We’re All the Same. People are People.

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It’s not just some white Americans who are phobic and/or racist. Much of the world feels the same way about “their own.” It’s easy to fall into complacency, of sorts, or put on blinders, when confronted with people not like ourselves. Many years ago, while in the Peace Corps, I stopped by a remote stream in Sierra Leone way out in the bush, a perfect stop to wash the dirt off my face, and when I got down there it turned out there was a group of kids playing in the water. When they looked up and saw me, they all threw their arms over their heads and ran SCREAMING into the bush. They had never seen a white person. Later I was told they thought I was “Mommy Water,” the albino witch who lives in streams and rivers, and would come to drown them.

Some of us get afraid.

It was not that long ago that people were sitting at Woolworth’s counters in this country to protest segregation. Oh, don’t so many of us liberals wish we could have been old enough back then to have taken part? I would have. But I think we have to recognize that it takes time for the dummies to come ‘round, for history to come ‘round. We could very well have been one of those people who didn’t want to sit next to someone of another color at that counter. They/we were raised by people like my parents, who didn’t let my black friends in New Jersey come over to play because “they will steal something.” These are the same parents who wouldn’t let me talk on the phone – the kind of phone that used to attach to the wall with a curly cord – to my gay friend in high school. I am not excusing my parents, but they grew up in a different time and place, and I can see that now from far away. I can’t BLAME them for being racist or sexist or elitist, but I don’t excuse them at the same time.

When I was 16, before most people had dishwashers, I had the chore of drying dishes beside my mother. She washed, I dried, and we both put the dishes away. We had just moved from New Jersey back to her hometown in Indiana, and my high school, being the only one in the county, had about 4,000 students. We were all white, either farmers or pharmacists or grocers or salesmen for John Deere, or waitresses at Big Boy or checkout clerks, or just kids going to school.

But one day in 1977 an exchange student came to our school, and he was black. We welcomed him. He was cute, and exotic. He made friends with everyone, and then he got a girlfriend, a blonde girl with whom he started holding hands walking down the hallway. I was thrilled.

One night washing dishes with my mom I told her about him.

“You know,” I said, “there’s a black kid at school and he has a white girlfriend and I figured out that if they have kids, and their kids have kids, and we all get together, then someday a while from now, everyone in the world will be the same color!”

My mom stopped washing altogether.

“THAT will never happen,” she said. She looked at me, scared, as if I were from another planet. I stared back, because I knew what I said was true. It was the moment I realized that my parents didn’t know everything.

My mother was born in 1929, in Indiana, and that was all she knew – white people, like the children by the stream in Africa who knew only black people. The year 1929 is just not that long ago. (She is now dead, and never had a black or Hispanic or anyone-not-Caucasian friend in her life). My dad’s parents were Irish immigrants who had a hard time finding work in upstate Pennsylvania. My dad used to make fun of the “Polacks,” many of whom lived on the same street in Susquehanna. And he was a smart guy. But there was a tiered system that he accepted and made into a shield. Fifty years later, after my parents had moved to Texas (where the “N” word was a common phrase in the house) he drove a school bus in Houston. There was a kid on his bus, a little black girl, who had markedly crooked teeth. One day he went to an orthodontist, paid in advance, and sent a note home to her parents suggesting they get her braces, all expenses paid. One day she showed up on the bus and beamed her sparkly new braces at him, and handed him a pie that her mother had made. (I could not believe this was my father speaking when he told me this story, pie on the table.) By way of explanation, he only said, “You can’t go through life with crooked teeth.”

So. Can people change?

When we go a hospital, or turn on the TV, we now see stripes of every color, unlike the three channels of yore. I have two doctors now: one is Vietnamese and one is Chinese, and I trust them both with my life. They are so much smarter than I am (and funnier . . . and that isn’t hard, on either count.) But yesterday I went into our little Northern California post office, and I live in an area where we don’t get mail delivery, so you have to go regularly, and we have a new black postmaster. I’ve gotten to know him a little. His name is, inexplicably, “Pierre.” He wanted to show me some photos on his phone of his 3-year-old son, and the boy was so cute, but I asked if his wife was white, because his kid had really light skin. The woman behind me gasped; I guess her liberalness prevented her from asking such bold questions. But he jumped into it, and said, “No! She’s Vietnamese! And boy did I have a hard time getting her to marry me. She thought I was in a gang! Her parents hated me because I was black and thought I was in a gang! I said no I wear this do-rag to keep my hair nice and straight, and they finally came around.” He looked at his phone again, shook his head, and I swear he almost cried, looking at his son. “We have to work so hard,” he said. “I miss him so much every day.”

The world is different from when our parents were small, but not all that much. I went back to Indiana during the campaign and Trump signs were planted on many a lawn (which is when I started to get worried.) But these are good people, supporting Trump. They are solid, hard-working people who love their kids and families. At the risk of sounding paternalistic, we need to guide them. We should be alert to the growing threat of insulation, sure. But we have to take it with a grain of salt, so to speak, because the years will tick by, and someday, we’ll all be the same color.

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89 thoughts on “We’re All the Same. People are People.

  1. Racism is all over the world not just about white, brown or black. In India there was caste system though long abolished with the independence of the country.
    But recently we had this new law called Right to Education, under this law admissions in school are through lottery and all schools irrespective of the fact they are privately owned or not , they have to a lottery for new admissions and 25% seats are reserved for EWS ( economically weaker section) categories . Now the thing is I always thought I am a liberal and fair person but since this law was passed I have been saying that it’s not good as all sorts of kids from all backgrounds are in the privately managed schools. But when I see my son and he has friends with many kids and some are from the EWS category . He has no adjustment problem but I am the one who was worried, I realised how shallow my thinking has been. Sometimes our kids teach us the right thing. Colour, race, cate or creed doesn’t matter. They don’t make us inferior or superior to another. But intermingling only makes us realise that we are all first humans and each one of us have our own set of problems.

