Updated 1:58 p.m. with infographic link at end
NORWALK, Conn. – Just for the record, let me state up front that I am one of those old white guys people talk about when they need to describe, in a nutshell, what is wrong with the country.
The complaints? Old white guys rule. Old white guys write the TV shows and movies, the books and therefore control pop culture. Old white guys are mayors and congressmen. Old white guys are the corporate chiefs, the bankers, the movers and the shakers.
Well, OK. I am none of the above except an old white guy, and I’m not really all that, either. Not totally. Not OLD old. And my family tree includes – and I expect a letter from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown about this – a member of the Cherokee tribe from North Carolina.
Now I know lots of old white people say they are part Cherokee – or part some other American Indian – and no, I have no proof. Apparently so many people wanted to claim heritage that the Cherokee have put in place (and have had it in place for some time) a very difficult set of standards of proof. Some of the records needed simply do not exist anymore.
I do know that my father’s father, a member of a wealthy branch of the non-Cherokee family, married my grandmother against said rich white family’s wishes, and wound up abandoning her a few years later with three preschool kids rather than be disinherited by the rich folks for marrying a person of mixed racial heritage.
So my father, who would identify as a white guy all his life, grew up poor, and in a home for boys for several years because his mom – my grandmother, the only natural grandparent I ever knew – could not work and take care of two little girls and a rambunctious young boy. He went to the Dickensian home that was part orphanage, where Christmas meant new toothbrush, a comb and, if you were lucky, an orange, and where discipline might include waking up several minutes later on the floor against a wall.
So why all this information? It has something to do with the rising tide of racial division in Norwalk, and in the United States. And that has a lot to do with the rising tide of racial minorities who, in short order, will relegate old white guys – and old white women, and young white people of all genders – to minority status. That scares the pants off of white people, who cannot conceive of being, well, on the other side of the demographic fence. And, hey, just in case you didn’t read the literature, the nation put a non-white guy in charge of the country, and, well, all hell broke loose, not the least of which was a significant number of people trying – and they continue to try – to de-legitimize him.
But people, we have become a nation of 50 shades of humans — not blacks, whites, browns, yellows and reds, just humans. Hitler would be appalled. We should be thrilled.
Me? I get it. I grew up in Hyannis Port, after all, where blacks, Latinos and Jewish people were as scarce as unanimity in the Norwalk Democratic Party. It wasn’t even the rich part of Hyannis Port. It was, befitting our status as a lower middle income, blue collar family, the slums of Hyannis Port, which consisted of our house.
It was the ‘50s (I was born in 1953) and race relations were not something that were talked about. White people where I lived – and I include my family in this – avoided blacks and Latinos. I was told by a brother that should I be walking on the street with a black person coming toward me, I should cross the street.
That is how a lot of us old white guys grew up. It took me years to shake it, and even then I found it nerve-wracking when, as the 30-something publisher of New England Boxing Monthly, I found myself late one night after a fight card in Boston sitting in a bar in the tough Roxbury section, the only white face in the place, save for the owner.
I guess that is the way a lot of my fellow old white people are feeling these days, like we are the ones who are out-numbered, and that somehow makes us unsafe. Because, after all, look what happened to “them” when WE were in charge.
And ain’t karma just grand?
What goes around comes around, except from where I sit, it is my guess that the blacks and Latinos will not do to us what we did to them. And really, could people with a little more pigment really do any worse than the old white guys? Take a stroll through history – not just American history, but Europe, too. Wars, diseases, entire societies crashing. Look what our ancestors did here (OK, this is my inner repressed Cherokee talking), stealing the land, spreading disease, introducing the native people to alcohol, killing them and confining the rest to reservations, killing the animals, clear-cutting land, polluting the water …
We’ve had our successes, too. We put people on the moon. We invented stuff. We created the Internet. We created wealth beyond what anyone could ever need, we…
Oh, right, that is a huge part of the problem. Something about 1 percent, 2 percent. Something about a relative handful of people – a huge proportion of whom are old white guys – having a hugely disproportionate amount of the wealth while a significant number of the rest just try to get by day to day.
Those people believe the deck has been stacked and, as they gain political clout through numbers, they will have their chance to show us how they think it should be done.
My bet is they will do a better job, that they will rebuild a nation torn asunder by hate and greed and fear, that they will narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots.
But first, a little advice from an old white guy who has watched white people become increasingly polarized (Republicans vs. Democrats, Tea Party vs. everybody) – stop fighting amongst yourselves.
Hear that Norwalk minorities? Get a grip. You, and we, are all in this together. We, the old white guys, are turning over the car keys, albeit slowly, and reluctantly. We need you to drive carefully, responsibly. Keep fighting over who drives, over which road to take, and we could all find ourselves overturned in a ditch.
(Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a transformational piece of legislation that began a long, and some would say ongoing, march to equality for minorities in America. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 followed, then the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Taken together, the laws were intended to make illegal discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin)