Pity me, for I am one of Oprah’s victims of racism
Oprah Winfrey has been taking a lot of heat lately for her “racists just need to die” comment.
“‘There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die,’ she said.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/15/oprah-racists-die_n_4280460.html)
Many people are expressing outrage at her and those who agree with her. I’ve kept quiet about it thus far, but have decided to speak out.
Because I, too, am a victim of racism. Woe is me.
I grew up in San Antonio. Money was a constant worry for my parents, and there were many things we went without. Sometimes we were the stereotypical Hispanic family, seven of us jammed into a two door Chevy Nova on a six hour road trip to visit my grandparents who lived in the worst part of another Texas town. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t far from it, either.
Still, San Antonio was so ethnically mixed I never felt like an outsider. There were occasional racial comments, but nothing serious. Whites and Hispanics seemed to live and work together everywhere I went, and the relatively few blacks around didn’t appear to be shunned by the larger community. I thought everything was pretty much under control, racism-wise.
Then, when I was 19, I experienced something that proves Oprah’s recent words true. Racism is alive and well in America. And it’s being passed down generation to generation, just like she said it was.
A high school friend of mine had gotten his own apartment, and one Saturday afternoon invited a few buddies over to go swimming. Several friends showed up, and we headed to the pool together. I think I remember exactly who was there; three of us were Hispanic, one white, two mixed white and Hispanic, and one Jewish.
This was a warm, sunny day. Scores of people were out in the large recreation area, swimming and barbecuing. The residents of the apartment complex were racially diverse, and no problems were evident between them.
My friends and I swam, looked at women, made fun of each other, did the usual things teenage boys do. We stayed to ourselves and didn’t bother anyone. Even though we were teenagers, we were also not long out of Catholic school, and I was a Marine reservist. We weren’t the troublemaker type.
Everything was fine for about half an hour. Then, with absolutely no provocation, we were racially targeted.
I have no idea what brought it on, or why we were harassed while others were left alone. Maybe it was because three of us were obviously Hispanic, maybe someone knew our friend was Jewish, maybe someone didn’t like “race mixing” in even a benign social setting. Whatever the reason, a pleasant afternoon swimming with friends turned into an ugly racial incident, almost a hate crime. And it was caused by exactly what Oprah recently talked about; the people who harassed us had been taught by previous generations to hate us, and to hate us for nothing more than our skin color. They had been programmed to do it. The racial hatred Oprah spoke of was blindingly evident in everything they said to us.
As my group of friends screwed around in the pool, another group slowly approached us. We didn’t even notice at first, until the other group began intentionally speaking loud enough for us to hear their comments. Once we heard their hateful insults, we looked toward them and saw them staring at us. As soon as our eyes met, they began insulting us directly rather than just talking about us.
My friends and I were a little stunned. We quickly mumbled agreement between ourselves, “Let’s just go to another part of the pool.” None of us wanted a problem, and it was a huge pool. It was best to just avoid the other group. So we swam to the other side of the shallow end.
Minutes later they moved toward us again, still insulting and cursing us. I had never experienced anything like this, and though I wasn’t exactly in disbelief, I was dumbfounded by it. We were literally doing NOTHING wrong. We hadn’t spoken a cross word to anyone except each other, and that was jokingly. I accepted that some people didn’t like me because of my skin tone, but couldn’t these people just leave it alone while everyone was having a good time at the pool?
My friends and I swam to the deep end. The other group watched us and kept running their mouths. And sure enough, within minutes they were coming toward us again.
They had to pull themselves along the edge of the pool to get to us, though. They couldn’t swim in deep water. They were little black girls, about 8 or 9 years old.
“F**k you white boys! We ain’t afraid of you white boys!”
My friends and I shook our heads, decided “Screw it, let’s go back to the apartment,” and climbed out of the pool. As I dried off, I saw a black man by a barbecue pit call one of the girls over. She climbed out, ran to him and listened as he said something I couldn’t hear. I could only make out part of her response: “But those white boys were. . .!”
I have no idea what she accused us of. But I guarantee you that we weren’t out there insulting or harassing little girls, of any color.
So I’m with you, Oprah. I know horrible, entrenched racism is alive in America. I experienced it myself. I’m certain those little girls didn’t have such horrible experiences with white people, or Hispanics who they thought were white, that they uncontrollably lashed out at any white people they saw. I’m sure someone told them to hate white people, whether whites did anything to them or not. I’m positive they were simply repeating what they heard others say, and mimicking what they saw others do.
Just like Oprah, and Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson, and every other member of the racial grievance industry, my life was profoundly changed by my close encounter with racism. I was spiritually damaged, depressed, distrustful of everyone the same color as my attackers, despondent at the realization that some people would always judge me solely by my race. I was an emotional wreck.
Then about thirty-seven seconds later, I laughed it off and went to lunch with my friends.
I didn’t associate those little girls, or the people who raised them to be racist, with blacks I knew. One of my black high school friends was in the Naval Academy at the time; he had nothing to do with the racism those girls expressed. The blacks I knew in the Marine Corps didn’t act like that. I didn’t blame all blacks for those girls’ actions.
In my fairly short life I’ve learned a few things about people. I know that racism is not simply “whites oppressing blacks”. I’ve heard Hispanics talk about how much they dislike whites. I’ve heard whites talk about how much they dislike Arabs. I’ve heard Iraqis talk about how much they hate Egyptians. I knew a Pashtun who talked about how much he hates Tajiks. I heard Albanians talk about how much they hate Serbs. I heard Greeks talk about how much they hate Albanians. I had a drunken Hispanic gang member, when he saw my name tag as I arrested him, blurt out, “You are a f**king disgrace to the Mexican race!” And I was racially harassed and insulted by a group of little black girls.
So. Freaking. What.
Every day I work and live among many different races and ethnic groups. As a cop and soldier I’ve risked my life with and for people of different races, and they risked their lives for me. My children go to school in ethnically diverse schools. My son in law is the tallest white kid you’ll ever meet and my granddaughter is mixed white and Hispanic. I don’t walk the streets fearful of other races. I don’t raise my children to view one group as “oppressors” and other groups as “victims”. I teach my children that in this country, the greatest country that has ever existed, anyone can earn their way to success. I’m just a regular guy who didn’t come from money, I’m not a college graduate, all I’ve been is a Marine, cop and soldier, yet my family is happier and living far more comfortably than most people in the world will ever dream of. Because this is America and my last name and skin color don’t dictate how successful I’ll be.
No matter what I or anyone else thinks of President Obama, the fact is he’s half black and still got elected by mostly white voters. Oprah, for all her angst over racism, is the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry. She complained about a saleswoman who questioned whether or not she could afford a $38,000 purse, citing latent racism, without seeming to realize her race hasn’t kept her from being able to buy a $38,000 purse. My first house only cost $45,000.
The little racist girls who harassed us are somewhere around their early 30’s now. I bet they don’t consider their actions “racist”. I’m positive they’re in full agreement with Oprah’s wish that those darn racists would just die off, without realizing they’re actually talking about themselves. And when Oprah made that comment, I’m sure she had no idea that some of those people she wants dead, the people “born and bred and marinated in racism”, are the same color she is.
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Tags: oprah, racism, veteran writers