There is a story that I have heard at least a hundred times as a kid. I think it was my dad’s way of relaying why he has never tolerated racism, and he used it to show that racist beliefs don’t always get passed along.
When my dad was about 7 or 8 years old, they were having Sunday dinner at their house with his grandpa in attendance. His grandpa had grown up in the South where his family had settled after arriving to the US a generation before. Even though he had married and raised his kids in Iowa, he still held onto many of the Southern beliefs towards race at that time.
After dinner, the family was gathered around the TV watching Laurence Welk. Midway through the show, Mr Welk introduced a young black woman who was going to sing. My great grandpa flipped out. “How dare they let THOSE people on TV!” You name the racial slur; he said it.
During a pause in his rant, my dad’s mom looked over at him and asked him to stop the rant now or get out of the house. Her kids were not going to be raised like that. This gave my great grandpa considerable pause. This was his daughter-in-law, not the man of the house, telling him to leave the house if he didn’t hold his tongue.
He looked at his son and asked, “Are you going to let your woman talk to me like that?”
My grandpa shrugged and replied, “Yes, sir, I guess I am.”
My great grandpa stormed out of the house, and my dad said that next time he was invited back, he was on his best behavior.
My grandma, I would learn later, had discovered as a teenager that her father (the Sheriff of the town) was involved in the local Klu Klux Klan. She and her sisters were so outraged that she confronted her father about it. She pointed out the teachings of the Bible, his job, and their values as reasons this was wrong.
My grandma died when I was 10, so I never learned how her father reacted. And, her sisters were pretty tight lipped about that time which is pretty common of people during that age. All I do know is that her kids, her grandkids and her great grandkids have not followed the cycle of racism she broke back when my dad was 7 or 8. That day she told my great grandpa to shut up or get out, remains firmly with us to this day. And, on this historic day as our 44th president is sworn in – the first Black president, I hope that the cycle breaks for others out there when they see there is no longer a racial barrier to becoming president.