Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dad's lesson: We're not moving

      Before I tell you about my Dad's lesson on prejudice at my first major league baseball game, I need to write generally about prejudice.
      This has been on my mind since University of Missouri football star Michael Sam "came out" and announced he was gay, the first NFL Draft prospect to do so. And then Richard Petty -- the "king" of NASCAR -- made his comments about Danica Patrick's driving career and chances (none, according to him) of winning the Daytona 500.
      The resulting publicity -- much greater, of course, about Michael Sam than Danica -- said to me, "This is just prejudice."
      And before I solve the world's problems, I'm thinking, what are my prejudices? Do I need to look at these things, and change my mind-set? 
      My blog advisor -- to put it one way (because she's also my roommate and my cook) -- suggested I look up the definition of prejudice before I began writing about it.
      So here is a three-fold definition I found online: (1) an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason; (2) any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable; (3) unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.
      Michael Sam certainly fits in a group -- homesexuals -- against which there is a prejudice. Danica Patrick fits in a large group -- women -- and a very small group (women racecar drivers).
      Writing about them could be separate blog pieces, and I intend to write about Michael Sam and the NFL. And I must say that, given Danica's racing record, maybe Mr. Petty's feelings aren't preconceived. I'll let others debate that one; I don't know much or care much about NASCAR and auto racing.
      For now, I want to consider where I've been with my prejudices and where I'm going.  
      In August 1963, Dad and I went to Houston to see the second-year Colt .45s play on a typical steamy Sunday night at Colt Stadium, a makeshift, hurriedly built ballpark that was predecessor to the fabulous Astrodome about to be constructed next door.
      The Colt .45s, a terrible team (no other way to put it), were facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, who that season would win the World Series. My first major league game.
      The Dodgers had five black players in their lineup -- for the record, Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis and John Roseboro. Houston had one -- Jimmy Wynn.
      Also for the record, I had never seen a black athlete playing baseball. The only black athletes I'd seen in person were the Harlem Globetrotters in a Shreveport appearance.
      I must admit: The sight of those black players warming up before the game caught my attention. But soon, I'd forgotten that.
Louis Van Thyn
      We were at the game with a married couple we'd known since our early days in Shreveport; they were friends of our family. Not long after we'd settled into our seats -- fairly good seats on the third-base side -- a black couple came and sat down next to us.
      Our friends got up and moved to open seats a few rows away.
      Dad, who'd faced a lot of prejudice in his life because of his religion and who worked with a dozen black men at the pipeyard, didn't like that. But we got up and went to sit with our friends.
      Just a few minutes later, another black couple -- this one with two small kids -- came to sit next to us. Our friends again got up and moved a few rows away.
      I thought we were going to move, too. But Dad said no, we're not going anywhere. And we watched the rest of the game from there; we even -- oh, wow -- talked to the black couple and kids.
      When the game ended, Dad and I said good-bye to the couple -- our friends; nothing was said about what had happened. We went to our hotel, and I'm not sure we ever saw that couple again. I am sure the experience stuck in my mind.
      As I've written before, my mother -- not long after we came to the U.S. in 1956 -- was appalled at the treatment of blacks in Shreveport and the South. But when you live in a society, you can't always change the things you don't agree with or don't like. 
      And maybe some of a kid's thinking is influenced. I admit, unfortunately, that I probably used the "n" word a few times ... until I learned better. I sure as heck didn't use it at my home.
      I think the only time I was in the same school as black kids was in my senior year at Louisiana Tech University, where there were only a couple (none in any of my classes). We had one black athlete in my time at Tech. 
      But I did see some Grambling College basketball games; with O.K. "Buddy" Davis, rode the Grambling team bus to Natchitoches twice for an historic NAIA playoff series with Northwestern State. I think Buddy and I were the only white people on that bus.
      When I began as a fulltime sportswriter the next year, and schools soon were integrated, it means much more exposure to black athletes, coaches and administrators. It meant a lot more lessons for me, too -- and not all were pleasant. 
      I've addressed this previously http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/09/not-black-and-white-world.html. I can say that -- with Dad's lesson in mind -- I was always aware of the importance of trying to treat all people as equals.
      So prejudices ... you might understand how I feel about the neo-Nazis or skinheads and about the Ku Klux Klan, and I know I have plenty of company. Can't find a place for people with those kind of prejudices.               
       Hate to admit this, but I am uncomfortable with street beggars -- those who come up and ask for money or food. I do have empathy for the homeless, but I prefer to make my charitable contributions in my own way.
       With a Jewish background, it would be easy to be prejudiced against Arabs, Palestinians, etc., but my view has softened because these people deserve their rights and a place to live. Figuring out the Middle East solutions ... who can do that?
        I sense a lot of prejudice in my old country, Holland, against the many Muslims/Middle East people who have moved in there. Just as I feel there is prejudice here now against many Hispanics ... the same type prejudice the blacks once faced (and still do, to an extent).  
         But this country's prejudices go way back, if you think about what the white pioneers and the next few generations did to the native Indians.
         Personally, we -- Bea and I -- wondered about moving to Hawaii in 1980 and living among the many native Hawaiians and Orientals there. I worked with several people of Japanese-American heritage at the newspaper there, and it was fine. The people in sports at The Honolulu Advertiser were not only talented and dedicated, they became good friends ... and still are.
          Here's another personal prejudice I had years ago: women sportswriters. Never thought it could happen. Still doubtful when locker rooms were opened to them. 
          But was I wrong. There are many excellent, knowledgable women writers out there, and many who work well in -- and lead -- sports departments, and the problems have been minimal. They have my respect.
          My generation has had to grow with the growing world of homosexuality. It was a hushed issue, practically unspoken, when we were kids, and we made fun of it. Yes, I used the "q" word -- the word "gay" was still years away -- and when you were told that someone might have a partner of the same sex, it was unsettling.
         A personal story: When Bea and I began our relationship and then married, she had a young male friend who was gay. He helped Bea babysit Jason when Jay was just learning to walk. I met him a couple of times and I was terribly uncomfortable ... and terribly rude.
I finally demanded Bea to get him out of our lives.
         I am embarrassed to relate this story; it was an unfortunate prejudice.
         We now have friends in same-sex relationships; we have friends whose children are gay; over at least five newspapers where I worked, the workplace included dozens of gay people. It was rarely discussed, and almost never a problem. I say almost because one employee was fired after an inappropriate drunken incident.
         Point is: We have come a long way. We have a long way to go. In my next blog, I will write about my views of Michael Sam and the NFL.
         But if I'm sitting at a game, and a gay couple comes to sit next to me, I'm not moving.                


