Friday, April 15, 2016


Before getting started on the content of this post, read this disclaimer:

If you are a Snowflake or a member of the Perpetually Offended, you had best stop reading here.  This post contains some words and pictures that you would no doubt find disturbing which would likely lead to your whining.  So read and whine if you want, but your complaining will be ignored.

Second, I am using the term innate not to imply that there is an inborn or genetic component to racism, but rather that for many of us, we grew up embedded in a local culture that had a variety of racist components.  I will give some examples from my days growing up in New Paris, Indiana, an all-white, lower to middle class, Protestant community in which the minority group was the Catholics [who had to drive go Goshen to go to church].  When I share these stories with younger people or with folks who grew up in more diverse settings, we are all quite amazed at how these things were simply an accepted part of our lives.

I love black licorice and thus it did not seem odd that whenever I had a few extra cents, I would go to Reynolds/McMeekin's corner store and buy a few nigger babies.  Bald heads and big stomachs did not matter since it was the flavor that interested me. For a while, the candy was referred to as tar babies. Obviously these candies disappeared from the stores, but some folks claim that black licorice NIBS are simply a not-so-subtle reference to nigger babies.  Today, I satisfy my black licorice craving with licorice twists!

One of our favorite winter-time activities at the New Paris homestead was getting a large bag of mixed nuts still in the shell and spending time cracking and eating them.  The Brazil nuts were always the last to be cracked because they were so hard to get out of the shell.  For many years, I did not know that they were called Brazil nuts.

And speaking of Nigger Toes, I cannot tell you how many times we used this little ditty to chose sides:

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Catch a nigger by the toe
If he hollers let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
My mother told me
To pick the very best one
And you are [not] it.

Thankfully the 'nigger' slowly gave way to 'tiger'.

For many years, New Paris High School put on Minstrel shows as a part of their theater productions.  This picture is fairly representative of the black face that was used and the stereotypical outfits.  One Halloween, my sister and I dressed up pretty much like this to go trick-or-treating.  Nobody mistook us for real black kids, particularly since there were none in New Paris and none were allowed to stay overnight in nearby Goshen, IN.
A View From Nigger Heaven

I am pretty sure that I had never heard this term until we went to a White Sox baseball game at the old Comiskey Park.  Our seats were way, way up toward the top of the stadium, and my dad told our companions "It looks like we will be sitting in nigger heaven."  I am not sure where he would have learned the term since there were no places around us the had balcony seating where the black people were supposed to sit.   In retrospect we were probably lucky not to get rightfully harassed by the many black people around us.

A fair number of people, including some folks from our church, had these in their front yards or gardens.  I never understood why in the world they had them since they served no functional purpose as far as I could tell.  No one had anything that would be suitable for hitching up to these things since they were generally smaller versions of the original hitching post.  I highly recommend the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia website and its informative articles such as this one on Lawn Jockeys.  

It seems as though black people bore the brunt of the racist comments and attitudes in New Paris, never being referred to as black, but as colored people, Negroes, darkies, spades, jigs, coons, jungle bunnies, spear-chuckers and Sambo  [There used to be a Sambo's Restaurant chain decorated with paintings depicting the story of Little Black Sambo].  However, I remember a few other terms that were less than edifying, referring to some of the local non-WASPS:  heebs, kikes, mackerel-snappers come to mind, and although not racist, I heard pinko commie cowards for us pacifist conscientious objectors.  Sadly racism still runs deep, if not as wide, in Elkhart County with Hispanics now also being the target for race-based comments.  Many folks cannot abide President Obama, and a couple of years ago I heard a local old-white-guy complain about "the niggers in the White House."  I have not seen the shirt below around town, but would wager that there are some.

So what's my point - I am not sure.  It is interesting to reflect on the fact that a town like New Paris, with the closest blacks living over 20 miles away, could have such negative attitudes.  Perhaps one of the reasons is that the main thing that they heard about blacks was always bad news - robberies, shootings, welfare cheats, etc.  My observation is that many locals who did not go off to college or to work elsewhere have continued this 'heritage' if you want to call it that.  Not all, to be sure, and the inverse is not necessarily the case either.  There are highly educated, wealthy whites who have basically the same attitudes that I witnessed 60 years ago.  However, I think that it is true that many New Parisians who went off to school or to live elsewhere somehow managed to become more accepting of "the other".   Am I free of racist thoughts and attitudes?  No - I do not think that anyone is.  But, the rubber hits the road on how we act or don't act on those thoughts.


