Sunday, March 16, 2008

My shockingly racist Ohio experience--a confession

The latest issue of The Christian Century reveals which part of the U.S. is the most religiously diverse. Something we've all wondered, right? And that part is (drum roll...) the Midwest. So there.

I didn't know that. I also didn't know that Ohio is one of the most racist states in the country. But I've been reading and hearing that a lot lately. Of course, my first reaction was, no way. Then again, if my own experience is anything to go by, perhaps there's something to the idea.

To be sure, I had little contact with black people when I was a kid growing up in Toledo, Ohio. Except for my parents' black acquaintances, including a drummer named Al, who was my dad's best friend circa 1970, and who visited us often. And except for a couple African-American students of my piano teacher. Otherwise, for all I knew, the whole world was white.

There were, of course, no black students at my grade school. Native American Indian, Polish-American, Mexican-American, yes. But no African-Americans. It wasn't until I got to high school, where blacks made up 52 percent of the student body, that I experienced minority status as a Caucasian (roughly 35 percent).

Then it was off to the Navy, where I lived and worked with a number of fellow sailors who were black, including three guys in my Electronic Warfare division. My shipboard buddies also included a Jamaican, a Puerto Rican, and a Japanese-American who didn't care a lot for Japan (where we were stationed).

After the Navy and college, I worked at a big company in Columbus, Ohio, whose workforce was, oh, twenty-five percent African-American. Maybe a little higher. Riding the bus to and from my job, I was often the only Caucasian person. I used to sit and nap, dreaming of the day when I would at last have the opportunity to interact with people of other backgrounds, ethnicities and/or skin hues.

But I am what I am--an Ohioan. And that there Obama fellow is, well, differ'nt. And the only other choice is a lady. Good grief--a lady president? I can't even picture that. What's a Dem to do?

If only my background had prepared me for any of this. But I'm from Ohio.