When I was in high school, I attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana. Classmates included a kid whose family owned 51% of Coca Cola, Ward Lay of Frito Lay, Jim Lear of Lear Jets, whose dad used to fly him to NYC for lunch on Sundays from the school’s airport, which was next to our golf course there in Northern Indiana on Lake Maxinkuckee, you get the idea.
I was horrified when, while driving to the grocery store this morning, the expression “That’s very white of you!” popped into my head. It’s something we cadets used to say to each other all the time, in a humorous way, or so we thought.
I can now see clearly, with my new awareness around racism, that what seemed like a quaint expression to take the place of “Thank You!” made me see just how deeply a wrong sort of language had been accepted into my mind when I was young. It wasn’t humorous. It was racist.
Look – if that statement is still banging around in my unconscious mind fifty years later, what other wrong words are down there? Now, here in front of us is an entire new field of language study – how does what we say and accept into our own first language system when we are growing up reveal our position on the racism issue and all the other “inherent” biases in our “great” country?
Why isn’t there a derogatory name for only the white immigrants to the America of the last 200 years, but plenty of awful labels for Irishmen, Italians, African Americans, etc.?
We have a long way to go. A very long way. Get out the pickaxes. This is going to be some very hard work! Let’s see how many expressions from our youth we can begin to understand in a new light! We kind of have to, don’t we, if we are going to live up to our inherent promise as a greatest country?
Oh look! America being great reminds me of another thing that has slithered into our language. What is the MAGA hat really saying about us? Since when have we ever been great? I think it reveals another meaning – “great for whites”.
Oh no! Not. Never. Hell no. We’re not going down that road again. Not now. Look what has happened lately. No, no and no more acronyms like MAGA! How about MAG – simply that?
P.S. The first African American cadet ever at Culver was put in my company, on my hallway. A senior, I was a lieutenant, and he was a plebe (sophomore). It was just after the Watts riots in LA, and this kid was from LA. So he was sent to Culver, I guess, for his safety.
Not once did anyone speak to me about this. I wasn’t prepared to be his hall officer. But that’s another story. I’ll skip it here, but if I were to jump to the end of the story, I would end it with this:
We have a racism problem in our country and we don’t even know it. And some of the people who claim that they “don’t see color” may be the most unaware of their racism. I describe myself here. It’s a dangerous thing to only get something intellectually.