Kay said...

I have all these thoughts that you have written about. I think about these things every week fact today I was talking to a student about Marian Anderson who was the first black singer at the MET opera. She came to Goshen College to sing and I was quite young. Mom took me to hear her and we sat up front. I loved her and was totally taken with her. Mom told me on the way home after the concert and after we went backstage to meet her that she had to go to Elkhart to sleep because the Goshen Hotel would not allow Negro people to stay there. I cried and was so hurt and ashamed to be in Goshen.
Can you believe that? I cannot forget that and am embarrassed to this day.

I have more stories ............go ahead and tell yours. I remember every one.

Phil said...

Doug, That was a really good article and it still amazes me about how naive we were in the 50’s and 60’s in New Paris. I remember going to one of the minstrels and my Dad was singing in it. My Mom, who is 94 still calls them colored folks and has not changed much in her thinking. I also remember all of the other examples that you gave and I can truthfully say I did not think anything of it at the time. I agree that it was College that changed my outlook on Race. I remember playing Jimtown in the seventh grade and playing against King Dancler who was a grade ahead of us. He was very mature for an eighth grader and I still remember the comments by my team mates before and after the game. We continued to play against King in many sports but he was really good in baseball and I always hated pitching against him as he was always a threat to knock it out of the park. In college we played against quite a few black athletes and we always had at least one or two on our team at lily white Manchester. It was a great learning experience for me. Phil

DES said...

Thanks Phil – I had forgotten all about King Dancler, but you brought back the memories. I totally agree with the naïve comments – we were truly oblivious. Even Elkhart only had 1 or 2 black player; South Bend, a different story!

Anna said...

I think it’s fascinating and I was literally having JUST this conversation at lunch yesterday with two Finnish friends who were referencing our game "Red Rover Red Rover send ___ right over”. They said they had the same game as kids in Finland only it was called Black Pete and they were so embarrassed that that was part of their unconscious language as children.

DES said...

Phil - do you remember the tall black fellow that played for Elkhart? Colby something…..

Phil said...

Colby Webb – They went on to play against Goose Legion in the semi–state. It was a great game. [I think Colby had 27 and Goose had 40]. That reminds me. Dean Foster, point guard at Elkhart our senior year died last week of a massive heart attack. He went on to start at Cincinnati for 3 years. He coached HS b ball for 35 years, just like his mentor Max Bell. This is causing me to have all kinds of memories of the good old days. Thanks Doug

DES said...

Yes! Thanks Phil – remember how the crowd would sing-song “Colby-Colby” when he went to the free-throw line? Also it seems as though I got to guard Mike Franger for a short time when we played Elkhart, and thankfully not Foster!

Ken Willems said...

Great article. What came to my mind while reading it was the old joke that used to be told in Goshen (and probably Elkhart too). It went something like this. Goshen and Elkhart were deciding who got the "coloreds" and who got the Mennonites. Elkhart won the coin toss and got first choice. Completely inappropriate; racist and discriminating. Hope I didn't offend anyone, but that is what came to mind as I read Doug's stories.

DES said...

Ken - I too remember hearing that joke! Just another example of how clueless and naive we were [and maybe still are!!]

Jim said...

I do remember the built in language of race and intolerance in the area and I also remember a (I think the last) minstrel show that a junior high class put on about 1961. If memory serves Terry Tobias sang Sweet Georgia Brown. I had to look up the word “Interlocutor” as the MC was thus addressed.

I think I remember also that there was a woman who owned a small farm over in the area of Stan Myers home or maybe east of there who was an african american. On that thought and your blog, Doug, I do remember the buzz about the first Catholic Doctor who moved into the township in the late 50s or very early 60s. Seems like they built a large house north of town right on hy 15.

It was strange time in a very sheltered community. Lots of things could have been very different but I don’t regret being brought up there nor being brought up farming. We grow and sometimes learn new attitudes. So it all has the opportunity to be good stuff!


