Saturday, April 16, 2005

Column on A Vision of Harmony

A Vision, Partly Fulfilled

Tibor R. Machan

When a kid I was deliberately taught to denigrate Jews. My father was a
virulent anti-Semite, my mother a milder one but both shared this
widespread bigotry in Hungary and, indeed, much of Europe. It took a while
for me to get enlightened, mainly, first, by noticing how ridiculous his
hostility to Jews made my father. For example, he beat me up for liking a
Jewish jazz pianist and he claimed Jewish bankers made sure Hollywood
movie stars looked Jewish so Jews get a good reputation. And then by
meeting Jewish school mates in my first American high school who turned
out to be pretty much like all other kids, a diverse lot, plain and
simple. So, I quickly turned against my parents on this one.

Later, when I came to the USA, I joined the Air Force in 1958 and roomed
with a black airman named Ivan, who turned out to be a really smart young
man and read even more books than I did. So that pretty much did it for
any temptation I might have had to join some other fellow airmen in their

Ever since I grew up this way I have had this deep-seated, somewhat
sentimental hope that all this racial antagonism would just disappear. In
grad school I even moderated a dispute between the UC Santa Barbara Black
Student Union and the SDS, during the late sixties, having gotten this
reputation of not sharing anyone?s prejudices too much.

When I lived in Alabama for ten years I had a chance, on and off, to
study local racism up close?once a hospital orderly was wheeling me to an
X-ray room and made a hasty racial slur against a clerk who checked me in
and when I called him on it he turned red faced, saying, ?Oh, I am sorry,
I am a racist.? Wow, that was a revealing confession.

A few days ago I completed a blues cruise, something I had wanted to take
part in for years but only now got to do, at last, and among the many
pleasures of it I had the wonderful experience of spending three days with
an incredibly racially, ethnically and otherwise?for example,
age-wise?mixed crowd. I have never seen black and white and men and women
and kids and grown-ups and the rest have so much peaceful, rollicking fun
together. There were umpteen mixed couples?African American men with
Caucasian women and vice versa, blonds with tall Indians from India,
Native American women with black men, and on and on, you name it and the
group included them. Dancing and jumping and swaying about, just having a
grand time of it, with blues bands that had white bassists and black
keyboarders and black and while male and female singers and so on and so

Both audience and performers showed not a moment?s notice of this
cultural diversity but I, of course, whose business is to think about such
stuff?maybe a bit obsessively, if you ask me?noticed only too well. And
not only did I notice but I was struck how nicely it flowed, how there was
nothing acrimonious, nothing suspicious, just all good will and the thrill
of the music.

No, I have no grand conclusions I can draw from all this?so I will not
contend that we need more blues venues so we will all get along with one
another or anything of that sort. It may even have been just this
particular group of blues enthusiasts. I wasn?t there to do a study of it
all. But I did experience a mellow joyfulness with how it all felt and
frankly yearned, also, for more of such genuine, unforced harmony among
human beings. It seemed just right and I wished for more of it, elsewhere.

At the various universities where I have taught there has been all this
fuss about diversity and, yet, most often one finds few mixed race
couples, not even too many young men and women of different races or
ethnic groups hanging out with each other. So it is tempting for me to
think, there really is no substitute for spontaneous harmony, for bringing
all these different people together not by corralling them by government
edict or even university policy but, well, because it just turns out that
way sometimes. Maybe if it just turned out that way more often and there
were no threats and fines and rebukes waiting to induce us to get along,
we might actually get along a lot more.

But maybe I am just hoping against hope. In any case, I am sure glad I
took part in an event that exhibited and illustrated that there really is
no inherent basis for a racial divide, none at all, not as people are in
their natural, unconstrained ways.

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