Over the years, I’ve come to understand that every racist I’ve known has two marked characteristics. He/she is not deeply intelligent (dislike or hatred of an entire group of people is, almost by definition, irrational); and he/she is innately fearful.
Back in the 1980s, I had an on-and-off involvement with a man who was a racist. I’ll call him “John.” John told racist jokes, called women “Feminazis,” hated liberals and hated living in a liberal city. Eventually he moved to Texas, undoubtedly the right place for him.
John drove a truck in New York City. He wasn’t a poseur about that truck: he genuinely needed it for his work. The first time I got into his truck was also the first time I heard Rush Limbaugh, who blasted from John’s radio at a decibel level which was literally deafening. I got John immediately to turn it down, which he did, with a sense of humor.
My ear-splitting moments with Rush were how I first heard the term “Feminazi.” I also heard ugly racist stuff. I was appalled and said so.
You’ve probably already figured out that John was not a native New Yorker. He’d come to the city, as many people do, to advance his career. His blue collar home town in a deep red state was a dead spot as far as his work was concerned.
I was sharply aware that his family background and home town were not like mine. He came from an all-white, blue-collar world. Even in New York, the way he lived and the immediate environment in which he lived were all white. He did not travel on the subways; he drove a truck.
But for all the weight-lifting machismo — great body; I started lifting weights because I wanted my arms to look that good — he had fears of the unknown. One autumn day we trucked up the Hudson and on the way back stopped at Bear Mountain State Park.
Out of the truck, we walked along a trail in the woods for a short time. A very short time. At a point at which our steps would take us out of sight of the parked truck, John stopped dead. And would not go further.
“Why not?” I asked. He didn’t offer a convincing answer. “Are you afraid?” I asked. He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t deny it either. We went back to the truck and departed.
He was fearful of what he didn’t know, and his way of living did not permit him to expand the base of his knowledge.