Commentary
July 22, 2015

Learning lessons from past generations’ mistakes, understanding prejudice

By Larry Abelman

I have a lot of time to think on my morning two mile walks I take with my dog Tyler on the roads of Shrewsbury. With what’s been going on in South Carolina I couldn’t help but think about my own associations with race growing up in D.C., where my family took many excursions to the eastern shores of both Maryland and Virginia. I do vaguely remember seeing white only and colored only signs on bathrooms and water fountains in both states. Being very young, pre-teen, I did not give it much thought at the time and it was out of my memories until recently.

One of the things I knocked around in my mind during my morning walks was whether hate and prejudice are different, the same or if you can be one without the other. In my own mind you can’t hate without being prejudiced, but you can be prejudiced without hate.

I came to this decision thinking about my own parents. They owned a small ladies’ wear store in a predominately black neighborhood in southeast D.C. Unfortunately they were robbed a few times, always by a black man. I truly believe that they did not hate blacks as a group but were definitely prejudiced because of the robberies.

Growing up I had friends that were black and I went to schools that were of mixed race. Frankly I never knew the words segregation, nor integreation, as having friends of another race was “normal.” Just across the alley from my house was a black family with whom I was very close. I would have dinner at their house and their son and I spent many fun times together. We used to take long rides on his scooter. Black kids always seemed to like me. Maybe because to me it just seemed normal to have black friends and it showed.

My one racial incident happened unknowingly and it wasn’t until about 10 years after it happened that I realized it was my first introduction to segregation. I spent my last year of high school in Maryland after we moved out of D.C. Our high school marching band was selected to represent the state of Maryland in the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. So us band members and our chaperones boarded four Greyhound buses to make the trip. On the way down we stopped in Louisville, Kentucky to stretch our legs and have lunch. There was a long line to get a table at the cafeteria there, so myself and a couple others decided to walk outside the bus depot to see if we could find a place to eat with no line. We found a small lunch spot just on the outside of the bus depot. Thinking nothing of it we went in, sat down, and had lunch. It was then that it dawned on me that we ate at the all-black lunch counter. They didn’t care if we were black or white. This experience leads me to ask: is to segregate or integrate strictly a white issue? Yours to decide.

There’s been a lot of debate about whether the Confederate battle flag was a sign of hate or just honoring those who fought for the Southern side in the civil war. In my opinion it’s meaning signifies nothing but hate. True hate, not prejudice.

While stationed in the Navy in Norfolk I was living off base with a couple other sailors. One evening we were invited over a couple of gals’ townhouse in the same development. The brother of one of the gals had just arrived from Maine. After a while the brother began to use the “N” word in almost every sentence. After a while I couldn’t help but asking him a couple questions: “Being from Maine how many blacks were in your school?” He answered, “two.” “How many in your town?” He said, “Four.” “So why are you so hateful and prejudiced?” He answered, “Because my daddy is.”

Sometimes I have trouble keeping what I’m thinking inside and my thoughts become vocal, like in this case. “You are maybe the most ignorant person I have met in my life,” I said immedaitely without thinking. After a minute or two he disappeared upstairs. My roommates immediately grabbed me, we said our goodbyes to the gals and headed out.

To this day it’s hard for me to understand people that can’t form their own opinions or more importantly learn from the negative actions of their parents, relatives or friends.

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