When I was younger, while tossing a Frisbee on the beach in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, something I did every day and was proud of, a beautiful young blonde woman (I remember it well), who was watching me run, jump and dramatically catch the disc, announced that when I ran and jumped, I looked like a monkey!
You can imagine the pain.
It’s still very real, some forty years-later, when I think back on it.
Monkeys are smelly, and can be mean and ugly, too. And all of them are little perverts. What was Brenda thinking? People could overhear her!
Truthfully, I’ll never forget the way it felt. I’m not going to pretend I took it in perfect stride; it did sound a little weird to me. You see, Brenda was a hottie, and I’d rather she’d called me something better than monkey!
I was lucky. I grew up among the richest white people in the world in Watch Hill. We owned two houses and lived in the second one for eight-years; both houses were next door to the mansion Taylor Swift lives in today.
You see, my father was a hard worker, and very smart. Through pure instinct, he would purchase real estate he could later sell at a profit. It was only the 60’s and 70’s; he was a pioneer in flipping. It was very impressive. When the 1938 hurricane destroyed much of Westerly (Rhode Island), only the strongest houses along Misquamicut’s Atlantic Avenue and in Watch Hill were left standing. Because of the lack of technology, and because Westerly was landfall for the big storm, there was fear in the air among highfalutin cottage owners who basically ran for the hills.
It was a buying opportunity if you were smart!
My father bought one of the largest houses in Watch Hill for 20-thousand-dollars. He’s 91 years-old, and still gets upset when we go to a restaurant because he tends to feel he’s not being given a good table. But I’ve only seen him do this when he’s with his family. It’s important to my father that his family is treated with respect. When he first approached a real estate agent to buy one of these “cottages,” he was ignored. Because he was Italian.
Many Italians immigrated to our area. My town is where the Calabrese settled. One town over was mostly Sicilians. Jay Leno would discover the “soupy” made in Westerly; that was a nice kick in our Italian asses. But not all the kicks were so nice, and my dad’s hot button is still quite press-able.
My brother, sisters, steps, cousins, nieces and nephews, none of us appreciate it. We all stop and wish he’d quit when he thinks a restaurant table is not good; he’ll dig in like he wants to fight. We don’t like it. But we don’t know what it feels like to be discriminated against. My dad would become president of the Westerly town council, and eventually a State Senator. I would attend prep school and an excellent college. We lived in a different world, which was enabled for us by my father’s hard work and smarts. In America.
Today, I can imagine someone might downplay the idea of Italians being discriminated against in Rhode Island. We don’t (as some do) ask your last name when we meet you on a golf course, and pry into whether you’re related to someone who has clout. It’s all very visible in places like Larchmont and East Hampton, the need to know your human social credentials, but me, I meet someone, prep school or not, and my name’s “Mark.” When I visited Larchmont, that wasn’t enough — was I related to this or that family with a name that had vowels in it? The conversation confused me because I had never met someone who needed my name and culture, too, to meet me.
My father’s rise to success in the business world took timing and patience. It was always business-like, and a meeting where you’d think someone was going to lose their head always ended with handshakes and sometimes dinner, no matter what side you were on. He did so much per diem work for the local school committee, they held a ceremony for him, and he got up to accept the honor, but didn’t have anything to say. For my dad, it was normal to help others, do extra work, do work for free. He was so generous it’s hard to imagine how he was successful.
At Portsmouth Abbey, I spent four years with the richest young men in the world. Many were homosexual, some may not have been sure. I can’t think of a soul that wasn’t generous and well-meaning. World political leaders’ sons attended; during parents’ weekend the Romualdez limo would show up, park outside the administration building and stay there for three days with its engine running the whole time. I met a way-gay young man named Vincent (or something, I can’t remember). He was super pleasant and nice, and very non-threatening. He pulled out a cigarette when I introduced him to my parents and asked me if I wanted one. I shyly said “no, thanks,” at which point my parents were probably impressed at how sophisticated this kid was. It was no surprise that no-one cared that he was clearly gay.
I was not living in a regular society. I was firmly among the super rich and the gays. My culture was neither. As I was taught, I fit in best I could. Not being a dictator or movie star son, all I had was a really smart Italian dad.
In America. The land of opportunity!
Little kids don’t care about skin color. High school age kids will tend to behave as they were taught, and we were taught to simply be polite. There was one black student at the Abbey when I went there. It was the most un-noteworthy thing about the experience, though. But Chris, from Canada, he was a wild one! We were all different, from all over the world. Currently the school is co-ed, with a total student body of 350, and they’re from 17 different nations. My friend Jim was a horrendously wealthy short Italian kid from Saudi Arabia. His family was in oil. We went shopping in Newport, and Jim calmly told the sales clerk he liked the Izod shirts on display (about 20 different colors), and to please have one of every color sent to him.
The employee shook his head “yes, sir,” as if they already knew each other. “Put it on my account!’ That, to me, was another world!
We do as we learn. Jim was great at tennis, and as he scared me one day delivering multi-hundred-mile-an-hour serves inches past my head, he explained to me he once beat John McEnroe. I totally believed it.
We become as we learn. We love as we learn to love. We tolerate as we were taught to tolerate. We use politeness to fill in the spaces in-between, and this way people are never offended by some strange mistake. It works.
To create a peaceful society, you need rules. Not strict ones, but ones that make sense. I’m sure, too, that to have a tumultuous society, you don’t need to teach meanness, you just take the sensibleness away. All you have to do to create mayhem is have a lack of structure, management and oversight. The people will do random things, most of them not knowing what to do and following others. Impulse takes over. It can be ugly.
