My father was the child of Italian immigrants and began working in his father’s butcher shop at the age of eight. Before they married, my grandmother worked in a garment factory and my grandfather worked at a meatpacking company where the boss would fire a .22 pistol at the floor near the workers’ feet when he thought they were going too slow (until my grandfather put a knife to his throat and told him never again). True story. At that time, in the eyes of the Anglo establishment, being Italian put you a little ahead of the blacks. My father pursued a career in business and later banking, which meant that ethnicity had to be repressed. I remember him telling me once about a “compliment” a co-worker paid him: “You’re Italian, but you’re a good Italian.”
When I was growing up in my mostly white, middle to upper-middle class suburban home town, my parents discussed race and class, maybe more so than other kids’ parents. I think that due to their upbringing they were more conscious of these things than most of our neighbors. My mom’s father was one of 11 kids (unusual for a Jewish family), and as his father was mostly absent their lives, worked from a very young age, initially selling peanuts on the street. I know that my grandfather discussed racism with my mom: she told me about how, when they were out, he’d tell her things like “Imagine this dress, having to buy it without being allowed trying it on and if it doesn’t fit when you get home you not being able return it”. He explained “redlining” to her and how many blacks were prevented from living where they wanted. My parents had political books too, I remember reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and Dick Gregory’s “Nigger” in elementary or middle school.
One thing my father said that really stuck with me was what he described as the biggest tragedy of racism: he said that if you tell people that they’re inferior enough times they begin to believe it and will even repeat it themselves. Now, through the lens of everything I’ve read and lived through, I can see this for the classic propaganda/brainwashing tool that it is. Constant repetition of a simple message is one of the tools cults use and the hallmark of the modern political campaign (talking points); whether the message is factually correct is irrelevant.
Lately I’ve heard a lot of people making sarcastic comments to the effect of “Thank God for global warming, or this weather would be REALLY bad”, the implication being global warming is some liberal fraud. When you consume a lot of media that makes this a mantra (Fox New anyone?) you’re going to believe it and repeat it. I think these folks would be very surprised to know that the Pentagon accepts climate change as reality, it’s right there on page 25 of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. Other industries not often considered “liberal” also accept it as real; these would include big oil and insurance.
I remember meeting a woman at the old Jazz Oasis (in the “ghetto”) who had never traveled farther than Kenosha; that’s only 41 miles. She didn’t seem to think she was missing anything, she seemed fairly content with her life. Who would I have been to tell her she needed to travel? However, had she declared “Milwaukee is the BEST place to live in America!” it would not have meant much, no matter how much she believed it. It would not have referenced any standard by which to compare cities. I believe that quality media, regardless of its political leanings, is one that abides by commonly held standards (rather than creating new ones). When Fox News edited footage of California skinheads rioting into their coverage of the 2011 Madison protests, they abandoned commonly held standards of journalism.
People need to occasionally take a trip outside their own mental ghetto. Sometimes you can’t do much more than hand them a ticket and give them a few words of encouragement, even though you’d really like to be shooting a .22 at their feet.