We’ve Overcome, a Little

By Lloyd Graff

I grew up in between. 

Eight blocks to the West were the people my parents called the “Schvartze,” and eight blocks to the East was the South Shore Country Club, where no Jews or dogs were allowed. 

It was also the time when school desegregation was taking hold in Charlotte, North Carolina, where my wife grew up, and Martin Luther King was leading a March in Selma, Alabama, with Bull Conner lined up against him.

I was “in between” the races at the time when America was starting to change significantly. I think I’ve lived my whole life struggling with the gut fear and racism I felt at home. I feel an emotional and spiritual pull to cleanse my fear of African-Americans from my soul. 

I sang “We Shall Overcome” with the demonstrators at the University of Michigan. That was easy. Everybody was chanting and marching, but just talking to a black girl was scary. They weren’t from my Tribe. They weren’t even from my race. I played basketball and baseball with black guys and had an easy, casual friendship with many, but socializing with women was too scary. What if I got emotionally involved with one? Horrifying.

In my heart of hearts I knew this was crazy. The racism I grew up with was not Bull Connor variety, but close to Archie Bunker. It infected me for life.

I hated myself for it and made a commitment to myself that my kids would not have the same genes. 

I moved to the south suburbs of Chicago to raise a family. It was that extremely rare place in Chicago where blacks and whites lived next to each other and the kids went to school together.

I vowed never ever to use the word “Schvartze,” which is the Yiddish equivalent of the N word. My boys dated black girls. I never objected. This was the new America, the country Martin Luther King had tried to move toward, with acceptance and ultimately love and brotherhood. 

I lived the dream, but I never absorbed it in my soul like I had hoped I would as an idealistic college student. I must admit with some shame that when I watch NBA basketball games, the body tattoos and the hairstyles of black players upset me. I assume it’s their intent, to emphasize their differentness, and it works. Also, I count the white players on the teams, and I’m ashamed that I do. 

I have tried to live an ethical, non-racist life, yet I am still a racist. I have to admit I always will be. Most of our neighbors are African-American. I smile and say hello, but I tend to keep my distance emotionally.

Yet when we went to California for three weeks, we gave them our keys, and they baked us delicious sugar cookies for the plane trip. This is America, almost 54 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. We celebrated a federal holiday yesterday. I admit I hate the idea of Critical Race Theory and 1619 embedded in every black kid’s mind, but I do get it. Racism is still inculcated in most people’s minds from birth. 

But America is a much better place regarding racism, despite wokeness and white supremacists. Integration is everywhere. We’ve come a long way. 

We have overcome, at least a little bit. 

Me too.

Question: What do you think of on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

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10 thoughts on “We’ve Overcome, a Little

  1. Vickie

    I always enjoy your blog, but the raw honesty of this one floored me.
    Thank you for a very real column.

    And thank you for not just tossing out a quote from one if his speeches like so many did yesterday. As a mid-westerner for much of my life, I related to your observations, shame, and feelings.

  2. Robert Ducanis

    I look at Martin Luther King as a man that fought against repression. He happened to be black and was the leader of the movement, although there were also white, Hispanic, and Asians that were marching along side of King against repression. In this particular movement, the aim was to eliminate discrimination against the black community and to afford them the same opportunities that the majority of the population takes for granted.

    I read a lot of history, primarily WWII and the Eastern Front. I also watch some youtube documentaries. It is amazing the lengths delusional people will go to subjugate populations with nary a hint of remorse. I recently watched a video about Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair in Ravensbruck, Germany (now Poland). There was a pond built to have a source of emergency water to fight fires. It bred mosquitoes. Hitler and others complained about the insects, so petroleum was sprayed into the pond to kill the mosquitoes, but it killed all of the frogs. Hitler was irate that the frogs were killed. The pond was drained, refilled, and new frogs were brought in to satisfy Hitler’s whims of hearing frogs croaking at night.

    What a dichotomy! Hitler is irate over the eradication of maybe 50 frogs, but has no problem issuing orders for the relocation & extermination of millions of Jews, Poles, gypsies, and those with physical & mental deficiencies.

    Martin Luther King was a great example in leading a movement to right a wrong.
    “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” This famous quote was from British statesman Edmund Burke.

