Grandpa was a racist?

From iGeek
Jump to: navigation, search

My Grandpa (a WWII veteran, and Goose Hunter), was disgusted by cruelty to animals. Once when talking about bullfighting in Mexico (something he did not approve of) he said, "the Mexican Indians were a dumb race, the Spanish were a cruel race, and you put them together and you have a dumb cruel race". Around the same time (1972) he once gave me the speech about the difference between, "blacks and niggers". Both actions, by today's standards, would be called racist. And the comments certainly weren't racially sensitive (e.g. they were offensive), but was he really a racist? It is a bit more nuanced than what is on the surface.

In the example against Mexicans, it helps to remember that Mexicans aren't really a race -- and he was barbing the culture because of something he found completely offensive. And he employed many Mexicans in some auto-shops he owned with my Uncle. I remember a few times he would explain about treating employees with respect not as servants, or he would chew someone out (even customers) if they were treating any of his employees poorly. He knew everyone by name (say 100 people between 3 shops), and about their personal situations, loaned money if people had a special circumstance, and was generally a good boss that did not treat his employees as inferiors. He often got Christmas gifts, like Tamale's, so his workers seemed to like the old curmudgeon. He had a family house cleaner who was Mexican and part of the family: she was invited to Holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc) to come over and eat with our Family (Grandma served and the family cleaned: she was our guest). So while my Grandfather would grouse like Archie Bunker about something stupid that a culture did, he would do that against Italians (my Grandma's culture), Germans (where he came from), Americans, or anything some culture was doing that he didn't like -- but he always treated individuals with the respect they deserved.

Another story I remember him grousing about was about how the toilets in the shops kept getting clogged. Why? Because some of his workers would ignore the toilet paper and use Newspaper instead. When he challenged, one told him, "But Mr. Frank, when we wipe with newspaper, the finger doesn't go through!" He carped over that for days. "You're wiping your ass, not digging to China!".

The same with the black thing -- even his explanation as I remember it (from when I was around 8 or 9 years old), was that there are many good law-abiding black men, being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin (he hated that injustice). And then there are ghetto niggers, who are thugs/thieves, gang members, make babies and leaving their women, and are contributing nothing to the world. His lesson was about distinguishing between the two.

As for the defense, "I can't be a racist, because some of my friends are black", it applied there too. He had a black hunting buddy, and some in his lodge/clubs, and my uncle had a black business partner that was also welcome in our house -- and nobody insulted his buddies without getting his wrath. As a golf fan, Tiger Woods was one of his favorite players because he was breaking new ground. I remember him talking about Sinatra standing up against the Sands Hotel for denying Sammy Davis Jr. his own suite. So no matter how his lesson was presented, it was actually about NOT judging someone by the color of their skin or their culture (even if he said it a caustic way). But if someone earned ridicule/scorn because of their actions, then he'd judge/ridicule the shit out of their actions.


So was my Grandfather a racist?

To snowflakes raised with cultural sensitivity above sanity, I'm sure he was. But to those that knew his character? I don't think so.

While he had strong political feelings about the contributions of America to the world, and felt many other countries/cultures were failing to live up to their potential, he would as readily bitch about our own when he didn't like something. So he certainly bitched about any whites that he didn't like and would insult their nations of origin as well. So early on, I figured out that while he used race as shorthand, his lessons and life were always exemplified by treating the individuals as individuals, and NOT the group they belonged to. And while he was hard on many groups, he wasn't softer or harder on a group because of race: but based on the action that he was complaining about. That made him less racist to me than someone who supports race-based quotas, or thinks some language should be reserved for some races (like the use of the N-word being OK if you're black). For me, the actions will always matter more than the words or the delivery: and his actions were of someone that would give an individual a chance before judging them based on their group.


📚 References