He was a young man, married and a father of two, the first time he came west. Walking into a restaurant in another state, he immediately assumed he had walked in the wrong door. For a moment he froze, not knowing what to do. There were black people eating in the diner.
Dad was no racist. He only knew what he grew up with. Having heard the story only a year ago, I was suddenly surprised to know that I was alive in a place where white people and black people didn’t eat in the same restaurant. What I felt was old history suddenly seemed more real, it had never touched me before. This was in my lifetime, this very generation.
And it wasn’t just in the south. Mary Ann Milborn reported in the Register recently that until 1947’s Mendez vs. Board of Education decision, Orange County’s, “non-white” children were barred from attending white schools in
certain districts. In the city of Orange, Hispanics could only swim at the public pool on Mondays. Then they would drain, clean and fill it back up before the whites came back the next day.
When San Clemente was founded, Ole may have created a little Spanish
Village by the Sea, but you had to be certified white to buy a home from him. By the ‘60s there was ample reason for anger. High time for leaders to emerge, for there were cages to be rattled, laws to be changed.
Now, I’ve never heard Don Imus on the radio. I mean I know who he is, but I never would have known about his sad comments towards the female basketball team if it hadn’t been headlines in every paper, broadcasted on every news channel and splashed on the cover of TIME. The sad phrase was repeated more times that week than the Pledge of Allegiance.
Even with a woman and a black man running as strong contenders for
President of The United States, we pulled our nation’s attention to the hurtful rantings of some insignificant broadcaster, shedding more of the spotlight on our differences. It’s easy to focus on how far we have to go, and forget how far we’ve come. Right here in our own homes, we have the answer to the Don Imus problems; it’s called a channel changer. We have the answer to bigotry right in our homes as well. We might not be able to change the beliefs of every human being with access to a microphone, we can only change ourselves, and hope to change such beliefs in our children.
We must remember that the battles of the civil rights movement went beyond racial barriers, it was more than letting kids go to the same school. It raised a voice in this country, joined by the voices of those who opposed the war, and those who burned their bras to bring a bigger message … to forward the values of peace, freedom, tolerance and the basic rights of all individuals, a peace absent from conflict in settling our differences. Freedom creating a world without barriers, with a tolerance willing to accept those who might see the world differently than we do.
We shouldn’t forget that when we fought for the rights of all individuals, we also fought for the freedom of stupid people, or the right of people to say stupid things. We can’t protect our children from stupidity. (Even in our own homes.) But there are lessons we are reminded to remind them of.
In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the base of a monument dedicated to a slave-owning president and dreamed that one day, “a man would be judged, not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character.” By all means, let’s keep that one going.
Seeing the pain caused to the basketball team makes me realize we also need to do more. We need to instill in our children a sense of pride that can never be diminished by anyone else’s unenlightened observations, and encourage a sense of self-respect that can never be deprecated by the thoughtless words of another.
Don R. Kindred