Mar. 16th, 2011

katernater: (movie • (reliable))
Today I visited my eighty-eight-year-old grandfather. He recently had surgery so I thought it might be nice if I stopped by to say hello, seeing as I've not actually seen him since Christmas and, well, that's what granddaughters are supposed to do, right? His doctor told him that he shouldn't be doing anything extra strenuous to upset his stitches, so he spends a lot of his time going through his basement looking for things to give away: old tea sets, jewelry, books, boxes of cutlery. He's a pack rat, and his home is stuffed to the rafters with various brik-a-brak. Today he showed me a stack of newspaper clippings about a foot and a half high.

"Those are felony reports," he told me, "from the Sunday paper." He told me that he's gone through the Sunday paper for the last eight years and cut out the pictures and blurbs of the people arrested and charged with felonies in any given week. "I tell you what, you can look back through them and see the number of whites charged with felonies -- drugs, marijuana, cocaine -- and there are a lot fewer of them [whites] than Hispanics or blacks."

I felt tempted to say, "Well, have you considered that that's because we disproportionately relegate Hispanics and African-Americans to the role of second-class citizens, based largely on their race, making it difficult for them to move up the career ladder through legitimate channels. To say nothing of the fact that our government -- a bunch of white guys -- is continuously stripping social welfare programs from urban areas, where a large percentage of these people actually live? "

But I didn't say that. I said, "It's nice that you collect stuff."

Earlier in the visit, he was talking about his service in World War II, and he said something about how "back when we were at war with the Japs -- not making love to them like we are now." And he indicated the TV with his thumb, where a CNN reporter was covering the crisis in Japan. And I was just like, wow, that's a horrible thing to say, I can't believe he actually just said that, because I took his comment to mean that he doesn't know why the United States was sending relief to the disaster zone. Ostensibly because they bombed the hell out of our harbor in 1941. Now, I respect my grandfather and I am proud of his military service. I know that he has seen things in his lifetime that I cannot begin to imagine and that he earned every medal and commendation he received as a result. But what I cannot respect, nor condone, is the attitude of intolerance he espouses. I don't know what he's trying to track with the newspaper clippings. I don't know if he actually meant what I inferred from his comment about the Japanese. But today I saw a man so afraid of his own mortality, so terrified of the rest of the world that he shut himself off from it, shut himself down so he wouldn't have to deal with it.

And it made me so grateful to be the product of a generation where tolerance is not only recognized, it's legitimized by global, national, and grassroots movements. People who believe that doing the right thing is not limited to the color of someone's skin, or which god they pray to, or whether or not they vote down party lines in an election year. They do it because it's the right thing to do. And my grandfather is a product of his experiences and his generation, and there is very little -- if anything -- that I, or anyone else, can do to sway his opinion. He will think the way he thinks until the day he dies, and he will go down believing that he's right in thinking it. And I respect him and I love him, and I am grateful enough that I have the information -- and the courage enough -- to disagree with him.

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December 2011

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