DES said...

Thanks Jim – never heard the story about the woman; and about the house – I think that the Sorgs of Sorgs Jewelers built the big house on the west side of 15 just north of the Y. They had a b ball court in the lowest level and we had an after prom party there one year. I am not sure who bought the place after the Sorgs. I believe that the Chupp fellow who does pianos lives there now. It seems as though maybe Dr. Gorham may have bought it from the Sorgs and maybe that is who you are thinking of. Gorham joined DeVries I think, and then was killed in a car wreck somewhere near there.

Tom said...

I think the Quilty's bought that house. We were very protected as teenagers. I remember going to the Goshen relays and was awed at all the AA and how talented they were. Do not remember the women who lived by Stans and did someone mention a Black doctor who came to town. Dr Gorham lived in a big farm house on the north side of College ave and it is still on the family.

Bizzy Brain said...

My first cultural memories were in the late 40’s and I remember hearing prejudiced remarks back then. Also, remember attending minstrel shows. There were the cultural clichés like Little Black Sambo. Blacks were most commonly referred to as Negroes, colored people, or the N word. There were no blacks in my neighborhood or grade school, and maybe two in my high school. As people moved into adulthood jobs or higher education or the Army and got to work with and know blacks, most of the old prejudices, which didn’t seem that strong to begin with, disappeared, from my perspective anyway. I did, however, and to this day, encounter people who are still strongly prejudiced.
I refuse to use or acknowledge the word “racism” as it has become meaningless, thus innate racism means nothing to me. I believe there is an innate tribal impulse. People identify with their own race and ethnicity and feel most at home with their own kith and kin. That is not to say that if we are a member of the Green Skin Clan, the Purple Skin Clan is automatically our mortal enemy with whom we must do battle. If a person is green or purple, he prefers to stay that way. That may be why some people believe there is innate prejudice. White people do not want to be black, not out of prejudice, but the desire to stay the way they are. And it would be totally absurd to believe that black people want to trade places with whitey.

DES said...

Bizzy - I agree that in 2016 the word racism no longer has much meaning, particularly since it seems clear that race is a social construct, not a biological one. However, I am talking about the 1950's and 1960's when it was clear what racism was and how it played out. We might instead use 'extreme prejudice' but you and I grew up in time that different races is what was accepted - you no doubt also sang the Sunday School ditty about "red, brown, yellow, black and white..." [interestingly the ditty used 'precious' rather than 'equal']. So, I use 'innate racism' [tribalism] to describe the cloistered culture of our time, in which we grew up with words and attitudes that were extreme prejudice, nee racist. You rightly point out that folks tend to like to associate with folks similar to them, and when they hatefully refuse to associate with others, it is often not due to 'race' - e.g. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. I don't think that there is anything particularly wrong with the 'tribal impulse' per se, but when it results in illegal discrimination and ugly prejudice, it is wrong.

Steve said...

This is a changing world. There were no blacks in New Paris and very few in Goshen. I had occasion to visit a house in Goshen around 1969 on a sales call. A black man was living there with a white girl. Goshen college students I believe. I had never dreamed this would take place and today this is very common. Once in a card game at Manchester I had a great hand and said I hadn't had a hand like that in a "coon's age", forgetting about the black student in the game- I quickly changed to Raccoon. Too late.

The (Goshen) south side fire station was one of the first buildings on the Gorham farm and Dow Gorham became upset with my father because we had parked the bulldozer on the field where he would be planting corn and was afraid of an oil leak and not being able to grow corn on that spot.

I never cared for MLK day until I read that he wanted men to be judged by their character and not the color of their skin. I agree with this and after Ferguson you can see why people look at blacks as they see the character of blacks on the news- looting and burning cars and buildings. The opposite would be people like Gayle Sayers ( lives near Wakarusa in the summer) a good role model, a great retired running back and a very good business man. Good and bad in all races, too bad the media focuses on the bad.

DES said...

Tom - Quilty’s! Right on – forgot about that. I know the Gorham place – it’s now a little enclave surrounded by College Green. And I think it is the Gorham Woods development across US 33. Thanks Tom.

Anonymous said...

