My Sons Are Growing Up Racists

By Robert Hilldrup

Vol. 1, No. 1, 1978, p. 7

All my life, I've heard it said that the difference between us whites, South and North, is that the Southerner loved Blacks as individuals, and hated them as a race, while Northerners loved them as a race, and hated them as individuals.

Now, I see this pattern emerging in my own family: my sons are growing up racists, despite having lived in a family which was consistently involved in efforts to promote integration and racial justice.

To relate these efforts, by my wife and by myself, and the things we have endured from both Black and White as a result, would be self-serving. Worse, it would be embarassing, because what we have suffered is relatively little in comparison with the suffering of others--Black and White. Yet I am sure I speak for others who share my wife's persuasion and mine when I say that there is a growing feeling of isolation among us today, caught as we are between the hardening attitudes of fellow Whites at one end and the malignant violence of Black hatred at the other.

I have asked myself over and over why this trend, this attitude, seems to be emerging in the lives of our three boys. They are not budding Klansmen. In their collective lives, they may have had one fight each, and that was not interracial. They don't want to move from the home they have occupied since infancy in an integrated neighborhood. They still seem to enjoy the company of their Black companions and friends from college, from high school and from junior high.

But the signs of hardening hearts are there.

Perhaps I remained silent too long, listening, instead of talking. But parents who talk too much miss a chance to listen. And most of the time, the listening is a pleasure: talk of girls and soccer and baseball and food and cars and the eternal lack of money since we are a family which must struggle financially in a way that seems to us a bit grimmer than for most.

So we sat one evening, the college sophomore and I, alone in the summer twilight and I came at last to ask him about the changes in racial attitudes which had appeared in him and in his brothers.

He was silent for a moment, and I sensed that he was choosing the words for his answer as carefully as I had chosen my question.

"Dad," he began, "I'm sorry. I know what you and mom have been through (as White educators in a Black school system), but it doesn't change what we see and what happens to us."

What followed was almost a litany and I knew, somehow, that speaking in terms of social policy and economics and politics and power didn't cut it with him. To this young man, and to his brothers, it was a matter of personal affront, of right and wrong.

He talked of the noise and vandalism in our neighhorhood that has increased with the arrival of more and more Blacks--Blacks with middle class jobs or better. He talked of the racial epithets that had been hurled at him and his mother from some of these same families.

He spoke of his brother in high school, who makes do with hand-me-down clothes, and of how he feels to see Blacks dressed in the most expensive way getting "free" lunches when he has to pay.

He talked of his own experience as a bag boy in a grocery where half the customers--and 90 per cent of the shoplifters--are Black, yet all come from the same middle class homes and apartments.

He talked of the struggle we were all sharing to try to put him and his brothers into the ranks of the college-educated, and then he named Black high school classmates accepted by colleges which rejected him when their scores were a combined total of 700 on college boards.

He talked of what his brothers saw in the public schools, of Blacks who would not attempt to do assigned work, and made it impossible for others to do theirs.

"Dad," he said in conclusion, 'Get with it. You and mom are living in a dream world."

That's where he's wrong. My wife and I are all too aware that, proportionately, the negative stories and experiences of his life do come far, far too often from Blacks. The wellspring of hatred is overflowing in many areas of the modern South where Blacks now have economic, political or numerical control. It does not feel good to be a minority and a blameless victim.

I know how my sons feel, and I am alternately saddened, ashamed and outraged. Yet I also know how Blacks of another generation must have felt, and this adds to my confusion, for the outrages being commited against Whites today are not coming so much from the Black generation which might be justified in extracting revenge, but from the youth which has known equal rights at worst, and favored treatment frequently.

My son went on and talked of other things: Blacks who wouldn't take minimum wage jobs that White students were fighting to get; of our White neighbors who have been murdered and assaulted by Blacks.

The Darkness fell over us and our words and I couldn't help but think that Black Southerners and White Southerners need now, more than ever, to strive toward fairness and decency and justice, for each and for all; that indeed, we cannot stand separately and alone.

For with power comes responsibility. The Black majority which will not work with the Whites to provide mutual safety and opportunity will find, in the long run, that it cannot guarantee its own. For both the Southerner and the Black are minorities in this nation and the return of the Holocaust is something we dare not forget.

Mr. Hilldrup was director of public information for the Richmond (Va.) Public Schools from 1969-76 during the integration and busing controversy.