Deep in my bones, beyond what you imagine, I’m ashamed to tell you this.
My parents raised me better than my actions show.
My Dad grew up during the Great Depression in the steamy hot weather of Meridian, Mississippi. It was a time with a suffocating racial climate that couldn’t have been much easier to avoid than the humidity.
If I were my Dad, I might have an excuse, because we often take on the attitudes and often misplaced beliefs of the people around us.
But, I wasn’t raised in a climate of racial fear or hate and what I did was not what my father would have been likely to do.
My Dad left Mississippi when he was still a young man and during my formative years I was living in rural Colorado, where most people I hung around with looked the same, believed the same and had about the same economic future. I just assumed we were all in this together.
There were exceptions.
The Ute Indians lived in a nearby reservation and oil finds had given their tribe unexpected wealth after decades of poverty. There were migrant workers who passed through during harvest seasons, but for the most part, to me people were people.
Mom and Dad raised me in a wonderful giving and loving environment where everyone at least treated as an equal even if we at times felt more or less fortunate than the people around us.
I walked into the barber shop I’ve been going to for many years.
Newtown, Pennsylvania is not Colorado, but it’s certainly not Mississippi in the 1960’s.
I remember Mississippi in the sixties, because my family took a trip back to see family and the picture of Mississippi in that hot summer was burned into my brain.
It was the first time I’d ever seen separate drinking fountains and separate bathrooms for Whites and “Negros.” As a teenager, I was more than a bit shocked by the reality of a world in which all men were not created equal, much less women.
I remember feeling like I was in a backward foreign country, not the United States of America.
The heat and humidity was the same though. It was already climbing into the 90s and I was feeling that pressure cooker feeling of steamy, muggy hot.
Newtown, PA has its own history of racial problems and my friend and early mentor Ed Johnson – whose company invented the 401K plan – had been a part of it.
When local business leaders were trying to exclude blacks, Ed was a vocal minority. There were scary things going on and Ed was threatened more than once, but it didn’t stop his efforts to help support the two small black churches in town and even today Ed continues his efforts with a passion that’s unstoppable.
But life in my neighborhood isn’t anything like the Newtown in the 60s. All races mingle and associate with each other and while I occasionally hear a racist remark, it’s certainly not the norm. Families are likely to have a wide ethnic background, mixed race marriages are common and society is polite here even when they think less than polite thoughts.
Or so you would think.
I’ve been going to the same barber for ages, but on this hot and muggy day, my usual barber was off celebrating the marriage of her daughter, so I sat down the barber chair of one of the other barbers.
I love learning about people, so it was natural to ask the barber a few questions.
I found out quite a bit.
He’d been working at the barber shop for about four years, was 69 years old and had learned to cut hair in Italy from an uncle.
He started by sweeping out his uncle’s barber shop at the age of 5 and learned the old fashioned way, by watching and then by doing the best he could to imitate what he saw.
At the age of 18 he’d immigrated to the United States and it was clear that he’d laid solid claim to this land of freedom. Now, he was hoping to retire in a year or so.
Despite the fact that he’d been cutting hair for almost 60 years, I was a bit nervous about my new haircut.
His scissors were moving fast as he talked and my haircut was obviously going to be shorter than I anticipated, because the hair on half of my head was considerably shorter than the other half.
The television was blasting away in the background, with the morning news.
Our president spoke a few words and it became clear that my barber was not a fan.
You’ve probably noticed the passion with which people judge our politicians of any flavor.
Personally, I’m just glad I don’t have their job.
If you are a politician, no matter what you do, someone will be putting you down for it.
So when it comes to people who are criticizing politicians, I tend to hold my comments.
I’ve been fascinated by presidential politics and politicians since I was a teenager and the truth is, you would be amazed at which ones I’ve found to be worthwhile — from all political persuasions.
But I’m usually more eager to hear others opinions on politics than to express my own.
I rarely take anything as absolute truth, which can cause problems when it comes to political discussions.
Other than an occasional “hmmm” I shut up.
