Lunch Ladies and swastikas

It ran the width of the freshly chalked football field. A symbol as old as time, and ugly as sin. It had been burned deeply into the fall grass. Horrific on its own, but far more so since it was not alone. They slumped on old school desks. Shrieked from bathroom stall walls. Locker rooms gave them shelter. They were all around us. It was the normal. One would have thought it was early 40’s before the Furer got all the Germans completely ramped up. It wasn’t. This was just a little town 2 hours north of New York City in the late 80’s and early 90’s. So, why the hate? I often asked myself that question as I was taunted and teased. Why the jews? There was the catch. It wasn’t just being a jew. It was being any other color but white. It was being anyone other than a local woodchuck. (yes, I am using a derogatory term for the locals). It was about being anything different from what they were. For many years I kept my mouth shut. I did not want to add fuel to this rageful fire that simmered just beneath the surface in this quiet looking community out in the woods. By the time the swastika was burned on the football field I had had enough. A community meeting was held in the cafeteria. I pulled out a tee-shirt from one of my many side trips to the city. I bore an image of a klan member holding a torch. Above it read “I”. Below it “IS FOR IGNORNACE”. Needless to say I stood up at that meeting and had a bit to say. The newspaper reporter shot the picture as I stood on my 60 second soapbox. I was angry. I think I had every right to be. The next morning that shirt and my image blazed across the cover of the newspaper. Interesting though was the crop of the image. So there I stood with a klan picture on my tee. Oy! Anyhow my poor mother nearly had a stoke. To be young and dumb in High School. The hate never left though. It is still their I’m sure. Just as it is here where we live now. Just a few days ago the NY Times reported on suits filed against the local school because of a culture of anti-Semitism and hate.

When we first arrived up here it never even dawned on me I might see the same hate I saw in HS. Boy was I naive. As we started meeting contractors, vendors and sales people it began to bleed through. First time I heard n*gger I cringed. After the 1000th I don’t even react anymore. Sad. I know. These words come from the lips of people I know as kind and caring. People who would drop anything to help if you needed. Good hearted people. So why n*gger? Why the hate? It is here in this land, in these families. Their parents raised them to hate. Kids don’t draw swastikas, and spew racial epithets without seeing or hearing it first. Well, they hear it and see it here. It is sickening. But was is worse is to integrate and work within this community and with these vendors you need to look the other way. I do. It sounds terrible. I know. When the kind old fella that drops off bulk stone rants about towel heads, I zone out. I don’t even hear it anymore. What is the answer? up and move? Stop using anyone that speaks in hateful jargon? The options are limited, and the problem epidemic in this area. I chose to keep silent and go about my business. At my core I strongly support our right to free speech. I always have. Just as I did that day so many years ago in HS. We have the right to speak our truths, no matter how awful they are. Muzzle one, and many are not far behind. I am willing to let the hate roll off. I let it drop where it lands and walk away. Many will disagree with me. This is how I live my life, and how I live my truth. Sadly many around me live their lives with hate they don’t even know why. They have learned to live a truth their parents gave them. More than just genes passed from those people. They taught about love, life and yes, hate. They taught them to be suspicious of outsiders and to apply labels to all they didn’t understand. So many learned well. Even today, in this small community hate lives on and will pass unceremoniously to the next generation. Hate has a funny way of doing that.


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