My dad is a white supremacist, a strange choice for someone who is one-eighth Choctaw. But, he hated Indians, he hated the Irish, and we admitted to both those nationalities. He hated all ethnicities, races, and religions. One of the oddest juxtapositions of his logic was his absolute allegiance to Adolph Hitler and abject hatred for Germans.
To say that my childhood was confusing would be a gross understatement. I always knew that my father was wrong. It has taken a lifetime to unravel how very wrong he was. I still have surprising racist feelings that creep into my life from time to time. It is startling and awful, even though I recognize the source comes from my father’s rants. Vigilance is the price I pay for my dad’s sins.
One day, I was trying to get my parents’ help in collecting twenty cans for Girl Scout Ecology Day at Roseland Park in Baytown, Texas, where I grew up. Mom emptied green beans into the last Cool-Whip container that she could find and told me she was done with her effort. I was sent outside to seek assistance from my father, who emptied cans of motor oil. It took a while for the oil to drain, and as an aside, it ticked my Scout leaders off when I showed up with twenty oily cans for Eco Day.
As we stood there, I could tell dad was agitated. On those days, my job was to keep him happy. One misstep and my plans would be canceled and I might get whipped, besides. That day, dad was ranting about how unfairly history had treated Hitler. Before I could catch myself, I exclaimed, “But, dad, Hitler killed 6 million Jews.”
“He did not!” Dad barked back.
I was now in jeopardy because that amount of anger could be soothed by my perceived disobedience and a whipping. I became very still and very quiet.
“He only killed 1 million!” Dad finished.
I started thinking about Eco Day and how badly I wanted to go. I stood silent and watched the oil pour out of large cans. Dad stared at me wondering if I would take up the gauntlet he had just thrown down. I could not return his gaze: it was often hard for me to look into my father’s eyes. I felt awful, but I wanted to go to Girl Scouts and escape this maddening moment. I kept my mouth shut and dug my toes into oyster shells and dust in our driveway, while his anger abated. I got to be kid for a few hours that day through my silence, but it made me feel ashamed.
I think of that moment often. It was one of the most chilling conversations I ever had with any human, if dad still qualified as that. I was aware of his flawed logic, the absolute hubris of his statement; but, I was powerless to do anything but save myself. As I often did, I internalized, and then ignored the pain of knowing my main care provider was evil.
I grapple with the subject of racism a lot. It was a main theme of my life when I grew up. Every day, I would hear racial slurs, stereotypes, why someone was stupid because they were something different than us. I was five years-old before I knew that there was another word to use besides the “n-word.”
My dad hated black people, brown people, dark people, slightly less than white people, and “not-as-white-as-me” people. Really, you simply could not be white enough for my dad. He was not white enough, either. Because of our Indian heritage, he was not allowed to join the Ku Klux Klan. I suspect that he had associations with the Klan, nonetheless.
I draw distinctions between man’s inhumanity to man and evil. Imperfect humans make dumb mistakes out of habit, ignorance, or simple laziness. Those mistakes wound us and make us less than we are, less than who we could be. Worse, those mistakes wound others.
Evil chooses to injure. Evil is aware and active. It seeks to do harm. My father was and is evil. He sought to destroy and inflict suffering.
My unique perspective of seeing racism at work from the oppressor’s side has helped me to realize that this is not a one- or two-dimensional problem. Most racist people operate in the category of man’s inhumanity to man. They are unconsciously committed to wrong, hurtful choices, without necessarily trying to cause pain. And, in the milieu of that confusion, evil thrives.
This week, black men were shot and killed by police in questionable situations. I doubt my white face would have received similar treatment. In Dallas, peaceful protesters were co-opted by evil. One racist man, intentionally and with forethought, targeted white police, killing five.
It is time to address our racism honestly. Those of us who operate in the human zone of imperfection must work to do better, because evil people will not. But, evil people will utilize our inhumanity; and, they will commit atrocities. Let us have clarity and let us have justice. Let us create peace.
(Image by: Flickr User John Baer)