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July 12, 2011

“Nigger Lover”

Roy Meachum

The deluge that flooded North Market Street outside my yellow door Friday was preceded by joy among my right-wing friends. Their petition efforts were a success.


Now in-state tuition rates are not available to “illegal” immigrants, as the recent law allowed. These young people belong to a special category; for the most part they were brought here as children by parents who did not have the proper paperwork. They grew up and went to school in the United States; many speak a foreign language erratically.


Referendum does not necessarily equal repeal. Other Marylanders might vote to uphold the signed-and-sealed law. Still in Frederick conservatives’ rank, there were high-fives and grinning and exclamations of great joy. I did not join in. Banishments because of race, creed and color I have always fought. “Uncle William” taught me better than bigotry.


The ex-slave cared for me since I was three-years-old. With a mother who daily had to work during the Great Depression, he poured my breakfast cup of tea and kissed tears away when the snapping parrot in the kitchen corner scared me almost to death. The Mardi Gras I suffered a bad cold, he tucked blankets around my pirate costume so I could sit in a rocker on the Second Street gallery.


Mother dressed me for first grade in McDonough 10 Elementary School, on New Orleans’ Baronne Street, but not without Uncle William’s approval. His dignity and presence figured so importantly in my life that I never denigrated his fellow blacks, as was the general custom in the South’s segregation years. Instead I was upbraided by playmates and called “a Nigger Lover” by acquaintances.


My first school “sweetheart” turned out to be red-headed Bertha Langer; her Jewish parents fled Russian pogroms that almost killed Solomon Rabinovich, the legendary writer Shalom Aleichem, who was on the second floor in an Odessa building when everybody on the street level was slaughtered by the Black Hundreds.


When I went on to Holy Cross College, the boarders were split almost evenly between Anglo “gringos” and Latino “spics” – derogatory words I never said. From that experience I learned Spanish-speaking boys came in infinite variety, just as we did. I learned their language so that, within reason, I managed to give as much as I got. Mexico’s Jorge Mario de Guerra became a friend.


When the Army assigned me to Germany, I had too much respect for the culture to treat the people as surrendered enemies. Before I travelled to Cairo, Arab Americans I met as a television reporter prepared me to accept Muslim Egyptians as fellow human beings; nothing happened during the time to convince me I was wrong. As with Jorge, some of them became fixtures in my days.


Being in the public life, it seems that I’ve always known gays, of both genders. Despite the recent shift of opinion, attitude they face is poisonous despite my best wishes.


With some reading of history I know every people who came to colonial America were subject to bigotry. My ancestors suffered prejudice from the English when they left Scotland via Ireland, in the 17th century. After the Revolution when the Potato Famines forced Catholic Irish to flee to the Protestant United States, they were greeted as invaders, swearing fealty to the pope. Shortly before I was born, 12 Italians suspected of being Sardinian “Black hands” – the word “mafia” had not been invented – were taken from the New Orleans jail and lynched.


This I must acknowledge, hard times are always accompanied by raging xenophobia – Greek for fearing any person and anything foreign. The lingering Great Recession has the public wanting to reach outwardly for blame. I’m reminded of the famous Nast cartoon that shows Tammany Hall politicians in a circle, pointing an accusing finger at the next figure, and the next. As I wrote, they are in a circle.


Nobody can tell how in-state tuition for these special category “illegal immigrants” might have fared a few years ago, when the U.S. economy was booming and drawing thousands for jobs. But now, Americans are scared about their future and lashing about. I grasp the nature of the phenomenon and hotly blast the politicians who are riding it, not to death, but for no valid purpose I can ascertain – other than grubbing for votes.


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