Monday, June 24, 2002

BRONSON: Raw bigotry

A disease contained, not cured

        I was standing in line at an eye-rubbing early hour to pay for a round of golf, when I saw something ugly and mean. I'd like to shrug it off and pretend it didn't happen, but I can't.

        As we waited, an agitated man came in, late for his tee time. We said, “We're in no hurry, go ahead.”

        So he stepped to the counter — where he was badgered and humiliated.

        “Whatsa matter,” the guy behind the counter demanded, “drink too much last night and can't get up on time?”

        At first, we laughed uneasily, assuming they were buddies talking trash. But the golfer was not laughing.


"Hey, lay off'

        The guy behind the counter was uncooperative, nasty and downright belligerent. Finally, other men in line said, “Hey, lay off him.”

        You see, the late golfer was a black man. Everyone else was white. And all of us, I hope, were disgusted by the obvious message: You are not welcome here. Don't come back.

        I followed the black man out. As he climbed into his cart, he seemed frustrated and humiliated to the point of tears of rage. “I don't need this ----,” he said to nobody in particular. “This really ------ me off.”

        Yeah. Me, too.


Contagious anger

        I've seen it before. I've even been on the pointed end of that sharp stick.

        I've heard the whispers about being from a broken home, and I can remember being told by friends in grade school that their parents didn't want us to play together anymore because my parents were divorced.

        I've felt the sting of ridicule because I came from a poor family and wore home-sewn shirts to school.

        I have been harassed and ignored by rude store clerks who went out of their way to keep me waiting and serve others before me because my hair was too long. I've been bullied by cops who looked for any excuse to give a hippie a ticket.

        But on the scale of discrimination, all that's just a mere hangover headache compared with the permanent, disabling infection of raw racism. I can get over it, work my way out of poverty, cut my hair, join the establishment and leave it all behind.

        What's it like to be hated for the skin you were born in? I will never know.

        But I know it would cripple me with anger, and I can see how it has done that to others who are consumed like a flaming match-head with hot rage. They are obsessed with racism and see it in every unintentional slight.

        Being slowly eaten alive by anger at racism is as debilitating as the disease itself.

        What I saw was a disturbing reminder that bigotry is like a polio — contained, but not cured. It's usually invisible to whites, and it's hard to believe what we can't see.

        Being reminded doesn't make me want to embrace the boycott or get inebriated on 100-proof liberal white guilt. I don't think demands, threats and blame get us an inch closer to giving each other respect and dignity. They just spread the contagion that cripples us with distrust. In fact, the boycott backlash has made bigotry more brazen.

        I don't know what I will do. But I know what I won't do: I will not go back to that golf course. A one-man boycott makes no difference, I guess — except in one man.

       E-mail or call 768-8301.


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