direction for this post, more than anything I wanted to share a few thoughts on this very sensitive issue.  When discussing the topic of racism I don’t think it’s possible to be too "politically correct".  Someone brought that up yesterday.  It’s kind of like preserving the environment.  You may or may not agree global warming exists, but why not play it safe and do our part to protect it for future generations?  Why not do our part to minimize the impacts of racism by being more considerate of other cultures?

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About lessinges

Seattle native, discovering life! I like ice cream, cold cereal, and The Amazing Race.
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43 Responses to Magnifying Intentions

  1. CSL says:

    I tried commenting the other day but was having internet trouble, so I will now. I liked this series of MLK-inspired posts. I think it is so important to acknowledge that it is still an issue, rather than claiming that you just can’t “see” color. What a neat expereince to have a friendd’s mother tell you about their religion, without the goal of conversion. Too bad there isn’t more of that around.

  2. meno says:

    It is odd and sad to look back at the racist comments of relatives. My grandmother was barely able to bring herself to use the word “nigra” instead of nigger. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but later i realized what a racist old bat she was.
    I think this gets better with each generation. My mom is less racist than her mom, and i am less racist than she. I hope my daughter will continue on this way. I do all i can to ensure that outcome.
    Nice post Mister!

  3. egan says:

    CSL – hey, thanks for the visit and comment. Welcome to my blog. Yes, I was very fortunate to receive such a cool lesson from my friend’s mom. I’m glad you like the theme of this week’s posts. Thanks again for stopping by.
    Meno – I do agree about the generational improvements. We can only hope things get better with time. Some days I think we’ve made strides and then I get a flashback to the “Rodney King Riots” of 1992 or the widespread French uprisings in 2005. Thanks for your feedback.

  4. kirk says:

    I grew up in a similar environment w/o so many kids in the house though. I remember my dad sometimes referring to Asians as gooks. Then again, he called Mormons “Utah soul brothers”. Both mom and dad try to be accepting but things about “the Mexicans” or “the Blacks” or “the Orientals” [hey mom, oriental is a kind of rug].
    In spite of my environment growing up, I’ve always been proud of my ability to be not be racist. I lock my door in shitty neighborhoods too, but not because the people are brown, but because it is a shitty neighborhood. It isn’t easy. There is a lot of baggage between the different races that has accumulated over the years.
    If our ancestors didn’t invent racism and got it on with each other, we’d all be these beautiful carmel colored people and we’d be better off. But humans would still come up with other reasons to hate.

  5. Chris says:

    What part of Arkansas? My dad’s family is from the Pine Bluff/Stuttgart area… my dad was also a cop in South Dallas, and I remember his remarks (and some current ones as well) and always stood amazed when he thought it was most natural for him…
    We all have racist thoughts at times, but good form is what separates us from the rest… it is quite one thing to think it than to say it. (some people would say that is hypocritical… I call it showing restraint and good judgement).

  6. egan says:

    Kirk – there are some strong similarities to my upbringing. You’re definitely right, it isn’t easy. Our ancestors’ actions have taken many years to turnaround. Yep, we probably would find a reason to hate.
    Chris TX – my dad was born in the state capital 71 years ago. Get this, I’ve been to Pine Bluff. My friend’s wife attended grad school in Pine Bluff.
    I don’t find it at all hypocritical not to verbalize things. What we say or don’t say speaks volumes about us as humans. For instance, had The Donald not retaliated to Rosie’s comments, he would have appeared to be the person wronged. Now they both come across as children.

  7. tori says:

    I have to agree with your thoughts on how one can never be too careful about the race issue. I would never knowingly hurt someone regardless of whether it was about race or anything else. If we all behaved that way, what a wonderful place the world would be!

  8. Hypersonic says:

    I come from the country that ,at one time, the Sun never set upon. That then became a commonwealth and is probably responisble for most of the present day ills in the developing world. During my upbringing racism was an everyday kinda thing.Though many of my friends and schoolmates were black and asian ( this means from the sub-continent and surrounding area in the UK).”Paki” was a common term used in a derogatory manner for anybody with coffee coloured skin and came from anywhere in the region of…say…Delhi, much as in the same manner as “jew” was used a hundred or so years before. Thankfully I had wonderful teachers and rôle models ( not my father though who was all for stringing them up) and I eventually became an activist in both the Anti Fascist League ( set up to combat the rise of the National Front and British Movement) and in the Anti Apartheid movement as well, my greatest joy was meeting Mr. Mandela briefly just before he went on to Wembley stadium for the concert in his honour.
    I too feel uncomfortable ( or felt as I no longer live in the UK)when in certain areas of my hometown (where the carribean community live) and though I spent many years trying not trying to define people by their race or colour and feeling guilty when I did, now do it in the knowledge that I am actually adding another dimension to their character rather than being racist, because i am not racist, never have been and never will be. If someone is from Kyrdistan or Sweden then they will be described as Swedish or Kyrdistani because that makes them more interesting. Celebrate our differences, because we will always find a common ground.