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  3. Yep racism exist, it didn’t disappeared with Pres.Obama, it was there and will be there. I hate to say it, but as an African American of more than 70 years, I know it will always be with us. The only thing I hope is that rhere are more people who can accept those of others race than those who cannot. We have to reach and learn about others who are of different races. We have to make an effort to understand each other. We have to teach our children that no one is superior. We have to keep teaching we are all God’s children. We are made in His image. I try.

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  4. This is a must read. People are harming others without realising it. We might look different from outside but from inside we share the same views, same ambitions, we have the same taste and we act in the same way. We are not fighting for saving our land but for sharing it! We might be born in different places but we are send here for one and the same reason. Being against that is equivalent to being against everybody, including yourself. I have so much friends from different nationallities and I am so happy that I have learnt about their culture and way of living. This is the difference that we must search for only. We do not gain anything with being racists but we lose a lot. I hope, as I said, that your blog is seen by as much people as possible and actually think over it and realise it. Thank you for sharing it with us!

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  5. Great article.. Even today racism exicts. People are still harimg each other physically and mentally just because they look different. They don’t understand that that’s the beauty of nature. We all are here to love each other, to love ourselves for what we are and we cannot change it because it was never in our hands at first place. I hope when people would read this , they’ll realise that this world belongs to everyone and some day it would become a better place to live in.
    And just like you said someday we all would be of the same colour 🙂

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  6. The more people see we’re all the same the better our world will be.

    P&G released a very good advert at the start of this month. It didn’t promote a product, just a message of tolerance, love and joy.

    The Beatles said it well with “Peace and Love”

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  7. Quite right. We are all the same and people are people. Unless some of us come from Mars or Venus, that is. White, yellow, brown or purple, we are all capable of great acts of kindness, or ignorance and bigotry. And although many resist, we are all capable of change (like your dad).

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  8. I love your photos. Good or bad, I think its hard to say were all the same, maybe on a basic level. I do know that however you have been raised – racism unfortunately is not easy to shake with a thought provoking quote. The best we can do is not to pass our judgements, our parents judgements and even our grandparents judgements on to our children – for they will change the world.

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  9. I did some travelling around Europe and one thing I definitely noted was that people are people everywhere. Mostly good, with a few not so good. The moral I took home with me was being human means we are more alike then we care to admit despite differences in colour or religion.

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    1. Johnnyboy, you are so right. The real question is, how do we get to the point where we all feel that way? I dunno. I think there was a very salient comment on this blog about how even if we’re all the same color we’ll still find ways to discriminate against each other. Other animals do that, too, I think. I just feel like tearing my hair out, sort of, in today’s climate. When 9/11 happened I was living in Oakland, CA, and there were people stranded for DAYS at the airport, and I was thinking, why can’t there be a network for people in crisis to just crash at local peoples’ houses? If I hadn’t had two babies I would have driven to the airport carrying a big sign saying, “Anyone who needs a guest room, talk to me! I’ll drive you to my home and bring you back when the airport opens! Free!”

      Which reminds me of a good (but a sad) story. I lived in West Africa for a few years (I am white), and when I flew out the plane diverted to Liberia because of, the pilot said, “lack of fuel.” When we landed they announced that we would be grounded for two weeks. I didn’t have a visa for Liberia so couldn’t leave the airport. It was the first time I’d ever seen a terminal with windows shot out by gunfire. (And last time, thank goodness.) The burly/beefy camouflaged guy taking my ID told me to check into the hotel across the street. It was $100 a night! My whole trip, which I planned to go on for a year, was on a $900 budget, so the whole trip would be eaten up by that stay at the airport near Monrovia. I went back to the terminal, and told the camouflaged guy that I would prefer to just stay at the airport and sleep in a plastic chair, and he said, “Just come home with me.”

      Now, if I hadn’t lived in West Africa already for a few years I probably would have shrunken back. But there was something about him … he was handsome and strong and — kind. I trusted him when I felt in a small way I shouldn’t be trusting him. “Really?” I asked somewhat wryly, and probably rolled my eyes. He laughed, and said, “Yes, really.” So we got onto a bus at the end of his shift and rode a whole hour to his home because the airport in Monrovia is really not near Monrovia and when we got there he announced me as a guest. His mother ran out to the back yard, grabbed a chicken, and killed it for dinner. (This was an honor in itself.) His 14-year-old sister straightened her sheets so that I would be comfortable. I slept next to her in that twin bed for two weeks, and was treated in a way no strange guest could possibly, in my imagination, be treated in America. Her big brother gave me tours of Monrovia, introduced me to his friends; I tried to help his mother cook but she mostly just laughed at me.

      His name was Robert Thomas. I corresponded with him for several years after I flew out. Then the coup happened, then a lot of more s**t happened, and it turned out that Robert, and his sister, and his mother, had all been killed.

      So, I don’t know how we all come together. Sorry for the long reply. But I feel that if you would be living next to that airport, you would have invited me home. (And you wouldn’t have to kill a chicken.)

      All the best.

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  10. You are right. Everybody was created equal in God’s eyes.
    Society should remove the labels they have placed on certain groups of people.
    And our world will become a better place.

    Like

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