Thursday, May 08, 2008
Deep RootsBruce has been reminiscing about the 60's this week, about the beginnings of the culture war. I actually remember in a vague and fuzzy way, Kent State, the riots at the Chicago Convention in 68, and the murders of the Reverend King and Bobby Kennedy. I wasn't really old enough to understand what was happening, but I remember certain phrases from my parents. "Long-haired hippies" was one of them, "Commies" was another, and I even remember my grandmother, an elderly woman from Tennessee, saying of the murder of Dr. King, "Well, we warned him not to come to Memphis", which to this day completely freaks me out, because she was always nice to me, she would buy me marbles at the 5 and dime, and let me play with the boys in the neighborhood, which my mother frowned upon. I remember my parents using the N-word, and not being allowed to play with Bobby Jones because he was, well, I'm not going to use the words my parents used, but let's just say he wasn't white. My older sister was grounded for a month for dating a black guy, and at my high school there were race riots. I remember getting my ass kicked in the parking lot after a basketball game, and wondering what I had done to deserve it. Was it because of the things that my grandmother said? It's kind of crazy, the things that we grew up with back in the 60's and 70's, and a wonder that any of us survived that casual hatred.
It's strange for me to admit this today, but I honestly think that my Catholic education saved me from becoming what my parents were. Twelve years of religion classes, and going over the teachings of Jesus, gave me a pretty good understanding that inequality was immoral, war was immoral, and that the people who were on the side of these issues were also immoral. I also grew up with some really vague ideas about sex and the possibility of getting pregnant if I kissed a boy. I was a superstitious Catholic, and believed that if I went to confession before being randomly struck by a car, I would get that get out of jail free card, and go straight to heaven, but if I had the bad luck to be struck by that same car before being absolved of my sins, I would go to hell, or maybe purgatory for many years. I eventually rejected the whole Catholic church, it's contradictions were too confusing, and the fact that the church rejected me because I was gay, gave me a good excuse to stop going to confession and trying to come to terms with the many contradictions of faith.
But I still believe that all people are equal, and I still believe that war is immoral. So maybe the nuns and priests gave me something of value after all.
The issue of race has deep roots, in spite of everything that Christianity tells us. The voices of our parents and grandparents are still there, and maybe Bobby Jones from my old neighborhood still harbors a grudge against me because my family moved away soon after his family moved in. Maybe I still hold a grudge against those girls who kicked my ass in the parking lot. It is difficult to know what foolishness remains from childhood. In times of trouble, I still say the prayers I was taught in Catholic school, and while it's been years since anyone has kicked my ass, I understand the Reverend Wright completely, he has had a lifetime of listening to nice old ladies from Memphis giving casual declarations of deep hatred, and if I were him, I would feel exactly the same way, and shout it out in exactly the same way he did.
I worry that these deep roots are going to be cultivated in some very ugly ways this summer and fall, and it will turn my stomach to hear the things that will be said, not in the off-hand and hateful way that my grandma said it, but in words cleverly contrived to revive those old things that our parents said, those words that are the very soil that nourished the racial divide in our nation.
Tonight I feel troubled, so I am saying the prayers I learned as a child.
I hope for the right answer to my prayers.
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No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."
-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?
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