In the early seventies, my great-aunt Myrtle would say the N-word at restaurants.
She’d always treat my family to a big meal at one of the Lithuanian joints near her Chicago south side brownstone. Myrtle was an old-school racist who detested people of color and everything else non-Lithuanian that was beginning to infiltrate her neighborhood. On more than one occasion, within easy earshot of a nearby black person, she’d start muttering “N!$$#r” loud enough for all to hear. That word pops out at you (it’s that harsh ‘NIHG’ sound) even if you’re only six and have no idea what it means.
But the adults at the table knew.
The first time it happened, my parents tried to ignore her and awkwardly change the topic. Eventually, though, my mother told her quite clearly (and loud enough for all to hear) how unacceptable that type of language is and threatened to end the meal abruptly if she ever heard Myrtle use that word again.
These days, Donald Trump is America’s great-aunt Myrtle.
The new Trumpian racist low that’s barreling its way through the news cycle today is regarding his comments during an immigration conversation with lawmakers. At one point, referring to Haiti, Trump asked, “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” Apparently he followed that up with, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” (Link to Article)
And the adults at the table…said…nothing.
Not even afterwards when they’d had some time to think about it. According to CNN, “White House spokesperson Raj Shah did not deny the “shithole” remark, but instead said in a statement that Trump “is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.” (Link to Article) Imagine my parents telling that elderly black woman, “Myrtle is just fighting to make her neighborhood stronger by welcoming those who contribute.”
Uh, no, she dislikes black people and doesn’t care who knows.
So let’s not be so shocked when America’s great-aunt Myrtle says or does yet another racist thing – it should be no surprise at this point, it’s what old Myrtles do. Let’s start paying more attention to the other adults at the table who stay silent during these outbursts of hate. They’re supposed to be the clear thinkers here, the firm but loving grown-ups who should be saying, “Mr. President, this meal is over if you ever use those words again.”
Take Fox News, for example.
News magazine The Week reports, “Tucker Carlson rushed to Trump’s defense, blaming the backlash on overzealous political correctness, while Jesse Waters downplayed the comments as how “the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar.” On The Five, Watters said Trump’s remarks were “a little offensive,” but “there’s so many more offensive things happening in the world.” (Link to Article)
And Trump’s followers tend to agree.
Read their tweets and comments. You’ll see there are plenty of other people at the restaurant who concur with the ugliness this aunt Myrtle’s hissing. They feel the exact same way but don’t have the guts to say it aloud. And that’s a way bigger problem than one racist old fool because it tells us something about America that we’ve been denying. Until there came a President Trump, we were all afraid to admit something very ugly about our country.
Half of us don’t like the stew that’s cooking up in the melting pot.
Maybe they expected it to stay a clear European broth with a boiled potato on the side, but America’s ingredients have become so much more diverse than that. We’re a complex blending of international flavors, and it’s becoming apparent that without a head chef who appreciates his (or her!) ingredients, this experimental meal we’ve got going here will never quite work.
Time to embrace the stew, people.
Like it or not, this is who America is – a mishmash of cultures from everywhere who have come together to create a society that celebrates them all. We’re what the world could be someday, only right now some folks are acting like that clear broth would be a lot more tasty. Don’t be so astounded when they complain with a burst of their idiocy, and fear not, because thankfully most of our Aunt Myrtles are getting old and dying off. There’s a younger generation of citizens showing up to the restaurant nowadays, and they have a hunger for the hearty goulash America has always been serving up.
And all the adults at the table are welcome to join in.
- Mike Lukas
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