Essay Non-Fiction posted January 3, 2011


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Discussion with my grandson

Papa Bill's Pontification

by bhogg

Destin, Florida may not be God's Country, but perhaps you can see it from there. It was the site of a wonderful vacation last summer, a three day weekend with only my son and grandson.

My grandson, Payne and I took a break from the sun and surf to get a snow cone. Out of the blue, Payne asked, "Papa Bill - do you think I'm a racist?"

What a question to hear from my nine-year-old grandson. I had to ask if he even knew what being a racist meant. His answer, while not "Websteresque", was sufficient enough to drill down further.

He said, "A racist is someone who does mean things to another person, just because they are black."

"Okay, Payne, have you done something that causes you to think you are a racist?"

"I think so. There is a black kid in my class named Marcus, and he tries to bully us all around. He tripped me in the cafeteria and I dropped my tray that was full of food. Everybody laughed. Another time, he pushed me against the wall and said I had to give him money to go to the bathroom. I told my teacher, and she told the Principal. He got suspended and was sent home from school. He didn't even know who told on him, but he told everybody that whoever it was, was a racist. His father wound up taking him out of our school, because he said that the only reason his son was sent home was because he was black and he didn't want his son to go to a racist school. Does that mean I'm a racist?"

"Well, Payne - there is a key question for you to answer. Did you turn Marcus in because he was black, or did you turn him in because he was a bully?"

"I turned him in because I was tired of him bullying me and my friends around."

My next question wasn't directed as much toward Payne as trying to understand the environment of his school. "Have any other kids been sent home for bullying?"

"Yes sir, quite a few. On the first day of school, we had a meeting in the auditorium. One of the announcements was that there wasn't going to be no bullying. If they found you being a bully, you were going to be sent home."

"Okay, another key question. Have any of the kids suspended been white kids?"

His answer - "Most have been white."

"From what you have told me, it doesn't sound like you are a racist. It also doesn't sound like your school was involved with racism by sending Marcus home. I like the announcement they made, and I'm glad they are sticking to what they said - if you bully someone, you are going home. I think that is a good rule, don't you?"

"Well, I do think it is a good rule, but why would Marcus think I'm a racist and why would his father think my school is a racist school?"

I'm a firm believer in giving kids an honest answer, and his question certainly deserved one. "Payne, I don't know either Marcus, or his Dad, so I don't really know. I would bet though that Marcus's dad has been subjected to racism in his life, so maybe he is more sensitive than he should be. There does seem to be a whole lot of people tagging others as racist when they really aren't. I don't think you need to worry about it though. It sounds like you did the right thing. Does that answer help?"

"Yeah, I guess so.... Papa Bill, are you a racist?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Well, how come you don't know for sure?"

Payne's answer is one of the reasons I love talking to kids. Their minds haven't become "adulterated" yet. I think he put his finger on a big problem in our society today. For the most part, most of us don't want to be considered racist. Because of that, we wind up doing and saying things that don't make sense at all.

A simple example: I was standing in a grocery line recently and a black lady pushed in front of me and two others. I didn't say anything. Why not? It was behavior that really isn't acceptable. The reason - I didn't want anyone to think I'm racist. The checker, who was black, politely asked the lady to get to the back of the line. Of course, she didn't. Instead, she stormed out telling the checker she was racist.

I'm no democrat, but I'm reminded of a comment that Harry Reid made that was labeled racist. His characterization of President Obama's light skinned appearance and his ability to speak without a "black" dialect unless he wanted too, created a firestorm. Reid's record should speak for itself. He is not a racist.

Not to be outdone, our President stepped right in to the fray himself. The whole "beer-fest" situation with Sergeant James Crowley arresting Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was a classic. Without the benefit of reading the arrest report, he accused the police of acting "stupidly" and insinuated that the arrest was a racist act. The facts indicated otherwise.

Perhaps in an attempt to overcome this rash pronouncement, he also botched the situation regarding the firing of Shirley Sherrod. He wanted to make very clear that racism would not be allowed in his administration. Not a great effort.

Racism raises its ugly head in America every day. While terrible, it doesn't define every interaction between blacks and whites. As a society, we need to stop and take a deep breath. We should definitely not support racism or its evil twin, reverse racism in our lives.

I didn't explain all this to my grandson. Perhaps I should have. I did give him another opportunity for questions though.

"Payne, is there anything else you want to know?"

"Maybe - Do you love Grandma?"

Puzzled, I asked, "Of course I do. Why do you ask?"

"Well, how come you look at all the girls?"

I'm still working on that one.



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