Today, I ate at my favorite restaurant. I enjoyed a steak, Spinach salad and cup of coffee. Sitting across from me was this cute elderly couple, who started a conversation.
“What do you do, son?”
I’m a writer and former military.
“Really, I was in the Navy. In the Pacific back in World War II. My brother was in the Navy, too. He fought the war from Miami Beach. I always give him heck for that.”
The gentleman told me his life story, ending every sentence with “I’ve had a good life. I’m 82 years old, you know, and don’t have a single health problem.”
He said his wife made him take a job he didn’t want, and 35 years later, he retired. Currently, he lives off his pension and dances on the weekends. He spoke slowly and sipped coffee in between sentences, reminding me of my grandfather with his deep voice. I found him to be pleasant and very interesting, but our conversation ended when he spoke of how things were in his day.
“When I was your age, everybody worked except for the $%^&**$”
The words hurt. If you want to break relations or a friendly conversation with me say something derogatory about another race. Even though I’m white and 1/16 Cherokee, I get offended when KKK types speak.
I’ve encountered prejudice before. Once I was in the Deep South for business and an executive started the meeting off with a racial joke. Had I not been obligated to be there for my client, I would have caused a scene and left. I would later tell the guilty member of how unprofessional the joke was, which had no impact whatsoever. He called me a Yankee and went on with his business. Later on in the trip, I felt ashamed for even being associated with the man.
But the situation with the elderly man in the restaurant was different. I found myself disappointed as a child would be with a crappy Christmas present. He seemed so genuine and American that it pained me to fathom that he was just one person out of a generation who believed in such nonsense.
Racism exists. And although our country has made great strides in the past 40 years, people still judge others by the color of their skin. In Milwaukee, it seems like blacks and Hispanics are targeted by police. Recently, a Hispanic kid was shot by an officer. The family contests the kid had no gun. I wish I could say this is the first time this has happened, but it’s not. There are still businesses that have no minority employees, and some golf courses in the South still won’t allow blacks on the course.
With that being said, let me tell you about an organization that does not care about the color of your skin or religious belief. It’s called the military. In the Army, you do not see the same racial problems. Black, Hispanic, white, purple… it doesn’t matter. You’re a team of green.
I recall one squad I spent time with. The squad leader was Samoan. One team leader was white, the other was black. One soldier was Indian, another was Hispanic and the SAW gunner was of Middle Eastern descent. When it came time for patrols and raids, these soldiers didn’t care about one another’s ethnicity. They had a job to do; their lives depended on one another. In the end, they became brothers. They would share music and joke about each other’s mom.
In fact, the Army does not tolerate prejudice. If a soldier speaks a racial slur, he can lose rank and half his pay. If the behavior continues, he or she is Court Martialed.
The irony of it is that Americans have the freedom to think what they want to. So if a man wants to hate black people, he can, even if millions of African Americans have fought for his rights.
Maybe one day racism will not exist. Maybe the bigots will realize the errors in their ways. While I hope this happens, I doubt true equality will ever be achieved in this country… because the hateful thinking is passed on from generation to generation. But one thing is for sure… just as my father taught me, I will teach my children not to judge another by the color of skin. After all, America is about diversity and opportunity, not hate.