“Bias creeps into you as a child without your permission, like the cold on a wet foggy day.”
Where I grew up, “we” was a weird and sloppy mess.
- We lived in Inkster, Michigan; about 35,000 of us. (We knew people called us Stinkster, but we called their towns of Garden City and Westland – Garbage City and Wasteland.)
- We lived on the white side of town; about 17,500 of us.
- We went to St. Kevin’s Catholic. Maybe 500 families (which back in the 60’s equated to about 4,000 people, or 8 per household. LOL)
- We were second generation. Probably 10,000 of us. Then there was…
- We – that “we” didn’t know much of – who were perhaps 7th generation Americans. Brought as slaves. Probably 15,000 of the 17,500 were direct descendants of enslaved people.
- Another white “we” lived on our street. “We” knew them yet we didn’t. Their mommies and daddies were from Kentucky, Tennessee, or further south. Typically, they brought their lunch buckets to the factories, while our dads wore ties and carried briefcases to jobs at Chevy or Ford’s.
- The biggest divide on our street was between the Chevy and the Ford families. We argued incessantly over Camaro vs. Mustang.
- There wasn’t a Jew within 20 miles of us, but there were Jewish slurs and Jewish jokes.
What was weird, human, natural and punishing was how we were constantly being pressured to turn all the “we’s” into “us and them” – into objects rather than subjects. Bias crept in, seemingly necessary to reinforce the good people stories “we” told about ourselves, and maybe to justify natural human fears and inse
curities by making others into dangerous “them’s.”
The Mulhern-Sanitates we most closely belong to learned never to use the “N” word and to be open-minded; Dad was so proud when he helped select Mr. Grigsby as the first negro city manager of our physically and socially divided town. And we patted the backs of our psychic selves when we played with the Grigsby kids on a city council trip to DC and when Dad took us to negro churches. (This was the year of the riots, and I know I felt some fear going into “their” churches. To this day I am humbled and inspired every time I walk into a black church and feel the warmth and welcome that my own churches don’t always offer.)
We learned our own biases at home. The “rednecks” (I don’t think my folks ever called them that) were backwards and could be dangerous. “We” reveled in jokes about “Pollocks,” intended, I guess, to give us a leg up, but which we defended as “all in fun.” In all the slicing and dicing, we got called names, for our Catholicism, college aspirations, liberal politics, and for going to Ford summer day camp, cuz the GM families greatly outnumbered us.
My family loved Dr. King. He always called Us to be a bigger WE!!!
This morning, when I listened to this song sent by my friend Dave Katz, I realized how I still have a ridiculous bias against southerners that was planted 50 years ago in Inkster. As a small penance, I offer this beautiful intro and song in the “Country and Western” genre which we were subtly told belonged to racists. At 62, still trying to
Lead with my best self