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While working to establish FLEX in my early thirties I heard a story about the police which upset me as much as any of my own experiences. FLEX’s founder spend a lot of time visiting churches: seeking allies, looking for free working space … In I forget what context, a Protestant Minister told me that he had seen uniformed policemen, on public time, passing out Catholic literature. Grrr! My own religious indoctrination had been anti-Catholic (as well as anti-Jewish.) (note) My secular indoctrination had been adamantly in favor of the separation of Church and State. Subversion supported by mis-allocated tax dollars had to be one of the worst kinds.
|“Wha … what can we do?” I stammered.
“There’s only one solution,” the young reverend answered brightly: “Lose a war to a superior civilization!”
As a child I was told that the Jews had killed Jesus. (My Homeostasis module offers an impersonal treatment of the subject; this note is personal.) I imagined, as I am confident that many many others have done before me, that Jews had horns, cloven hoofs, and tails. I was in the seventh grade before my friend Dorothy revealed to me that she was Jewish. … Uhhh … What was I to do? Kill her on the spot? (I was only eleven or twelve: how would I have done it?) A fierce but brief war was waged internally, in my mind. The blood of that war suffused that part of my physical system which tracks and reveals emotions. Permanent peace was declared as I realized: this is Dorothy. My friend. I’ve known her for months. We’ve been intimate. What monster would have let me kiss her breast while she groped my apparatus? she’s not a monster. Either I got it wrong or my Sunday School gave it to me wrong.
My emotional system registered no more than ripples as I learned that a huge plurality of my other seventh grade classmates were also Jewish. (That hadn’t been true in grade school: Rockville Centre, Long Island was partly ghettoized by a combination of factors. I lived in a neighborhood of mostly Christians; the Jews tended to live in other parts of town. But Junior High School had brought us all into contact without IDing the participants other than by name. And I as yet knew nothing of the ethnicity of names, including my own.) Columbia College was similarly if not even more saturated. Once of college age, the majority of my friends were Jewish. In business, the majority of my clients and colleagues were Jewish. I now live in Sebring, Florida which I strongly believe would be a much better place if similarly populated.
Dorothy’s revelation brought me face to face with my unconscious childhood anti-Semitism. It wasn’t until I became a disciple of Ivan Illich that I faced my anti-Catholicism.
John F. Kennedy’s candidacy and presidency came and passed without my challenging my inherited feelings about the Irish or Harvard men with Boston accents. Johnson’s Texas twang was more bearable to me than Kennedy talking about our crisis with “Cuber.” Is there any of us so liberal that we don’t retain some prejudices? A committee of disciplined skeptics should test any nominees.
I’m sure that when the minister was telling his story that I would have been picturing Irish cops passing out the literature. (Serves us right if we first ghettoize our immigrants and then offer opportunities only in certain institutions.)
I’m still on the road toward getting rid of all of my prejudices. Don’t misunderstand: I judge people, institutions, ideas, habits, manners, laws, and such freely and not flatteringly (as you already know if you’re reading as far as this note). It’s judgments made without review of statistical data matched with considerations of etiology that I’m against.
(I now know the Catholic Church to be a wicked organization, but so too are all the Protestant churches I’ve encountered.)
One more story in this context: My mother’s sister had married a Catholic. My favorite cousins were therefore Catholic. I accepted it. They were my favorite cousins. We didn’t discuss theology. In 1949 my cousin Tom announced his engagement just before his graduation from Princeton. Both families trucked out to New Jersey both to see the commencement ceremony and to meet the fiancée and her family.
I was ecstatic. I already loved the Princeton campus after attending a Princeton-Columbia football game there. But with graduation, fraternity after fraternity was offering live Dixieland jazz with their parties. Tom was marrying a townie and the next day we sought her neighborhood for dinner at her house. My love of my cousin was already great. But it knew no bounds as I met Aggie and her family. She was beautiful. They were friendly and there seemed to be no end of them. I’d never seen a bigger cooking pot or more commodious dining table. The men were playing cards — one novel excitement after the other — but they swept the table clear as the women arrived with settings and then course after course: antipasto, pasta, chicken oreganata … I was even allowed some of the homemade wine! I’d never tasted such food!
I couldn’t understand the long faces between my mother and my aunt.
I’ve explained it to myself only years and years afterward: these people were
I t a l i a n !
That’s Italian as in Eye-talian.
How had I managed, after picking up my childish anti-Semitism, anti-Romanism, anti-Irish, anti-Harvard, etc., not to pick up any anti-Italian? I now infer its presence into my own family. I also don’t doubt the presence of class prejudice: Aggie’s father and older brothers were neither lawyers nor military officers. Neither did they own a thriving liquor store; they were working people.
I will not name the now famous artist I took with her son to Puglia’s restaurant one night in New York’s little Italy. I saw my mother and my aunt’s looks of uncomfortable disapproval on their stern German faces. The “Italians” in the restaurant, from the waiters to the clientele, were committing an unpardonable sin and committing it in public: they were having a good time. (For more on Puglia’s, see also this other note.
If Sebring can’t have more Jews, then it should definitely have more Italians.
There. See how far I’ve risen above my prejudices?
2002 08 02 It just occurs to me: “99%” of my clients as an art dealer specializing in multiple original graphics were either Jewish or Italian. One of the reasons I wanted to publish Robert Vickrey’s work was that I was hoping for something that would push the envelope to include WASPS. These days I sell a few McCormicks to WASPS (just sold one into Ireland! to genes quite obviously Celtic), but still: I sell more to Jews and Italians.