  9. egan says:

    Tori – that’s one huge “IF”, but maybe it could happen. Some would have you believe you’re too sensitive. I say hogwash. We need more people like you.
    Hypersonic – you raise a great point about celebrating someone’s nationality. I see where you’re coming from. For me personally I still want to avoid the country, ethnicity modifier as much as possible. You met Mandela? How cool. I’ve heard the “Paki” term too. My friend’s mom he gave me the lesson on Islam is Pakistani.

  10. danasaur says:

    Good post. I am glad to hear that other people grew up in households where racial comments were verbalized and that it sticks in others heads too. Awareness that it is not good is a great step!

  11. mez says:

    this was really interesting! I think you’re right about thoughts – it’s conditioning in a way. What makes you great though is that you’re aware of these things and act on them in little but important ways (ie: that description thing).

  12. Jules says:

    Oh wow, Egan…I’m blown away by how good this post was. I COMPLETELY agree with your feelings on this. I grew up in the deep south, so my situation never really ventured far past racial lines between black and white. I agree with an earlier commentor that it seems to improve with each generation, at least in my family. I’m so glad you wrote about this, it’s inspiring.

  13. Buggss says:

    My Dad is the absolute frigging best anti-racist teacher I have ever had.
    My Dad fought in Papua New Guinea in WW2 against the Japanese.
    My Mum’s brother was killed on the Kokoda Track by the Japanese.
    My nan screamed abuse one night when Dad won a ceramic plate at a raffle,coz on the back was “Made in Japan”.Nan smashed the plate,screeching about how they killed her boy.
    My Dad replied “yes and how many of their boys did we kill?”
    Dad has called “mate” people of every colour,race,religion,sexual orientation and political preference.To this day I still cannot get my head around the idea “we” are better than “them” – whoever “we” and “them” might be.

  14. Evil Genius says:

    My parents both had alot of biases and prejudices, and in a way I think they were actually what helped me turn out to be colorblind. I was completely embarrassed by their ignorance, as I had friends of color and other ethnicities while in public school and part of me enjoyed rebelling against my parents by having them as my friends. Whatever got me there, I’m glad I learned a lesson in tolerance.

  15. Phats says:

    showed seattle tonight on American idol thought of ya it was pouring down rain

  16. Phil says:

    Nice post Egan. Much to think on.

  17. ChickyBabe says:

    Glad that we don’t always inherit our parent’s prejudices.

  18. Amanda says:

    It’s so true how family can really mold how a person will be. Thankfully, you learned from your father’s mistake and became and open and accepting person. Sadly, many people do not – they adopt the ways of the people before them. And, sadly, bad experiences with certain people can mold your feelings towards encounters with them in the future. My friend is very wary of middle eastern men because she has had very bad encounters with them in the past. She hates it that she feels that way, but it’s something she has to deal with.
    I was very lucky growing up – my parents are what I like to call conservative hippies (oxymoron? yes…but it’s true if you know them) and we were taught to see people for who they are on the inside, not what color, religion or sexual orientation they are. Unfortunately, my oldest brother was and, sadly, is still very biggoted & racist. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why he used some of the racial slurs he did. Mom & Dad never said those things around us and if we heard it in a movie or on TV, they would explain why it was not right. But J did anyway. Today, I know why he does it, but I’ll save that for another time.

  19. Curare_Z says:

    Racism is rampant, you’re right. To me, just an attempt to ignore race is a step in the right direction.
    I’m half Asian and half Caucasian. You’d NEVER believe the freakiness I hear come out of people’s mouths. My absolute FAVORITE (word dripping with sarcasm, of course), is when people ask me, “So, what are you, anyway?”

  20. furiousball says:

    I remember one New Year’s Eve at a hotel, my family would rent a bunch of rooms, get a DJ and get loaded. Some guy in the elevator made a comment after a couple of my cousins got off on one floor. “Must be some Armenians, I can smell them a mile away.” The dumb women laugh uncomfortably, noticing the two olive skinned children still in the elevator (myself and a cousin). We got out, and then I poked my head back in the doors and hit every single button. I only hope a komodo dragon was at one of those floors and gave him a poisonous bite on his balls.

  21. Chris says:

    While I have been so utterly distracted this week, I wanted to applaud your series of posts regarding this sometimes sensitive yet always important topic.
    When I was very young growing up, segregation was still meandering through the neighborhoods and in the schools…
    I believe that it is necessary to relive and keep this topic alive and constantly discuss these issues.