And then the tone of the monologue grew more judgmental. It moved beyond the realm of presidential politics and extended to broad categories of people, political ideas and finally into complete classes and races of people.
The language could have been straight out of a barber shop in the 1960s in Mississippi and the barber made a vigorous defense of his right to call people by names which all decent people would judge to be racial slurs.
I cringed in my seat and glanced in the mirror at the barber behind us, whose ethnic background was indiscernible to me, but who probably wouldn’t have been in the majority in rural Colorado in the 60s.
I have no excuse for what happened next …
My family gave me plenty of examples about how I should act in situations like this.
My memory fades on the details, but stories have been burned into my brain and I know what a relative of mine did in a similar situation when it took a heck of a lot of courage to say anything.
My uncle was the pastor of a church in Mississippi, sitting in a barber chair when the men were discussing excluding blacks from the church and his response was something like, “over my dead body.” Luckily, he didn’t die for his remarks, but he did lose his job.
I know how members of Jane Mark’s family traveled to the south and paid a horrible price for trying to stand up for people during the civil rights movement.
I know what good people should do when they are confronted with wrong, because I’ve been raised to know …
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I’m ashamed to tell you now, I did nothing.
Please don’t tell me that it doesn’t matter.
Not only to me, to the barber, to the man standing behind me, but to everyone they touch.
That’s the power of our impact.
What we do makes a difference, whether we want it to or not.
Every person listening to that conversation cringed and said nothing.
And I had an opportunity — never to be repeated — to stand for something good.
God help me stand for something good today.
All the best,
We will never change racism in this country as long as we have media hacks spewing hatred and filth through the airwaves. The tea-baggers are all wrong when they proclaim their not racists. As American people were not idiots, we can see right through their hate messages. I firmly believe that these a….wholes like Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and the Tea-Baggers, etc., continue on with their bull-shit messages that our once proud nation is headed for another Civil War in this country. So, let us all knock off this nonsense and reunite as Americans before it's too late.
Scott: Please email your comments immediately to Lloyd Marcus!
How many of us have been in similar situations – but said nothing. Ken puts into perspective so well in his 'I'm Ashamed' post http://shar.es/mV2UQ
Hey Ken, this may sound crazy but I think part of the reason we don't speak up in those types of situations is because we are in a position that feels threatening to our life. When faced with someone we see as an irrational person, it is unknown how irrational they really are.
The man had a pair of sharp scissors and you were already concerned about your haircut. It's a subtle, subconscious thing that happens often because the people who speak the way this person was speaking often also carry an energetic frequency of aggression and even violence around them.
Posting about your experience is a way to speak out that is far more effective, in my opinion, because you are able to reach those who might actually think about what you are saying. In my experience with true racists, those who are convinced in their bones that someone is less than because of their skin color, speaking in opposition to them is fruitless.
I'm a metaphysical gal so I hold presence of loving energy in those times and then, like you, I may post about it on my blog.
The H’oponopono practice helps me at such times as well, to release the vibration of shame or guilt and transform it into healing action. I just repeat, sincerely:
I love you
ps. a little elaboration, perhaps unncessary, about the H'oponopono practice … I'm envisioning myself in the same situation, as I have been in this situation, and thinking how the H'oponopono phrases would translate for me:
I'd be saying
I'm sorry I missed the opportunity to share with you and perhaps help you see a different view of people
Forgive me for allowing the negative space you were in to continue unabated in my presence
I love you for showing me this aspect of myself and my behavior and encouraging me to be more self-aware in the future
Thank you for the opportunity to know myself better, to find a way to create a space for positive change in my world and to open the dialogue to others who may also be experiencing this type of difficutl situation.
Life can be a threatening thing, forgiveness is a blessing and love is the best gift a human can possess.
There are other actions that you can take, besides arguing against the closely-held opinions of a racist. You can simply explain to the person, or the owner, that you will not be returning to or spending money at the shop, because you choose to spend your money with people that are welcoming to people of all colors, races and religions. Apartheid in South Africa would probably not have gone away without the combined actions of those that chose to boycott a nation operating on racist principles.
