Blinded by the white

The parental kidnapping story that started in North Yarmouth, Maine, and ended in Salem, New Hampshire continues to unfold, and finally a reason for the parents’ alleged action — taking their 19-year-old daughter by force to get an abortion in Massachusetts or New York — is starting to emerge.

An incredibly stupid, ignorant, and hateful reason, but a reason nonetheless.

It seems that they didn’t approve of the girl’s choice of boyfriends. It seems she had the gumption to get knocked up by a black guy.

I’m ashamed to admit that there’s a streak of racism in northern New England. When I grew up, I had a drunken family member proclaim Dionne Warwick as “a good singer for a darkie.” I had an elderly neighbor who used to yell at his TV whenever one of those “jigaboos” won on The Price Is Right or some other game show. But for the most part, it’s largely a genteel, impersonal racism — they don’t wish any ill on black people, but they just don’t want to deal with the whole issue. And the fact that the Northern New England states (Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) are very homogenous white states makes that an easy attitude to maintain.

While I’m on the subject of racism, a couple of people questioned why I used such inflammatory, racist language in the first part of “The White Man’s Burden.” To answer them, yes, it was a deliberate choice on my part. The United States was a racist society at that point, and our anger towards the Japanese was fueled, in part, by the sense of racial superiority that had been challenged by their very successful attack at Pearl Harbor. We’d denigrated them, mocked them, and looked down on them for decades, and suddenly they were showing that not only might they be our equals, but perhaps even our superiors — they had hit us, hit us hard, and it was several months before we even began to fight back successfully. There was a lot of anger over that, and I thought the best way to convey that outrage was to use some of the language and terminology that was in common usage at the time.

That people questioned it didn’t surprise me. I expected it; in fact, I was hoping for it. But what did surprise me is that no one is calling me racist or sexist on titling the entire series “The White Man’s Burden” — a title that should be explained on Thursday.

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