#MondayBlogs – Embracing the Other: You Can Make It If You Really Try

Embracing the Other: You Can Make It If You Really Try

Guest Post by Patrick H. Moore

 

Confession time. I was raised to NOT be a racist. Way down on the farm in the outback of old Wisconsin, my father used to read aloud to us from the autobiography of the great Frederick Douglass. Many a night we gathered around and listened. I learned how young Frederick fought his cruel overseer for hours one fine day. Mano a mano. Fought him till they both dropped from exhaustion. I learned how young Frederick learned to read on the sly. I learned how his mother was sold off to one place while he stayed behind. Bad as it was in slave-holding Maryland, it was far worse down in the deep South. I don’t think we ever got to the part where Frederick escapes to the north and becomes a famous abolitionist but that didn’t matter. I learned the lesson my father meant to impart.

 

 Being the OTHER, #1

I need to explain. There in outback Wisconsin in the late 1950s there weren’t any black people. Not a single one in our whole county. No Asians either. Any Latinos? Probably not. We were white people. White on white. I believe there was even a law against black people spending the night. Which led to a curious and disturbing phenomenon.

Every so often at recess or lunch hour (this was before I organized the boys to play football, even in the snow), a hush would come over the playground. A premonition of something strange building up in the psyches of fine young American boys. Then a single silent bugle would sound deep in the reptilian brain and the boys would come charging across the playground like madmen contaminated by some appalling virus. They would dive into a huge pile, 8, 10, 12 gleeful squirming boys shouting: “N_____ pile! N_____ pile!” Oh did they enjoy this strange ritual. Finally, they would get tired of it, stand up, brush themselves off and break off in twos and threes to go play marbles or climb on the jungle jim…

I did not enjoy this strange ritual. In fact, I hated it. These boys were my friends. Yet I knew that I was nevertheless irredeemably OTHER because I did not, could not, join in the game. It was not a good feeling. I never told the boys how I felt, just kept it inside. Now, nearly 60 years later, with racism apparently on the rise in many parts of our beleaguered land, boys may well be playing this awful game in dozens, perhaps hundreds of all-white communities.

But back then in 1957, even though I had plenty of friends, and within a year or two would be leading the boys on the football field, I was still OTHER. Deep down where it counts.

 

Being the OTHER, #2

Every so often an imported boy or girl would be transplanted temporarily to our small community. One year it was the Luzak brothers, white boys, orphans, one large, one huge, here to live with foster parents on one of the neighborhood farms. The Luzak brothers knew all about Otherness. But this story is not about them. This lesson is about another species of Otherness who walked into our fifth grade classroom one winter morning. His name was Elliot. Elliot Feuerhammer. Curly red hair, glasses, a ready smile. Not that good at baseball or football but not terrible. The sort of kid who could be decent with a little coaching.

But it was not his appearance or undeveloped athletic ability that made Elliot the OTHER. In fact, at first we didn’t even realize that we had an alien in our midst. This is how we learned. We had an assignment in which we had to make a presentation to the class. I don’t remember the details. Just a presentation. I was a good student. I probably made a good presentation. Some kids struggle with this sort of thing; some kids don’t.

Then it was Elliot’s turn. He stood in front of the class holding a rolled up piece of whiteboard. He unrolled it and stood it up on the eraser rack at the base of the blackboard. It was huge and intricate. A presentation, I now believe, on microscopic life. Paramecium. Amoebas. Mitochondria swimming around in the cells. Drawn in multiple colors with painstaking care. We had no idea what he was talking about. We had never heard the word amoeba. We were not hip to mitochondria. In science we’d learn about basic things like water condensation and the solar system. How to find the North Star on cold clear nights…

We all stared as Elliot became the teacher and discoursed about the strange beings he’d drawn so skillfully. I don’t know if I really listened; I don’t know if anyone listened. Even if we had, it was doubtful we would have understood. There were three rather bright kids in my fifth grade class, I was probably one of them, but this was out of our league. So we all just stared. Unperturbed, Elliot continued his lesson. Rolled up his sleeves and went to work. It was like Louis Pasteur had suddenly time traveled into our classroom. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I suspect that I was subliminally aware that Elliot, just like me, was irredeemably OTHER.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Elliot and I became friends riding the school bus together. We would sit together and talk, letting the words flow…

The next year he was gone. Back to his family in Milwaukee which was full of black people. In fact, I saw him one summer day when I was with my father on his egg route delivering eggs door to door in Milwaukee. We knocked on a door in what was probably a housing project. Elliott answered. Same guy. Same hair. New glasses. He was glad to see me. I was glad to see him. I never saw him again…

The point of this humble tale is that Otherness is everywhere. It can appear when you least expect it. You might find that you yourself are suddenly OTHER. Should this happen, you might hope to be accepted despite your Otherness. If you are white among other whites, it might be easier. But what if you were black in my all white county? Good luck. What if you were white in an all black county. Again, good luck. What if you were somewhere in between and didn’t fit anywhere?

