My Father the Racist

My father was smart, brave, determined. He was loyal and patriotic, hard-working, and he adored my mother. He devoted all his efforts to creating a great life for his family.

All these things are true about my dad. And so is this: My father was an unremitting racist.

To be fair, so was just about everyone else in my family and the all-white neighborhoods I grew up in. I went to school in a suburb famous for the invention of ‘red-lining.’ I never met a Jewish person until I got to college. In suburban Detroit we were taught that segregation was a problem of the South, but any black people I ever knew caught the bus home at the end of their domestic work day.

Dad and I had a running pattern that he called a ‘joke.’ He’d make an offensive remark about an ethnic group other than his own, and I’d take offense. He’d smirk and pretend to make a reasonable argument until I began to lose my temper or get upset. As I got older, I learned to resist the ‘bait.’ But I still resent it, and although he’s been dead for 14 years, I still want to fight.

It wasn’t funny, Dad, the way you bragged about sharing Hitler’s birthday or flew the Nazi flag. It wasn’t funny to tell American blacks to “go back to the jungle where you came from.”

My father would do anything for you if you were his friend or a family member. He wasn’t a gun nut, didn’t give money to racist groups, but his attitude toward the ‘other’ was hateful and entitled. I could never understand this.

So this year, I had to tell the truth.

Another truth is that I miss him, every day.

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