Of course I’ve been thinking a lot about my father lately. It’s Father’s Day, after all, and Facebook keeps reminding me of all the times my father appeared in my Father’s Day Posts. All the online and TV ads mention dear old Dad. The media is all about the Dad.
But I would have been thinking about Dad without all this, because of the marches and the protests about police brutality and the knowledge that racism is part of our country and our heritage.
My father would be 97 this July if he hadn’t passed in 2013; he grew up during the Depression, and that was a very racist time. Black dogs were frequently named “Ni**er”. The only screen actors of colour were forced to perform burlesques of white prejudice like Stepin Fetchit. Amos and Andy were white radio actors who perpetuated stereotypes of black indolence.
But of course, there was no immigrant group or religion that could not be denigrated with a single word. Kike. Chink. Mick. Dago. Wop. Bohunk. Frog. These were terms that were used every day by “nice people”.
Yet somehow, Dad wasn’t racist. He wasn’t prejudiced against “others”. He didn’t seem to view people of other races and religions differently.
He had a regular customer during his cab driving days in the late ‘40s who was gay. He always asked for Dad because he knew Dad would treat him like a regular customer. Wouldn’t beat him up or try to rob him. Treated him like a human being which unfortunately was rare in those days.
The only time I saw my father angry at his mother (and my grandmother could be exasperating) was when she used the term “darkies” in front of me. He once caught some of us children taunting a local young lady of questionable virtue. He told us that we must never mock people no matter who they were. He taught me the phrase “Rather to be pitied than scorned.” Not everyone has the same choices and opportunities that we have.
I don’t know why Dad wasn’t prejudiced. It’s not something we talked about. I don’t know if he just mixed with a lot of people from different cultures and came to realize the value of each person. If he did I don’t know how, pre-WW2 Vancouver wasn’t known for its cultural sensitivity and integration. But Dad escaped that snare.
What that meant for my sister and myself was that we never heard about “Chinese drivers” or “Jew bankers” or “Sneaky Japs”, or “Dirty Indians”; things other people said every day. If you’d accused them of being racist they would have been aghast! What about their (insert minority term here) friend? Racism, like white privilege, was often invisible, only displayed behind closed doors.
Not that Dad liked everyone! Far from it. He once worked with a lad so incompetent that he referred to him as “Charlie Stupid.” I don’t think I learned his real name, but it wasn’t Charlie. All my friends liked Dad, he could stand about two of them. As for the rest, he would just roll his eyes to the ceiling if I mentioned their names. There are still people who tell me they felt my Dad was a good friend to them. He tolerated them, but he was always polite to them.
He avoided those people because they were unpleasant or humourless or hypocritical (the worst sin in Dad’s eyes). Their nationalities or religion had nothing to do with how he felt.
So thanks, Dad! I won’t say I’m not a racist — who among us can truly say that? But I try to be the best person I can be. And I think he would appreciate that.