Because of how I was raised, I’ve spent a long lifetime embracing the OTHER. The OTHER has made me who I am today, for better or worse. I think I was lucky to be raised that way. Contributes to having an open mind. Open to new experiences. Open to what life has to offer. Open to the OTHER.

Does that mean that I am never close-minded, narrow, a prejudiced jerk? Of course not. My faults are just as serious, if not more serious, than the next man or woman. Those who know me well know my faults. But I do try to embrace the OTHER. The OTHER in literature. The OTHER in music. But most importantly, the OTHER in human interaction. The man or woman sitting near you with a heavy accent and strange clothes. The single black man starting a new job in an all-white company. The shy Chinese woman who came up to me at a singles event and is now my wife. I can tell you one thing. The OTHER has made my life richer. Richer by far…


Patrick H. Moore is a Los Angles based Private Investigator, Sentencing Mitigation Specialist, and crime writer.  He has been working in this field since 2003 and his areas of expertise include drug trafficking cases, sex crimes, crimes of violence, and white collar fraud.  Patrick holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from San Francisco State University where he graduated summa cum laude in 1990.  Prior to moving to Los Angeles, he worked as a Community College English teacher.

Patrick is the author of Cicero’s Dead, an award-winning crime novel.

You can connect with Patrick on his All Things Crime Blog and on Twitter.

 

  • Pingback: Embracing the Other: You Can Make It If You Really Try | All Things Crime Blog()

  • me1952

    Having spent my childhood(pre Civil Rights) alone in more diversity than most people see in a lifetime, diversity is nothing new, I can give this advice: If you want to truly overlook and respect people’s “differences”, then don’t make an issue of them in the first place. I wasn’t raised to be racist either. It wasn’t what my parents and teachers said that influenced me, it was what they didn’t say,

    • I appreciate your point of view, but I think saying nothing often allows too much room for the loud, obnoxious, racist, intolerant voices to flourish. I certainly don’t advocate pointing out differences within personal interactions. But, as a public discussion, I think it’s time to make some noise.

      • me1952

        Hello Darcia,
        I think you miss my point. By not making an issue of race, religion, and ethnicity, my parents and teachers taught me to overlook it. I never saw it as an issue. I had black and Asian classmates. Big deal. I asked my mother about these “different” children. She told me where their ancestors came from. No issue was made of it. My best little friend was Jewish. My mother simply explained the difference in our religions when I asked. No issue was made of it. I have to laugh that today people are “discovering” diversity. Its as old as the human race.
        Its been my experience that the more we emphasize and dwell on what makes us different, the more divisiveness and victimhood we perpetuate.

        That’s not to say we should not condemn racism, bigotry, and anti semitism when we are confronted with it.

        • I understood your point. My mother never made an issue of differences, either. In fact, we never discussed it at all. I think, in my case, her not addressing these issues had less to do with her own tolerance (though she is not prejudice by nature) and more to do with the fact that we lived in a White Bread society. Addressing diversity was not necessary, because there was little of it around us. When I was a child, race wars were going on in cities, but we didn’t talk about it. I don’t think I even knew about it until I was much older.

          You’re certainly right that diversity has been a part of society for a very long time, but so has intolerance. We here in the US currently live in an explosive society, where condemning others due to race and religion has become the norm. I don’t think speaking out in favor of tolerance and diversity emphasizes victimhood; I think it’s a vital reminder of what happens when we allow vitriol and intolerance to rule the airwaves.

          • me1952

            Hello Darcia,
            Indeed, my parents didn’t have any real need to emphasize diversity with me, we never even heard of diversity back then, probably because it was just a no brainer. People are different. I had black and Jewish friends. My neighborhood and school were a mini United Nations. No issue was made of it so I thought nothing of it.

            I don’t agree we have to “address” diversity. To me that makes as much sense as saying we have to address the fact people have blue eyes. Maybe the best way to “address” diversity is to quit trying so hard to “address” diversity. We are ALL different. As far as I’m concerned we would all be better off if the “experts” in diversity would go get real jobs and leave the rest of us in peace.