Yes, J.T. As I keep reading the comments, I see so many delicious actions that could be taken. The bottom line for a business person is money so letting them know that their comments have cost them a customer is quite a powerful action to take.
Together we can do so much more than we can apart.
Thanks for having the courage to talk about this in public. You and I both know that it's the thousand and one little actions we take daily – the ones that no one else sees – that determine our real character…
I'd like to think I'd have spoken up, and I'm pretty sure I would have. But I won't know for sure until I'm tested in the same way.
It's funny – growing up in the white suburbs of NJ, I didn't really get to “know” black people until I was a young adult. I regret not meeting more people of different races and colors earlier in life – I love meeting new people and learning all about them and the many gifts meeting them gives me…
I'm so grateful my 9 year old son is in a school with a lot of different races & nationalities. He doesn't “see” color, and I wish for the day when none of us do.
I look at it like this – we ALL bleed red and we all came from the same place. Any cosmetic differences are mere window dressing.
Anyway, just my two cents, and thanks for being you!
Wonderful to see your post here Frank. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. We DEFINITELY all bleed red.
Hope to see you again soon!
All the best,
This is a wonderfully deep post. We have all had moments like this. Growing up in Philly in the 60's I was in a very integrated environment (unusual at that time) and gave no thought to it. It seemed normal. A fellow member of my cheer-leading squad (no smirks please!) was black and had become a friend. She was scheduled to take over the squad leadership from me the following year but said she had to decline because she was spending her time supporting the civil rights movement. Now here's the shameful part–I really didn't understand what she was talking about! She explained to me about discrimination and I thought she was nuts. I'd never heard of such a thing. Talk about sheltered and naive!
I've thought of her many times since and how sad and ashamed I was a few years later when I began to understand the enormity of the problem. I've thought of how incredibly brave she was and how my lack of understanding was part of the problem.
These are the experiences that make us grow and increase our level of compassion. So thanks Ken, for your honesty and open sharing.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. Your level of compassion is amazing.
All the best,
Many have expressed through the years that the North was far more prejudical than the South during those times. One of which was my Grandmother who attended a college there for her masters.
I liked your share, Janis and reading everyones comments is so interesting in this conversation we all have going here. Thank you again, Ken!
The one thing I'd like to comment on is that your lack of understanding was not “part of the problem”. That issue was not part of your life or your life experience and it was not what you were called to do. I grew up in the southwest and was flat out never exposed to any racial prejudice at that time period in my childhood. In my middle class Tucson neighborhood no one called anyone names and we did not know those names until much later in life. There were no racial slurs in my household or my friends homes either. I was shocked by things I later heard as I got older.
There is nothing wrong with innocence. That does not change the fact that your friend was incredibly brave and on a mission of her own. What I am trying to say is that we do not have to apologize for being “sheltered and naive”. Innocence is a beautiful thing regardless of what else is happening. I honestly don't believe that people should drop to the low of all energetic lows…shame at 50 on the map of consciousness with Christ consciousness being 1000. Everyone comes here with a purpose and a direction of some kind inborn within them. There are the ones who fall right in line with it very young and others do not find theirs until they are older. God has different plans for each of us and they are activated when we are ready and line up with them. Let us all applaud your brave friend yet let us also not be too quick to take on unnecessary guilt, shame and blame for things that had nothing to do with our lives at a given time. You were too emotionally young to understand. No shame in that.
Love and Light
To not accept bigotry, in any shape or form, is one of my 77 Secrets (www.the77secrets.com). I wouldn't be too hard on yourself, if you'd said something at the time, you wouldn't have written this post and generated the kind of responses you have done. Mysterious ways and all that.
Good luck and all the very best, Allen
Lots of mysterious going on these days!
It is never too late to take a stand in life and stop settling for the status quo. Taking action on what we “believe” is the correct way. Let your intuition be your guide… and then act.
Hey Ken, you are a man of integrity, love and compassion for others. You were raised to not argue and confront older folks even when your body, mind and soul wished to lash out, or at least remind this barber how terrible his words rang in other peoples ears. You remained true to your upbringing, program and constructs. Guess what? You destroyed them in one fell swoop by admitting this the world.
