I love my mother, but I guess she is of an era where everything you did was viewed through the lens of your ethnic background. My father was that way too. He preached racial tolerance, but was about as intolerant as you can get. I remember how we laughed (to ourselves) when he had a run-in with a member of the Black Panthers, who accused him of being a racist and to prove that he was not a racist, he invited the guy to come to our house and listen to his Art Tatum records. He couldn't possibly be racist if he loved this African-American pianist, could he?
Then there was the time when my sister had made friends with an African American guy who was one of the cable car operators on the car she frequently rode. He invited her to go to a movie with him and my father went and visited him at his work to tell him that he might be a nice guy, but that he (my father) didn't believe that the races should mix. (I often wondered if he ever regretted that when he realized my sister was lesbian!)
My mother's attitude toward people of other races never really came out until she remarried. I recently came across the diary I wrote when I went traveling with them, for one v-e-r-y long week, in their RV, up to Oregon to celebrate my uncle's 70th birthday (the trip I mentioned in my recent entry about my uncle's P.O.W. memories).
That trip was so difficult for me because of having to listen to my mother's husband, whom she idolized, sound off on just about every ethnic group you could think of. There were always the stereotypical negative things about this or that race incorporated into his experiences with the person about whom he was talking.
It wasn't until that trip that I had ever heard my mother echo the same statements and it bothered me a lot. Fred's been dead for nearly 20 years now, but I am still painfully aware of her racist sentiments. People tell me it's just because she grew up in that kind of era, but I really don't believe that all people in her age group speak like this. But I may be wrong.
She struggles with the term "African American" but most of the time refers to "the coloreds." (This is bothering me even more now as I read the book, "The Help" and become acutely aware of the treatment of the servants in white homes in the south at the time of the Civil Rights movement).
But it's more than what she calls this group of people. I often hear her talking about African American actors on television and how she doesn't like this one or that one...and what she doesn't really like is the look of them. I remember her rants about the old TV show The Practice when actor Steve Harris joined the cast and how it ruined the show for her because he had such big lips that it turned her stomach to look at him, and why did they have to get a guy who had such big lips?
Maybe I'm just hyper sensitive to it, but I so wish my sister were still here. She would have been even more sensitive to our mother's ethnic slurs. I don't know how being raised by our two parents could have made us so completely different.
But the thing that has bothered me most in the past few years is my mother's attitude toward her next door neighbor. I won't say what ethnicity she is, so let's just say that she's Martian. My mother hates her. She has hated her since the woman moved in. She speaks with loathing and nothing the woman does is ever right.
When I ask her what is wrong with her, all she can say is "Well. Let's just say she's very, very Martian." I finally told her I didn't understand what that even meant, and all she could tell me was that her home had Martian decorations visible at various times of the year but she couldn't tell me any other reason why she hated this Martian woman.
Now that she's in her 90s I've noticed that she has no problem whatsoever about speaking of people who are within earshot--complaining that this one's clothes were not attractive or that one's hair looked horrible or whatever or why in the world was that woman wearing those horrible shoes. All within earshot of the stranger she was criticizing. Bev cringes and pretends not to be with this woman!
But yesterday when we were in the restaurant where the tables were practically on top of each other, she started talking about some guy she knew and a problem she was having with him. Peach asked what the problem was and she took a deep breath, and in what seemed to me to be a loud voice she started out, "Well, for one thing, he's very, very Martian," and then went on to list the Martian traits in him that she found offensive. I wondered how many Martians there were in the tables around us.
To be fair, she also talks about the Dutchmen and their negative traits (her husband's parents were from Holland) and about the damn Irishmen or Scottsmen (we are Scotch-Irish), so she's an equal opportunity bigot, even with her own family. But I have never understood why anybody has to be labeled by his or her race. It's OK not to like someone, but don't like them because they kick cats or drive too fast or have done something wrong to you. Don't dislike them just because they are "very, very Martian."