            Of course there has always been intolerance. Utopia never has and never will exist. But it sure seems to me the more diversity “awareness” is pushed and stressed, the more divided we become. We have “safe spaces” on campus so tender little snowflakes can segregate themselves. Non white students demand their own dorms and facilities. We have “micro aggressions” so as to perpetuate victimhood. Every time you turn around someone is whining about something.

            Speaking in favor of tolerance is fine, but one must remember tolerance is a two way street. As a white person I have been victimized by racially motivated bullying and harassment. Intolerance, racial hatred, and bigotry definitely go both ways. One charming little Native woman attacked me as as an “f***ing honkey” when I tried to so up her head in the ER. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for the white staff.

            Its been my experience emphasizing “diversity”, i.e. our differences, does perpetuate victimhood and there is nothing people relish like their victimhood. Our local paper ran a series called “Diverse Voices” to promote diversity and understanding. It turned into a perpetual p*&& and moan series with everyone whining about their victimhood and their grievances against this group of people or that, some of it blatant racial hatred. I’m a history buff and the more politically incorrect the history, the more I love to throw it out there, which I couldn’t resist doing in response to some of the stupidity I was reading. Of course I was attacked as a racist, even though it was acknowledged that what I said was correct. That was beside the point. I was a “racist” just for saying it!
            Mercifully they axed the series.

            Vitriol and intolerance have always been a part of the human condition. People are not nice. Its called life. I have never condoned intolerance and raised my children as I was raised…not emphasizing what people look like. I’m very proud of the results.

          • You’re fortunate in that you grew up in a diverse area. That’s not the case for many of us. I think it makes a big difference when you’re exposed to a lot of differences during youth. Not that all people in your situation grow up tolerant. Probably far from it. And certainly not all of us who grew up in a less diverse area grew up with prejudices. I know I didn’t.

            I totally agree that tolerance and intolerance comes in many forms. Skin color, religion, weight, education, etc. Being white and middle class doesn’t automatically exclude a person from experiencing racism or intolerance.

            Sadly, I don’t agree with you that diversity and acceptance were once no-brainers. Your situation, I think, is more unique than you realize. If diversity was a no-brainer, we’d have never had slavery in the US. We wouldn’t have had the Holocaust in Europe. Intolerance goes way back in time, to the Roman Empire and before. Diversity was prohibited, rather than celebrated. In my youth, during the sixties, Boston was a hotbed of violence between Italian and Irish immigrants. “Different” is a problem within almost all societies. Not discussing those differences honestly allowed intolerance and racism to take hold. Talking about it, in my opinion, helps open minds.

            I do get your point about perpetuating victimhood. There will always be people who look for that reason to blame someone else for their problems. But that happens without the conversation. That happens when I hear my neighbor blaming “the Mexicans” for his inability to get a job. Not understanding and misunderstanding diversity promotes victimhood far more than honest and open conversation does.

            I am not saying that we should emphasize differences in other people. I never pointed them out to my children, either. They never cared about the color of their friends’ skin or what church they did or did not go to, because I never made it an issue. Emphasizing a difference is entirely different than open discussion. Emphasizing something makes the claim, intentionally or not, that the difference means something.

            While I’d like to pretend to be color blind, that’s impossible. We notice differences with other people, whether it’s the Irish girl with blue eyes and red hair or the Middle Eastern man with the full beard. There will always be an “other” in our lives. Acknowledging that difference is part of understanding our humanity.

          • me1952

            Hello Darcia,
            I never said diversity and acceptance were no brainers. I said the fact people are different was a no brainer.
            Slavery is as old as the human race and exists to this day. Slavery was about power, not skin color. The powerful of every race preyed on the weak of every race. We all descended from slaves. In fact a form of slavery is alive and thriving in my state. Its called human trafficking.

            Your situation in Boston shows that animosity is not always motivated by skin color. Very tragically people always have and always will find some reason to hate someone. Discussing and remedying differences is certainly important and is an ongoing struggle. But I view all this emphasis on our differences as overkill. I view it like the meddlesome relative with the best intentions who in her zeal to solve everyone’s problems only creates more divisiveness, animosity, and anger.

            I don’t completely disagree with what you say about perpetuating victimhood, but too many times I have seen “victimhood” as a license to attack people of a particular race, ethnicity, religion, or political persuasion. I can say what I want because I’m a “victim”. This does nothing to promote harmony, only divisiveness.

            How interesting about your children. When my children were younger, I began mentoring a single mother who had a bi racial child. My children loved to play with her and she and her mother were part of our family. After several years, my youngest daughter said to me, “mom, you never told me “Anna” was part black”. I responded “why, what difference does it make”? I didn’t want you to notice or care and I am glad you didn’t”. My daughter didn’t notice for several years until a relative pointed it out to her. All too often differences are overlooked until someone points them out.