But it’s not their fault (to a degree). Crowds uncontrolled become an unowned animal. Made up of people with good minds, the beast a crowd can become can act on its own; its participants hoping someone sensible is in charge, and assuming the crowd looks peaceful, even if it doesn’t. Events of 2020 in America show us intolerant roughies can mastermind a crowd, while those same devils may get nowhere in a one-on-one conversation with someone in that same crowd, if they were to try to espouse the principles behind their intolerance. They can ride on a crowd like it’s a boat, steering it and making it look corrupt, dangerous and downright awful.
The whole time the rest of us are saying “what??” Where are all these intolerant criminals coming from? Did a bus from hell arrive? Antifa is supposed to be anti-fascist, resisting Nazis and white supremacists. If I had such an organization, I’d probably give up right away. I’ve lived in Boston for years and worked for years in Chicago and New York.
I don’t know where all the white supremacists are hiding. I don’t know a single one.
I do know a lot of really nice Italian people, who were apparently discriminated against when I was younger. I suppose people spited me because our genteel and polite Italian family moved into a house in Watch Hill in the 1960’s, but not to my face, and I wasn’t aware of it. My rich Irish-American friends would have come to my defense, anyway; kids are mostly, if left to their own devices, colorblind.
Today you can’t even say that. If you’re colorblind, there’ll still be a few dozen articles on “Medium” where writers hungry for eyeballs can play into a fray of racial squabbling, bubbling like the country’s on boil. Articles, I noticed (because of the odd trend) which are often written by black people, just riding the wave of eyeballs. These are mostly authors, who, like me, if you prodded them, were probably isolated their whole lives from ever experiencing a whiff of discrimination against them. They have to really stretch to get some of those articles out. But the liberal experience today is to bitterly resent any history that might offend anyone, whether applicable in real life or not, and to make noise and point fingers. They are cowboys in a real revolution, one fueled by spite and hate.
Racism exists in America. My article is not an attempt to diminish that, or to ride the eyeball bandwagon. But the enthusiasm has clearly gotten out of hand, and when blacks are killing blacks openly in the streets as a part of their “demonstration” against racism, they are the hate they profess to object to. It’s pure momentum, and as the fuel of facts diminishes, it turns into nothing more than a show of drama.
If innocent well-meaning protesters weren’t being corralled into unknowingly participating (just because they truly mean well), the movement would have started to fade long ago. But it’s, instead, an ultimate, definitive, world-changing cause … not because that’s the most effective way to change things, but because it’s simply gotten out of hand. Perspective has been lost.
When a do-gooder becomes an ass, insulting friends and abandoning facts, they don’t need to kick a stranger in the head or throw glass at police officers; perspective has already been lost. If these do-gooders wish to verbalize, they write articles with the ill-fitting pretense they can write well, using lots of flowery language, long sentences you get lost in, and drama, drama, drama. If they show up somewhere, and a dozen tough-looking 20-somethings are also there wearing all black, they think they’re part of a big event. But even if they are home alone, just eating up the Facebook hate, the perspective has already been lost. Maybe people need a good hobby.
If America is to survive, we need to be a melting pot. We can’t change our history; we are made up, proudly, of a world of cultures; not just blacks and whites. It’s always been, for me, a stew of flavors I love, and find easy to love. The bad apples are easy-to-see because most people are well-meaning, all over America, and all over the world, just like they were in high school for me.
And yes, I’ve been on foot in New York at night, in the Bronx lost, and Harlem has turned into quite a nice spot to live. I’ve sat with an Armenian in the Bronx who introduced me to his brother as if it were a hazing; the man sat with his feet on his desk smoking a cigarette and looking at me like he was deciding if he were going to let me live, as if I’d entered another world as he eyed me, deciding whether he and his family should allow me to do business with them; I was selling Internet services.
I’ve sat with a man who looked about 18 years-old on a sidewalk in Boulder who was convinced he was an alcoholic, sharing not money but a little time with him, and then came very close to being mugged by a pair of skinny white thugs who badly needed a shower, outside a store where I bought a Walkman in that same city. I distracted them by chatting them up. Had I not felt they were very edgy and untrustworthy, based on trying to have a conversation with them, I may have even brought them to my hotel for a shower, but pretty quickly I just felt lucky, all alone, to get away from their strange energy. Every bone in my body wanted to demonstrate my upbringing, colorblind and generous.
I’m a writer in my heart, a patriot and sometimes feel like I’m fighting a devil who’s materialized as boredom, while evil perpetrators dominate news around the world, commonly destroying public property for no good reason. We feel, many of us observers, like the message has been heard. Why, we wonder, do these protests start after midnight? Why do they go on for months, every night? It’s exhausting. There is no longer a message other than pure hate.
I always try to think positively. I’m not prepared, nor will I react well, to be called racist. I’m offended if you tell me you know more about me than I do, and you’ll educate me. That’s not necessary. I’m not doing any damage.
I hope the lights come back on soon. America is a country which, while we can’t profess perfection, has taken wide strides toward integration and fixing inadequacies and unfairness of the past. During my lifetime, we have never been a country of lazy followers, blind protesters or entitled white people, other than the ultra-elite, and they’ve always existed. What color they are I care about (and matters) as much as what they ate for breakfast.
We need to stop pretending we’re so smart, while never peering too hard into the eyes of those we attack.
Let the intolerant win. Their fight is insignificant and can’t sway the rest of us. They look like fools, and don’t represent any message any well-meaning American would embrace. America is, today, temporarily hidden in the fray; but it’s surely still here. When rules are abandoned, we are no longer learning, we’re just tussling.
I hope too many people don’t get hurt in my country’s fight for peace.