Doug--enjoyed reading your memories/comments. We were sheltered but as a child, I don't remember that my parents (your grandparents) exhibited or said anything racist. But then, we weren't told not to refer to those things you mention as "nigger baby" etc. so I guess they were as naive as we were in not thinking anything about using those terms. Incidentally, I still have the children's book, "Little Black Sambo." It's probably a collector's item now!

Practically Speaking said...

It’s hard for me to conceive of race as being simply a social construct. I’ve read where about 50% of personality traits, whether they be for the good or bad, are inherited. For you Darwinists out there, certain personality traits that are more conducive to survival in different parts of the world would emerge as dominant traits and be passed on. In a primitive environment where there is no reading and writing, aggressive traits might be the key to survival, thus passed on. Pit Bulls are 6.7% of the dog population, but account for half of all dog-related human fatalities. [Blank] people account for close to 13% of the U.S. population. However, [blank] males are responsible for more than 50% of the murders in the U.S. That is not a social construct. That is a genetically inherited pre-disposition to impulsivity and violence. I don’t believe such characteristics are necessarily permanently ingrained, however. They can be bred out of a population. Aggression in Pit Bulls can be reduced or eliminated by selective breeding. Allow mild-mannered Pit Bulls to be fruitful and multiply and sterilize the bad boys. In time, you will have mostly gentle Pit Bulls. Likewise, over a long period of time, perhaps centuries, the frequency of the impulsive/violent gene in a certain race may normalize and equalize with other races.

DES said...

Practically Speaking - I mis-typed when I said that "race is a social construct" - I meant to say that race is primarily a social construct. There are certainly genetic differences among the various populations of the world. The genetic basis for difference in skin color is well understood, with the wide variability being attributed to just a couple of genes. Behavioral genetics is another ball game. I believe that black-on-black violence is likely much more social than genetic, although any predisposition toward any behavior likely has a genetic component; and we also know that such genes are not spread equally among all human populations. I think that you would agree that it is very complicated, eh?

DES said...

Anonymous - agreed. Guess I will have to guess who you are! :-)

Keith said...

I enjoyed your comments and responses to your blog. One week after graduating from McPherson College in Kansas I moved to College Park, MD. for the CO program at U of MD. The first adjustment was living in an area that at that time had a population that was made of +-50% AA. This was the spring of 1968 as the racial riots were taking place in DC related to the killing of MLK. My roommate (an Ohio farm boy as naïve as I) and I decided to drive downtown to see what was happening. It we not a pretty sight. As we were returning to MD we met a large National Guard Unit that was coming to DC to control the riots. The sight and the size of the National Guard left an impression on me that I will never forget. After that experience us country boys were ready to return to the farm.
Through the years I have worked with and known many outstanding AA and realize their goals and ambitions in life are similar to "whites" but admit at times I can not totally let go of the "differences" that exist between us. I do not fully understand where and how my prejudices developed but appears it's very subtle things that occurs throughout our lives that shape/influence our thoughts without us realizing it is happening.

The really sad part concerning the racial issue is that the recent Baltimore riots demonstrate that there is a lot of work to be done to solve this complex issue.
One would think that we would have made some progress on this issue in the last 50 years but does not appear to be the case.

Practically Speaking said...

It's so hard nowadays to discern truth from fiction. For example, I read on the internet about a genetic research study that supposedly identified a gene or genes related to impulsivity and violent behavior. This gene or genes was found in 1% of white people and 5% of black people. If that is the case, that would explain why the violent crime rate of blacks is much higher than the norm for whites. It also leaves open the possibility that that negative gene could be bred out of the population if those who possess it produced fewer and fewer offspring. Unfortunately, I am not able to verify and validate any research I read about online. And with all the creativity out there, someone could have just made it all up, but made it sound quite scientific and truthful.

DES said...

Practically Speaking - you are correct about discerning truth - you can find almost any "truth" you with to hear on the Internet!! So, my take is that yes, there have been a couple of genes identified in violent criminals, interestingly first described in Finland I think. The big thing to remember is that there can be significant relationships without any link to cause and effect. Regarding the original 'warrior gene' and similar genes, African blacks were indeed higher than European whites, but Asians were higher than both!