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Maxed Out

Keeping prejudices at bay

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Most of what I know about prejudice — name your own favourite variety — I learned at home… at a fairly young age. The rest of it I just picked up along the way from the usual sources: media, friends, literature, psychotropic experience and the propagandistic teachings of a public school education.

The statistical distortions represented within my very un-random sampling of real life prejudice were coloured by the very lack of colour in my real world. Mine was a vanilla upbringing. The neighbourhoods I lived in were homogenous, Caucasian tracts just around the block from Beaver Cleaver’s house. There were tons of white boys and girls and the occasional redskin when the first intense days of spring rolled around, sunscreen being an invention yet undiscovered.

There were no black people in any of the worlds I lived in or visited. None in the ’hood, none in school, none in church, none at the grocery store and, not surprisingly, none on the television. Of course, black people were called coloured people by polite society at that time, and various words that’ll get you fired from your media job these days by quite a few people in impolite society. I learned most of those words from my grandfather who was oblivious to the profound depths of his own prejudices, racial being only one in a grab bag that included assorted ethnicities, religions, locales, languages, foods, automobiles, fishing tackle and, well, just about anything one might harbour a prejudice against or predisposition towards.

In those early days of black-and-white television, not many years after Jackie Robinson had broken the colour barrier in professional baseball and long after the boxing ring had largely come to be dominated by black boxers, my darkest lessons of racial intolerance were taught and learned during Friday night’s Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. I’ve never been certain whether my grandfather was a fight fan or if it was just something he did to make Friday night bleed into Saturday morning but I watched enough boxing with him for the memories of it to seem voluminous.

He didn’t have a favourite fighter. He just had a hierarchy of prejudices. On the rare nights when there was a white guy in the ring, he’d want the white guy to win. I’m sure there were times two white guys fought and those nights I don’t think he really cared who won unless one of them had a funny-sounding foreign name and the other one was named Smith or something very vanilla. White guys were always the best. Spics and dagos were okay, especially if they were fighting a coloured guy… who was never called a coloured guy but I’m pretty much pressing the envelope already and I’m not nearly brave enough to use any of the words he called black fighters. I was never exactly sure what differentiated one of those slurs from the other, since they were both aimed at Italians, or how Gramps could square the animus he felt for them against his enjoyment of spaghetti. I’m pretty sure he’d have gone apeshit if he ever saw sumo wrestling.

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