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Voice: He's many things, but a racist he's not

May 20, 2002

Oh, God. The little light goes on, bravely flickering in an almost futile effort to guide me. And then brightly shining … whoosh! Brother, I see the light! And, oh, foolish me, I should have seen it all along. But that's for amateur psychologists to figure out.

Yet another Imperialist seeks to show me the way. I cannot but succumb. John Garcia, the latest in a string of earnest tutors, informs me the majority of people walking outside my door are Hispanic. And that times have changed and the status quo might not like it. And a sheriff who shows favoritism. We also, he expertly points out, buy cars from Japan, toys from China and whatnot from wherever. That loud resonant thud you just heard is my jaw dropping to the floor. It's all so clear!

I feel so guilty. I need to throw the trappings of my drab white-bred middle-class existence aside and rush to the barricades! The Revolution is at hand! Smash the rotten capitalist state and, uh, oh wait. "Simpsons" are on. Can I come back later?


I can let all your drivel pass, señor, except for your creepy assertion that I'm a racist. You can burn down my house (if I owned one), kick my dog (ditto), even call me an idiot (you'll have to stand in line, pick a number). But you cannot call me a racist.

Come into my classroom, John. You will see a 3 by 5 foot poster of Richard Avedon's famous shot of Jimi Hendrix. Next to that is an even bigger photograph of a Native American warrior. And one of Greg Gibson, gunnery sergeant, USMC, and an Olympic gold medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling. Gibson is black. And there's a poster of the six Kahanamoku brothers in front of their surfboards on Waikiki. There's B.B. King and, over there, Will Harper, a fellow bluesman. And the three female Marines in dress blues, a white, a black and yes, a Latina. And there, across the way, a black woman, she's the singer for Morcheeba. Even got an Italian up there; yes, that's Frank Zappa on the tractor. And the wonderful picture I tore out of a National Geographic of a proud Mexican man clutching a bundle of tulips as he stands in an Oregon field, staring pensively into the distance. Yeah, I'm a racist.

My grandmother was Mexican, on my mom's side. I guess that makes me only a quarter, but who's counting? She died of cirrhosis at 37, a beautiful woman, I'm told, who flamed out after a hard life. My mom tells me that's where I got my talent for art and writing. My mother told me stories of growing up, rootless, in lily-white Portland, of being called a "greaser" by passing white girls as she put her books in her locker. I guess her jet black hair and deep brown eyes were a dead giveaway.

Me? I grew up white, a welfare baby with my brother and sisters, a ward of the court, two foster homes, seven stays at the receiving home, blah, blah blah. Do you know what it is like to hang around a friend's house, hoping to be invited for dinner because you might not have one waiting for you at home? But, hey, just like one of my old first sergeants said, it's all in the cards. You take the hand that's dealt you and play it for all it's worth. Boo hoo.

So, pobrecito, you can sit there and complain all you want while everyone, Latinos included, passes you by. This entire debate is (where's that light again?) a done deal. But even worse if you can imagine it, this fruitless discourage has become the most terrible thing of all, that of being boring. Let's give it a rest. I'm tired. And, uh, turn out the light, will ya? No, hold on. Let me.


El Centro

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