            Absolutely we all notice differences. We notice the person with a disability, the tall person, the short person, the “odd looking” person, the “quirky” person, the very attractive, the very unattractive. And as you say the people of ethnic and racial differences. We should treat all people with respect. The physically challenged don’t appreciate condescension any more than a person appreciates a racial or religious slur.

            Maybe it isn’t our differences we should emphasize, but rather how to treat each and every person, whatever their “difference” with the same respect we want to be treated with.

  • I grew up “Other”: mixed race in a white church; leaning more towards believing in peace in a jingoistic environment; having a global interest where it wasn’t prevalent(likely encouraged by my having relatives in Europe).

    I actually chose my profile pic because I identify with Plato’s Cave analogy, with my upbringing, and began to wonder if the view I was fed of the Other was just shadows on the wall. In fact, a major reason I have a Twitter account is to connect with the Other, and to take a blow to provincialism.

    • I love what you said about wondering whether the view you were fed was just shadows on the wall. Profound.

      We live in a society where we’re told to stand out while conforming. An absurdity. We should be celebrating the Other in each of us.

  • RevDiana

    As a child my family moved constantly, at least 13 times before high school. Because of this I was always the new girl in class. In the olden days a new child had to stand in front of the class and say their name and where they were from. My entire childhood I was painfully shy and would cry easily, so you can imagine how brutal it was to say my name, let alone anything else in front of a class of strangers. I did not find my “voice” until I was 16. By then I was half past give a shit and figured I had gotten nowhere being shy, so I might as well say what I felt.
    The other thing that happened at 16 was high school. I was poor, so I knew what it was like to go hungry, have the heat shut in winter or borrow newspaper from the neighbor because we didn’t have toilet paper. You can’t make these things up. As a result of moving and low income I was always “The Other.” I never fit in, ever. Even to this day I don’t fit in. I’m different, I’m progressive. I was banning bras long before women’s lib. I never went on a date where I didn’t pay for something, because I never wanted to feel like I owed anyone anything. I was too smart to fit in with the cool kids and too cool to fit in with the nerds. So I became my own person in a sea of conformity.
    The funny thing is, I didn’t even fit into my own family. When I was five I thought of my family as “those people” who I didn’t want to be like. What little kid does this?
    I left home three days after high school and never looked back. I was determined to never be poor, never go hungry and never have to ask anyone for anything. I pretty much achieved my goal. The sad thing about being an Other is that you are continually having what feels like an out of body experience, as if you’re on the outside looking in. I have few friends, but the ones I have are true. I don’t suffer fools lightly and I am VERY aware of being an Other, and have empathy for others who don’t fit into the boxes that society creates.
    My eldest daughter is an Other as well. When she was young she was ostracized for being introspective instead of into dolls. What I told her then and what I live by every day is the credo; everyone can be like anyone, but it takes somebody special to be different. God bless Other’s. They are the thinkers, the feelers, the ones who fight for change so that others don’t have to suffer the isolation that they felt. I’m proud to be an Other, and I’ll continue dancing to my own tune.

    • Patrick H. Moore

      Diana, You’ve written a fascinating comment here which doesn’t surprise me. I had the feeling from your comments on the crime blog that you’d lived an interesting and challenging life, but of course I had no concept of the details. Thanks for sharing this with all of us. I am moved by your courage.

      Just for the sake of comic relief, I’ll share an Other type experience I had in the 7th grade. We had just moved from Wisconsin to North Oakland and I was just starting to find my way around. 7th grade ended and for some unknown reason, my parents had me enroll in summer school, the only time this ever happened. I found myself in a 3 hour Science Seminar class. I’d always been pretty good in school but science was not my strong suit. These kids were science maniacs, not unlike Elliot in Embracing the Other. Everyone in the room was a science maniac. To make it worse, the teacher was a science maniac, a fairly small totally bald man wearing a white lab coat. He and the other students understood each other perfectly. Everyone was jazzed except yours truly. I was horrified; I didn’t even know what they were talking about. After one 3-hour class, I ducked out to return no more. Had I stuck it out, maybe I would have learned some science but more likely I would have gone berserk…

    • Merl

      You are an inspiration Diana! Thank you for sharing the painful and uplifting details of your personal journey. Keep dancing to your own tune. You are one of a kind.

    • Powerful words, Diana, and well said.

  • suzanne jenkins

    Thank you so much for your story.

    • Thank you for stopping by and reading, Suzanne. 🙂

  • Julie Elizabeth Powell (pen)

    I love open minds; closed ones are so dangerous.