My Story

I just watched a really interesting video that Abe Drayton posted on his blog, a lecture by Tim Wise that was mostly about white supremacy.  Two of his points jumped out at me:

– We have a systemic problem.  It’s not that ordinary folks like you and me are bad people (although there’s some of that), but that the system itself has been designed in a way to allow the majority of folks to avoid even noticing all the inequities in society because they’ve had the advantage of never having it affect their own lives in any serious way (and as a cis, het, white, male boomer, I’m one of ’em).

– Later in the talk, maybe during the Q&A, he reminded us that debunking goofy ideas with facts isn’t particularly effective because the people with the strange ideas just double down.  He suggested that what’s more effective is something that connects with individuals, basically storytelling.

So let me begin with a story from when I was about seven years old; and now that I’m seventy-seven (or will be tomorrow), I still remember it.

We were living in Delray Beach, Florida which, in the early 1950s, was still racially segregated.  I remember us driving home one night after visiting some of my parents’ friends; and at one point, we passed a pedestrian about whom my dad remarked, “He’s going to be in trouble.”  I asked why, and it wasn’t because the guy was obviously inebriated, but because he was Black; and there was a law back then that Black folks had to be in “colored town” after dark.  Even at age seven, I recognized the asymmetry (to put it mildly), although I wouldn’t have had the vocabulary back then to express that.

Tying that in to the first point I mentioned, I guess I’ve long been aware of the evils of racism because I learned something about it at an early age (even though I was in no danger myself); but I didn’t become aware of other systemic inequities until much later.  Just two examples:  I didn’t recognize the unfairness of sexism, and didn’t become a feminist, until I was in my thirties; and I had no clue about LGBTQIA+ issues until about a decade ago; in both cases because I simply had no need to notice.

There are some signs these days that maybe we’re starting to notice, and that gives me a little hope.  At least I hope I never stop learning.


  1. says

    Learning about systems is a bit like learning about fractals – once you know how to see them, you can’t stop seeing them.

    I tend to focus on the bad stuff in the world, because it needs attention, but you’re right – there’s a lot that’s happening that is cause for hope.

  2. Alan G. Humphrey says

    My earliest memory of my parent’s racism was when I was about six or seven. I had accepted a piece of chewing gum from the landlord’s son of about the same age and my mother was very upset. Later I learned both my parents resented the fact they had to rent a property from “a Mexican”, which of course he wasn’t. This happened in southern Colorado and there’s a very good chance his family had been in the US longer than my father’s, and certainly longer than my mother who was a recent German immigrant. The best part is that I never told them that the kid had been chewing on that piece of gum when he offered it to me. Ah, the innocence of youth.

  3. Katydid says

    Happy Birthday!

    I grew up as a military brat in the 1960s – 1970s, and usually not in the USA. It wasn’t until after my father retired and I was finishing high school south of the Mason-Dixon line (our last duty station) that I really got an eye- and ear-ful of racism. It was just so out-there, wide open. Invariably the person being racist had no reason to feel superior to anyone about anything.

    Was there racism in the military in those years? Undoubtedly, but I didn’t see it as a dependent. Everyone lived in the same housing area based on rank, everyone went to the same schools and shopped in the same place and took part in dependent activities together.

  4. billseymour says


    Invariably the person being racist had no reason to feel superior to anyone about anything.

    I think that hits the mark; although it does suggest a reason for their racism:  it’s their only source of self-respect.

  5. says

    Dear Bill, I appreciate and enjoy your posts here. I also appreciate your contributions to PZ’s posts. I hope your health improves and that you don’t face the same healthcare nightmare PZ is going through. I, too, have few formal credentials, but, like you, managed to achieve a lot in my ‘working’ careers.

    I completely agree with the point that battling ‘conspiracy theory lunatics’ with facts is like trying to have a thoughtful discussion with a rattlesnake.

    best wishes to you

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