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Monday
Apr142008

REVEREND WRIGHT IS OH, SO, REVEREND WRONG

I keep thinking of my group of friends who grew up together and how much they would laugh at Reverend Wright’s notion that we were all “white” – meaning White, Angle, Saxon, Protestant – better known as WASP - and therefore privileged. 

We were Italian, Jewish, Polish, Puerto Rico, Russian, German - that was how we defined ourselves. We spoke of ourselves in ethnic terms because that was the rules of the game, either you were a WASP or you were ethnic.

The rules were clear - we knew what part of town each group lived, we knew the foods served in those homes (Italians always got my vote), we knew the homes that demanded women do the cleaning and cook the food, that household work was not negotiable. There was a special pride in being Jewish at that time because Jewish moms were allowed to work, especially in the fields of education or medicine, but mainly the work was part-time.

More important than anything else, we knew exactly who we could date and who we could not date.

This Jewess fell in love but was never going to “date” the German boy she met at the park every day after high school. Our philosophical discussions and drunk rantings centered on the unfairness of life, that his blue collar family would not consider college as an option, nor could we entertain the thought of a German boy dating a Jewess. The lost love of my life has been a source of much angst in my fiction writing – we were mismatched adoring souls.

Than there is the story of my Italian friend whose mom cooked veal scallopini for him every night before he went to work, one of his many part-time jobs while in high school. We joked all the time about my jealousy watching him fed eloquently every night…… yet we knew underneath the kidding that his future was bleak. He was never going to college, his family needed him to work, they needed the money. It never occurred to his family that they were white and privileged, only that all the boys had to work right out of high school.

Reverend Wright is Oh, So Reverend Wrong. According to Reverend Oh, So Wrong, my Italian friend had been white and privileged, unaware of any hardships in life. Yet, my Italian friend kept a declining smile on his face, the dismal reality of his future in endless petty jobs sinking in – especially during his senior year of high school, while others got ready for college, the downturn in his demeanor was evident.  Tough Karma.

Then there was my blue collar Polish girlfriend, whose family worked the night shift at menial janitorial jobs, cleaning up offices and factories. Her parents made it clear to the children that no one should have any dreams about not working hard in life, because it was always doubly hard for Pollacks – their word - who could never catch a break.  Polish = Tough Karma.

My friend’s sister rebelled and fed her dreams, secretly teaching herself the violin, playing at night in her bedroom while her parents were at work cleaning other people’s mess. She was a gifted musician. The sister went on to become a concert violinist on full scholarships. Years later, she would lose her fingers in a mowing accident; her family was devastated because she had broken through the barrier – she was the Polish girl who had made her living from classical music.  In one of life’s true tough breaks – she could not recoup.  Real Tough Karma.

My grandmother was a stowaway on a boat to America, hidden below the deck. This young woman was forced to leave her entire family behind in Russia who were summarily killed by the Nazis. In America, she reunited with an older sister who had to hide her stowaway sister in the basement in fear of the husband who did not want to feed another mouth. When found out, the two sisters were beaten endlessly by the malevolent husband who went crazy with the responsibility of feeding another Jewess. Of course, both sisters were frightened to death - of Nazis, men beating them, hiding on ships, deportation.

My grandmother taught me a million ways to cook potatoes, how to cut up dandelions for salads, how to eat the crab apples that fell on the ground because not eating food the grew outside was unthinkable - you never wasted food. I can only imagine her surprise if I could have explained to her that she was “white” and privileged.

My other Jewish friend had a father who stayed alive by playing a mean game of knives at the camps, willing to lose a finger to live - he played with the guards - that was how he survived the concentration camps. These were not camps where you built fires, roasted marshmallows and sang songs about being white and celebrating life.  This was the game that got him throwaway grub from the German soldiers who were entranced with the Jew who would gamble on losing a finger just to get some dirty food.  Tough Karma.

Then again, Reverend Wrong only sees two colors, black and white – that sums up exactly what is wrong with his view of the world.  Reverend Wright is Oh, So Reverend Wrong

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