  22. cindra says:

    I knew I was doing okay when my son came home from first grade and described an event that happened between he and his buddy with the curly hair. His buddy is afro american.
    And then their father in Washington uses the N word.
    We’ve been divorced for quite awhile now.

  23. egan says:

    Danasaur – thanks, many of the other racial slurs uttered by my father have been running through my head since this post. What bothered me is how he thought it was funny.
    Mez – aw, how sweet of you. (see, you do flirt) Anyways, I sincerely appreciate your comment.
    Jules – thank you very much. Your compliment warms my heart. It’s not my aim to inspire, more just sharing my story. Thanks again for sharing.
    Buggss – it sounds like your dad is very good about correcting people. Hey, did Australia use “internment camps” during World War II? In the Seattle area, Japanese (many which were US citizens) were rounded up and put in camps. Please tell me that didn’t happen there too.
    Evil Genius – it’s quite amazing the stuff that went on. I know the world was different when our parents were kids, but it still doesn’t justify the stereotypes.
    Phats – yes, the rain was relentless during the taping. Our city still looked awesome, with or without the contestants.
    Phil – thanks buddy. It’s clearly been on my mind.
    ChickyBabe – I think I probably had them until I was about 14 and then things slowly changed.
    Amanda – sorry to hear about your brother. That’s similar to my wife’s brother. He’s unfortunately very biggoted against hispanics. I think much of it is a result of his friends and my wife’s stepdad.
    Curare_Z – yep, I feel you on this one. My wife is adopted and has no idea what her ethnicity is. She hers that exact irritating question you mentioned. Most likely she’s hispanic based on where she was born and her coloring, but it doesn’t change things.
    Furiousball – the fact you can recount that story in such detail sucks ass. Kids do hear things and remember them. I love the button trick in the elevator. Now they probably assume all Armenians are button pushers.
    Chris – thank you very much amigo. It’s an important issue to discuss and I’ve been thankful for everyone’s stories and feedback.

  24. egan says:

    Cindra – how nice of the ex-hubby to use the n word. I’m sure the kids appreciate it. Glad to hear your son hasn’t been influenced by his antics and that you saw the light.

  25. sprizee says:

    On a sidenote, was anyone besides me annoyed by the fact that not one single person mentioned that it was Martin Luther King Jr. during the Golden Globes? I mean, C’MON! They scheduled the award show on a day of recognition for one of the greatest people ever to walk this planet. The least they could do is for SOMEONE, ANYONE to mention him at least once during the award marathon. It’s a sad commentary on American society.

  26. Churlita says:

    I grew up being one of the few white kids in my neighborhood. My parents would have kicked my ass if I ever got caught saying anything racist. I wouldn’t have anyway because I’ve experienced first hand what it feels like to have people dog you out for not looking like them.
    My daughters are half-Mexican, part Jewish and part Irish. There are very few cultures they could talk shit about without making fun of themselves. Hopefully, the more people mix, the less racism will still be an issue – unless, of course actors are getting drunk or being heckled.

  27. ubermilf says:

    My grandma grew up in Chicago at a time when not only races were segregated — nationalities were segregated (Irish neighborhood, Italian, Swedish, Polish… you get the picture.) Minor cultural differences were HUGE (Slovenian? Slovakian? You better know!)
    So when my grandma’s neighborhood began to integrate, she was suspicious of the new black neighbors. Not necessarily MORE than any other non-Polish neighbor, but certainly not less. She didn’t know what to expect.
    However, when I asked her after a few weeks how things were going, she answered, “They wash their windows and mow their lawns. They’re alright with me.”
    Grandma judge based on cleanliness, not skin color.

  28. Dan says:

    I catch myself locking the car doors if I drive through a part of town deemed unsafe.
    Ethan, how is this racist? You didn’t say you lock the car while driving through a black neighborhood or an Hispanic neighborhood, etc. You said “unsafe” neighborhood.
    Cut yourself some slack my friend.

  29. egan says:

    Sprizee – that is pretty surprising. I didn’t see the awards, but I heard the word “faggot” was used by some dipshit on the cast of Grey’s Anatomy. How thoughtful.
    Churlita – are you referring to the Michael Richards incident? What an appalling display that was.
    Ubie – that’s an interesting story. I’d be screwed based on that criteria.
    Dan – how did you know I had a brother named Ethan? You do realize you called me Ethan right? I worded that experience very gingerly, but I’ve reacted in ways I found appalling if I noticed a suspicious looking person who happens to be black. It’s hard to put into words and is an annoying impulse.