Fear is powerful; the barber who fears what he does not know, the people including yourself who wanted to say something but didn't, and others who have done the same thing but would never wish to be found out personally or to the world. You my friend, purged your fear, and sin, because you are publicly announcing and denouncing your fear and lack of action. By doing this you help others to not be afraid, to stand up against this nonsense of racial derisiveness and call others to task when they speak or take action against their fellow human beings. We are ONE race after all; HUMAN.
I admire you Ken McArthur not just because of this but because of the peaceful, loving being that you are now and have become since growing up from what you started out as in Mississippi. You help others in so many ways and your actions of opening up here today will move mountains, of that I'm sure of. You are sowing the seeds of peace and love and it is growing 🙂
Be at ease my friend. You won't allow this to happen next time because we learn from our own actions or lack thereof; this is how we define ourselves. I love you Ken; you are a man of light. Shine on!
Peace and Love
Thank you Jorge.
Don't judge someone by the color of their skin or by the circumstances under which someone was raised. Yes, he is as ignorant as Obama is black. Neither means anything until you reach down into the heart of the man. Maybe he is a good man or maybe he isn't. You may not like the unneccesary tone of his remarks, but he may not have the ability to express himself any other way.
I feel more sorry for him than I do for you and your situation that day; afterall, you get leave that place. He, on the other-hand, has to live with himself.
It is good that you have a conscience and it made you feel bad about this sitution, but don't loose sleep over it.
God Bless YOU,Ken and God Bless the Barber. Please show him the light!
Definitely don't feel sorry for me Larry.
With friends like you, I'm the most blessed guy in the world!
All the best,
Interesting and very challenging position that you found yourself in.
What would have happened if you did say something? Would the old barber have change his discriminatory views on the spot.
Would he have went home and and told his wife about what happened and turn over a new leaf?
My guess is probably not…
Could you have expressed your uneasiness with the conversation? Maybe.
Like others who have commented before me, I probably would have politely explained to the owner of the place why I wouldn't be coming back to his establishment.
But let's take a deeper look at the whole picture, we have a deep rooted problem in this country when it comes to race relations and it seems based on media portrayal of it that it is a huge problem in our country.
And both sides want their side to be heard.
I don't know who said it but “A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
The only place for this to end is by raising our kids to look at the “content of character instead of the color of our skin.”
Which is the true measure of character, in my opinion.
With you and others who are in the marketing field, it is important to keep pumping out character building products that will help mold the future of this country.
That is something that you can stand up and do. And that will live far beyond the years you have left on this earth.
Here's to Your LifetoSuccess,
Hey John, very thoughtful reply. Thanks!
Thanks so much for sharing this to us. It's really the most wonderful thing I have ever known. I wish that there are more and more people would be grown and they can increase their passion.
Once, thanks so much for what you have done for ur.
Many people are racist, but there are many who aren't. You will find that a racist is what he is and you cannot change them. They choose to be this way either from previous experiences or from homes life. Ingrained racism is what it is they are not teachable or changeable.
I hope that we all are capable of change. I know I change every day. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. At our core we hold onto something that makes us unique, but humans aren't static. People are dynamic and constantly changing.
Thank you for sharing this experience with all of us. I have a feeling that this individual has issues with everything, not just racism. If you have any other channel on, he would complain that sky is blue and grass green. This is just lost, scared soul.
I think you actually did the right thing not to participate in his “sorry me” monologue. Participation in it would just encourage him to “prove you wrong”. Stating your disagreement would fuel his anger and he would felt compelled to change your mind.
My Dear friend, I had the honor to personally talk to you on numerous occasions and I know you have this great personality sensor; you have this amazing patience and love for everyone. If you really believed there is an imminent need to stand up to this person, you would. In my opinion it was not right place or time.
However, this is right place and time and look what you did! You opened great conversation and attracted incredible people in to this community.
Always a pleasure to be in your presence.
The feeling is mutual Lucia. Thanks for contributing.
Thank you for your transparency! I bet you will respond differently next time…and I also be you've inspired others to speak up when they know they should.