A Dial Tone to Racism

In my grandmother’s era and even my mother’s time, there were segregated families and neighborhoods. There was shame if you were German and you married Czech. Italians and Germans didn’t really inter-marry in 1890 either. Marriage between someone who was white and someone who was black was unthinkable.

My grandmother’s African-American friend caused a stir the one time her visit happened to stretch on past sunset. This was in about 1950. A neighbor called my grandmother to find out when her visitor would be leaving the neighborhood.

The truth is, Hollywood set the tone and America followed. Actresses like Lena Horne were told they had to be reinvented with Latin origins or they would have their parts pulled out of movies earmarked for our southern states. Actresses like Dinah Shore who had a fractional amount of "foreign" heritage were told to give up their racially demonstrative babies (like Shore did) or forgo their careers in Hollywood. Carol Channing’s father was a noted newspaper-man in Seattle. He was of African heritage and his daughter only came out about it when she was well into retirement. In fact, many women were uninvited to work in makeup or dress/wardrobe if they were found to be black. The same went with male writers and studio workers. The policy was called something like "No Black Hands On White" and they dismissed you from your role outright. From what I saw, there were very few black roles in Hollywood.

In the 1950s, we were “America.” People emulated us; wanted our products and blindly tried to fit round pegs into square holes. You could emigrate to the US, and you could be “American” in that era, but that meant emulating “white” America.

I feel that we have managed to get past our hesitation of certain nationalities and races ﹘ but not all. When will we be able to look at someone and see below the pigment to the person inside?

Not soon enough.

I sometimes imagine I hear a telephone ring. I know how my grandmother and her friend felt.