  1. From Rachel (Van Thyn) Smith: My father's views on prejudice... I have to say how proud I am to come from two people who are so willing to look at, analyze and even change their own thoughts and behaviors. It takes bravery and vulnerability, and I think it is a skill they passed on to me. None of us are perfect, but I think a willingness to be open and to change yourself for the better is what life is about.

  2. From Ron Marrus: Good article. Growing up in Jonesboro, La., as only one of two Jewish families in town was very interesting. I never saw overt prejudice toward us at that time but things may be different now. However, the blacks lived in the "quarters" and we did not associate in the 1950's. I have made it a practice not to allow the word "n-----" to be used in my presence without a comment from me letting the person know I don't tolerate that language. Keep up the good work!

  3. From Sid Huff: I really enjoyed this piece. Growing up in a military environment, I ALWAYS had black classmates and friends...black friends who came over to spend the night and I at their homes. When I got to Fair Park in 1967, there were just a couple of black kids there and I was chastised by "friends" for speaking to these people. I refused to cave in to these prejudices and, slowly, they were accepted by the vast majority of the Caucasian kids. I think FP was a "blue collar" high school and it was the best time of my life looking back. But, as you know, we are born into environments where prejudices exist. My Dad told me that shortly after he married my mother, they were at a movie on base and when a black woman reached a water fountain before my mother got there, my mom refused to drink from it or use the same ladies' room stall after seeing a black woman come out. She got over these prejudices in short order and learned to like/love all people. Yes, like you, I have uttered the "n" word a few times and am ashamed of myself for doing so. I am proud to have friends of color, only I don't notice the color, but the person.

  4. From Kitty van der Woude: Just read your blog on prejudice. ... Do you know the children's game when you start with a whispered message which is then passed on to the next person, etc., until at the end of the line the last one tells the story aloud? We did this when I was at Austin University. Three groups of well-educated women (heads of schools, professors, elementary school teachers, librarians) The story was about a white man going into a McDonald's and after a short fight murdering someone. In all three groups the story had changed to 'a black man entering a McDonald's, etc. We were shocked.
    In the past few months I read Lawrence Hill's "The Book of Negroes" and Isabel Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Suns" about the black migration from 1915-1955. You just do not know what you are reading ...