  30. Buggss says:

    Yep Egan,Australia had internment camps.
    Italian,German,Japanese,etc.Some were treated like hotel guests but others were harsh prisons.
    Many were allocated to work on farms or in towns nearby and made lifelong friends.Many came back to Australia to live after WW2.
    Here’s a link to internment camps in Aust
    http://home.st.net.au/~dunn/pow/pow.htm

  31. egan says:

    Buggss – interesting. I really hoped Australia didn’t resort to these camps like we did. To my knowledge we didn’t round up any Italians or Germans though. We only gathered those that didn’t look like “us”.

  32. Brother #3 says:

    I applaud you mein bruder for even venturing to post on a topic that has become so verboten these days! Funny how open dialogue is the key to solving problems, but everyone is afraid to speak. My truth is that we all are racist; noting the differences of colors is how we first see the world and the people in it- it’s an instantaneous act we perform everytime we see people; we recognize whether they are black, white, red, yellow, etc…but racism occurs when we choose to react/treat someone based on our perceptions of those colors instead of on that individuals behaviors.

  33. egan says:

    Brother #3 – thanks bro. I think you’re right about the color thing, it’s what makes us different from other people and therefore easy to notice. Yep, it truly is about the reactions/treatment towards others based on color.
    Thanks for chiming in and reading about the family.

  34. Leezer says:

    Hi Ethan:
    I grew up in Seattle too in similar neighborhoods – also in the 70s. My parents were so UNracist that I was shocked to see racism as an adult. Thanks for such a candid post.
    And my husband worked with a guy for four years and he’d come home with various stories about this guy – in some stories he was a jerk, sometimes he was funny, some stories were touching. I finally met the guy and he is African American. I thought it was cool that for four years of my husband’s stories, this fact never came up.

  35. ms. sizzle says:

    i sincerely like you more after reading this post. i didn’t think it was possible!

  36. sandra says:

    Growing up near Detroit, arguably one of the worst cities in the US in terms of race relations, was really interesting. I lived in a house where there was never a question that everyone was to be treated equally…but a lot of people I know? Not so much the same.

  37. Logo™ says:

    I agree with a number of things you said in this post.
    Speaking whatever lurks in the corner of your mind is a good thing, and definitely helpful in conditioning one’s offspring.
    I grew up in a community where race was a non-issue. For most of my childhood my best friends were not of my race and other than the fact it meant their food was way better most nights, I didn’t think anything of it. It was startling to me when I encountered racism as I got a little older. I have tried to make sure my kids get that same kind of start. I wish our community was more diverse. My kids occasionally use skin color to differentiate,
    “You know that boy in my class with the brown skin?” That is actually a good description, because there is only ONE!

  38. Logo™ says:

    NOT
    NOT a good thing, sheesh

  39. zen wizard says:

    Some weighty thoughts, here.
    Certainly, anti-Hispanic feelings in Califormia are nothing new; Hispanics where physically forced out of the gold mining territories after the Northern California gold rush, even the Californios who had been born in California, and sometimes lynched when they didn’t leave.
    So from killing them to making snide comments about them is a pretty big leap for a century and a half–though there is obviously some more to go.
    When I picture modern day Seattle, the word that would come to mind is more “elitism” than racism: Most of the houses are so expensive that it is simply an issue of, “Can you afford housing or can’t you?”
    I have heard of people making $250k in Seattle who are just barely making it.
    So I would think it is not so much a race thing, but an income/career/lifestyle thing.

  40. egan says:

    Leezer – I like the second paragraph of your comment. It’s so fantastic you never knew the guy’s race until you met him. Bravo and welcome to my blog.
    Ms. Sizzle – I’m very flattered by your comment. We need to grab coffee one of these days. Have a good weekend.
    Mez – I’m so damn funny.
    Sandra – growing up in Détroit, you must have some very interesting stories. I’m happy to hear it wasn’t in an issue in your house.
    Logo™ – unfortunately there are times when using the color of someone’s skin is much easier than any other descriptor.
    Logo™ – I understood what you meant. Thanks for the correction.
    Zen Wizard – “elitism” in Seattle? Huh, that’s a new one for me. A couple making $250,000 can easily afford a home here. If they’re trying to buy a huge mansion on a lake that’s another (greed) story. My wife and I easily make half that amount and live very comfortably in a 2300 square foot house in the city. I’m not sure where you got that perception man. I’m honestly a little irked about the “elitist” label.
    This post isn’t about the current status of Seattle’s race relations. It’s simply my perspective on race and my family’s influence.

  41. jeci says:

    I have appreciated all of your posts on race, Egan. Thanks for your honesty. I agree wholeheartedly that we should minimize racism by being respectful and appreciative of other cultures.

  42. egan says:

    Jeci – thanks for your feedback. I was going to stretch the posts out for a week, but I couldn’t get myself to be that preachy.
    I’m glad the posts were well received. Have a good weekend.

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