My dad was a Democrat. My mom was a Democrat. Originally, I was an unregistered
Democrat. As a kid I watched the McCarthy hearings -at first worried and then became
aware of the ignorance and fear mongering. I voted for Kennedy in 1960 and watched
him become President. I was also very sad and very much aware of events when he
was murdered. I was watching live TV when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered. We
were living in a Milwaukee suburb in those days. I'm not at all sure that I had any firm
views about politics. Then we rolled into 1964. I liked Barry Goldwater and was
incensed by how he was portrayed as first and foremost a warmonger by the Johnson
campaign. At the same time, I was a believer in the civil rights movement.
So let's talk about civil rights and discrimination. I was never exposed to any direct
connection to a minority as a child but I was exposed to racial attitudes. In our
neighborhood people had very negative views about Native Americans. There were
reservations close to Red Wing where we shopped. The people living on these
reservations were obviously poor and our adults referred to their dress and social habits
derisively. Comments such as watch them squat and pee right in the street were not
challenged and registered on a preadolescent mind.
There were lots of ethnic jokes as well. Even though I had never met a person of color I
could easily laugh at these stupid jokes with no idea of how much hurt they contained. I
am sure some sensitive folks discouraged such expressions but suggestion are so
easily overcome by the "fun" in these jokes. We did not appreciate the narrow boundary
between humor and despicable tolerance. Moreover, our schools did little to forge a
better attitude. Most of the texts and library books were dated and crafted by middle
aged white folks, a fact that we did not recognize in any way as caustic.
We were also exposed to the more vocal in the community and thought they knew.
Typically these people worked in the "cities" where they encountered minorities in the
workplace. Never mind that those poor souls of color were subject to hard core racism.
The ignorance was dropped into our community and grew like mold in our (my) young
ears. It didn't help that some of these expressions came from otherwise respected
The first black guy I ever met was at Badger Boy's State when I was 17. He lived
across the Hall in our dorm and seemed like a nice guy. He was a talented singer and already something of a
celebrity. We elected him our governor. After that there were really few more
encounters for many years. Yet my early years trained me to notice things -things like
height, hair color, weight, visual attractiveness, nationality, dress, and, of course, skin
color. Note, humans are good at this sort of thing. It is a survival deal to notice
differences or unusual features especially concerning size, teeth, fangs, strength, and
attitude. None of the real survival issues involve skin color or ethnicity but who is to
notice such a fine point.
Barry eventually lost, we moved to AZ where my career as an engineer progressed with
little interference. My job was wholly unencumbered by any uncomfortable minority
exposure - there was no minority to be exposed to. Then, we experienced a company
push to hire minorities to get into compliance with a government mandate. I ended up
enmeshed in a painful hiring episode. We hired a young engineer just out of a minority
college in Texas who was horribly unqualified. My problem was I had no idea how to
communicate with him. We had no common ground to discuss anything. Under some
pressure, I recommended hiring. The problem was soon enough removed from my
responsibility as he was reassigned and enrolled in remedial engineering classes. He
eventually resigned and I remain troubled by how this got screwed up. I am proud to
say, my company got through this period and ended up hiring a cadre of very fine nonwhite
talent. I came to realize the creative benefits of a diverse work force. Racist
barriers risk wasting volumes of talent.
The world moved on - the really interesting projects came my way and when I looked up
we moved through assassinations and Nixon. The Vietnam war was on and the news
was troubling. Early on I had had zero interest in joining the military - much too macho
and regimental for my taste. I was in college and received deferments; by graduation I
had two kids and the draft really didn't want me. Now, I saw others being called up and
sacrificed for I'm not sure what. I have the greatest respect for those that participated
and thank my lucky stars I never had to go.
There were awful scenes of conflict between those supporting the war and those who
objected. It is sort of noteworthy that the first person I ever heard voice objections to
the war was my Dad at least 10 years before the real protests began. In his bones he
did not like war. Now I was being won over by the protesters. I was still well in the
background. I watched our troops coming home and felt awful for the way they were
treated. I am still profoundly proud of those that served all the more so because I did
In the mean time other battles were being won. Gradually a few of our minorities were
beginning to break through becoming celebrities of talent and skill. They did not seem
to fit the "stereotype". Some were angry with obvious reasons to be so. A lot of these
people were and still are very likable. Remember Mohammed Ali? Many had mixed
emotions about his patriotism balanced against his integrity. I came to think of him as a
hero - someone I would like to talk to- someone I would like to know.
Following my support of Goldwater, I continued as a registered Republican. I no longer
remember my level of enthusiasm. I hope there was some level of skepticism. I do
remember being disgusted with Nixon and holding out hope for President Ford. My
republican friends were uniformally against President Carter. It was only later that we
learned of all the dirty tricks GHW Bush pulled via the CIA. Then I listened to Ronald
Reagan only to become dismayed at the stupidity of "trickle down economics". It was
true that there was a masterful negotiation going on with the failing USSR. That was
countered in my mind by the blatantly unlawful Iran-Contra affair.
On the domestic side, I had a lot of sympathy for the so called "tree huggers" and saw
most of welfare reform as misguided. Later, we saw the equally misguided law and
order initiatives with the move to privatizing prisons. About this time in my career, I
came to be the GM of a plant in VA where a significant part of the labor force was of
African descent. But, I cannot recall a single one in a position of real importance in
engineering or management. I can only conclude this status was the result of years of
white control. I should note that some of this has improved in the years since I left.
Returning to the southwest, I had a chance to visit with GHW Bush when he toured my
plant while on his campaign journeys around the country. After an hour and a half I was
left pretty much unimpressed. I was particularly disturbed by how he talked to his staff.
He may have been tired but I heard typical patriarchal management I had come to
despise. Never voted for a Bush again. About this time I became aware of talk radio.
The rising star was Rush Limbaugh. I actually tried to listen to him but could not
stomach the hateful rhetoric. It has only gotten worse.
In these years - maybe the years between 1982 and 1992, part of my activity involved
briefing or congressional delegations about our manufacturing activities in their districts.
I met senators such as Bingaman, McCain, Goldwater, Domenici, and Wellstone among
others. Memorable representatives included Bill Richardson and Manny Garcia. Maybe
surprising but, I found most of these people engaging and interested in what we had to
say regardless of political stripe. I don't think all of this exposure altered my own views
but it did make me more sensitive to what was going on around me.
Of course I voted for Bill Clinton, against GW bush, and for Barak Obama. I finally
registered as a Democrat in 1996. I think I have come home. I am proud of my votes
for Obama. Especially proud of supporting Al Franken even though he is from a great
distance. He truly demonstrates what a senator should be.
In recent years my resolve has increased as I have witnessed the disasters of states
where Republican governors have been elected. Kansas, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin,
and my own state of Arizona are examples. Wisconsin vs Minnesota is a striking
example of what happens when a demagog like Walker is allowed in the State House.
Today I am comfortable with where I have landed. I am willing to risk speaking up when
I feel something must be said or defended. I am a Democrat with a strong humanist
viewpoint. I feel I have a handle on and control of the racist patterns I picked up in my
youth. I am helped along by a thoughtful wife who has always been a humanist. And
helped along by non white friends and relatives. Please forgive me if I am not always
perfect for it is not possible to blank out all of those years of my ignorance nor is it
possible for me to understand and appreciate all of your experiences. I appreciate that I
am ever the beneficiary of white privilege; yes, I fully understand that Black Lives