  3. Rod

    I was born a raised in Seattle in 1955.
    Incredible area to be born and raised with amazing opportunities for work and outdoor recreation.
    Pretty White area for a long time.
    The region was a very long ways from any Racial or Ethnic issues going on in America and I honestly had no idea what was happening and has been going on for hundreds of years in our Country. ( an educational issue in America )
    We had very little exposure and no biases or experience with races of any kind.
    Hippies, Summer of Love, Woodstock and Drugs where the issues my parents were warning us about.
    Racist Issues where not really part of our upbringing.
    Things have certainly changed.
    Have you read the book Caste?
    I am not much of a book reader but this one has gotten me.
    If You have You understand what and if not I highly recommend it as it addresses a lot of the things you have experienced and think about.
    It is not only a Racism issue that has put Our County in the situation we are in.
    I really appreciate Your discussions about life.
    It is good to ask questions like these as it gets People to think.
    Most of our countries Days do not have much meaning for Me personally.
    I certainly don’t want A White Privilege Day.
    As much as it has effected My Life I wish All Peoples had the same Privileges and Opportunities.
    Then it’s up to The Individual to make what they can of it.
    All Created Equal but Certainly not Treated Equally.

  4. Peter

    Thank you for the remarkably honest discourse. I too grew up in a mostly segregated environment and, although I was taught that prejudice based on skin color, religion, or ethnicity was wrong, I was often uncomfortable with people from different backgrounds.
    In the course of my 45-year career selling machinery worldwide, it became very clear to me that none of a person’s immediately visible characteristics – skin color, religion, and ethnic background – is in any way an indication of his or her character. I have done business with people from all continents (except Antarctica) and have found some from every background that were honest and trustworthy, and some who were not so honest.
    Racism – making a judgement about a person’s character based on their appearance – is mental laziness and is in fact stupid, as the judgement has no basis in truth and will be wrong as often as it is correct. I have found that by training my mind to be aware of this I have been able to get past my in-bred prejudice and to engage with people in order to have a more accurate sense of their character. The end result has been some truly wonderful friendships.

  5. Dave Luedtke

    I grew up in small town America. 98% white, some Indian (that’s what we knew them as) & a few Mexican. As my father got transfer around MN I became more exposed to different ethnicity. For me it seemed fairly comfortable to cross lines & have friends from different backgrounds because I didn’t know I couldn’t. My dad & old generation around me used the ‘n’ word mostly because that’s what happened back then. I wasn’t ashamed because again, I didn’t know the difference. As I grew up things for me have changed a bit. For the life of me I don’t understand why we all just aren’t American? Africa-Am., Latino-Am.< Samoli-Am.? WHAT? I'm German descent but I'm NOT German- AM.! I wasn't born in Germany as most people weren't born where they claim to descend from. That's separation! Yesterday was MLK day, that's NOT the direction he was going but it appears that most of us think he was. America has neighborhoods but we also have neighbors, think about that! The sooner we can get past any guilty feeling about working/fighting to better ourselves & family the sooner we can maybe give a hand to build up another that wants to do the same. Remember, we're American, the one MLK wanted, not the one we currently have.

  6. jo

    You’ve got to be taught
    To hate and fear,
    You’ve got to be taught
    From year to year,
    It’s got to be drummed
    In your dear little ear
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.
    You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
    Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
    And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.
    You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
    Before you are six or seven or eight,
    To hate all the people your relatives hate,
    You’ve got to be carefully taught!
    Soundtrack Lyrics – https://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/southpacific/youvegottobecarefullytaught.htm

    I also was born in 1955, but truly have NO racist thoughts or feelings. My dad was an Italian/American carpenter who moved us to a middle class NJ suburb of NYC neighborhood in 1960. My family was at the LOW end of the social ladder, in that town there were several Black families at the upper end. No one that I grew up with (that I knew, was aware of, or remember) discriminated on color, but those of us who couldn’t afford dance lessons or after school clubs were often left out of other gatherings and parties etc. We didn’t cry “discrimination” and my parents did have blacks to meals at our home.
    CRT is carefully teaching everything that Oscar Hammerstein II wrote about in the 1940s.

  7. Lloyd Graff

    Always fascinated by the remarkable honesty of the people who reply to these columns.
    Thanks so much.

  8. Rich M

    Listen to the ever deafening news in describing the American vote:

    The Latino Vote, The African American Vote, The Women Vote, The Hispanic Vote, The LBGTQ Vote, the Christian Vote, The Union Vote…
    On and On and On….

    Wake up!!
    America is being Segregated more than ever!!!!

    Turn off the News and get back to work… Together… America.

    Thank You Lloyd.

    Rich M

  9. Peter+Frow

    Yes Vicky, the “raw honesty” of Lloyd’s blog is truly remarkable. I think even the most “enlightened” of us have some latent racism down there. Very few will be candid enough to admit it.

    Peter Frow
    A White African

  10. Robert Levy

    Excerpt from a speech I gave on Dr. King. The punchline of the article is below.

    Unfortunately, Dr. King’s work is not complete as there still lives discrimination in the hearts of certain people. While there has been significant progress, Dr. Martin Luther King’s message is as important today, as it was when he was alive, and we must continue to educate those who are misguided into thinking that any one person is superior to another.


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