Monday, August 26, 2013

"The Butler", a film ..... Inspiring Personal Reflections

A movie, just like a book can have a big emotional impact.  For me, this movie stirred me, dredging up memories of long ago.
When I was a little girl I would be told the Gypsies were people to be afraid of!  Never open the door when they knock, they will steal everything they can.  This sentiment was also bandied about during our period living in Sweden just recently.

My second look at prejudice was at an age of around fifteen.  At the time I did not realize what a sad and disappointing experience that was..... simply because I thought my parents were NOT prejudice!
I had met two boys while working at Skansen, a rather famous outdoor museum and park in Stockholm, where I took care of the ponies and led them, for young children to ride.  It was my very first REAL job!  These two young boys, were about my age, we shared lunch time together and chattering away as I did, (and still do) I told them where I lived and sure, I would like to see them again.  They were visitors in Sweden as I recall.  Part of my fascination was that they spoke english and also the colour of their skin.

My parents were well educated and well travelled.  Spent vacation times in Paris as I was growing up. The also got married there.  My Mother would, upon her return, tell us stories of meetings with  interesting people of different skin colour.  She had pictures of velvety eyed dark complexioned people and enjoyed their company while being in Paris.
Therefore, mark my surprise, when my parents, particularly my Mother, was totally horrified when the two boys showed up outside our apartment, hoping to see me. They were too black I fear. That was the end of that budding friendship!

Some time later I worked in a depesche office connected with one of the newspapers in Stockholm. One of my responsibilities was to write, in calligraphy, the world headlines on big sheets of paper, to be displayed in the window.  At that time the trouble in Little Rock, Arkansas was prominent in the headlines.  I was horrified!  Unable to understand the treatment of folks there. (And  I still am.)

Fast forward to my leaving Sweden at the tender age of seventeen.  Suitcase full of my clothes and those forty dollars. (The story told in an earlier blog post.)  Minnesota the destination.  Not too many dark skinned  people there either.

Some years later, married with three beautiful little blue eyed  blondies, I go to work at Mister Joseph's Salon in Saint Paul where the owner, Mister Joseph was jewish.  A new experience for me.  Later  still,  I get a job at "The VIP" a prestigious beauty salon in Minneapolis.  This was during the Vietnam War,  the Kennedy administration era, the Freedom Riders,  the "sit ins" etc.  All so well depicted in the movie "The Butler."

While at The VIP I met  and became friends with Barbara a beautiful black young woman.  A Mother of three small children just like myself.  She too worked there.  I  also met Charles, a tall handsome gay young man, who was the receptionist.  A customer Mrs. Katz was also added to my memory list.  It was Mrs. Katz who got me hooked up with KQXL, a local radio station, where I hosted an hour long program on Saturday mornings called what else, "The Scandinavian Hour?"  Mrs. Katz was the hostess for the Jewish Hour.

The engineer who guided me  during those broadcasts and spun my records was Ray Moss a tall lanky black guy from Redondo Beach in California.  He was awesome!  We became good friends and he was a great addition to the international families who frequently would gather at our house, where we had friends of, I swear, every colour and creed.  There was Larry, a jewish trombone player, a member of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra married to Eileen, a classical pianist. She was of Italian decent. Their son Todd was Maria's best friend.  There were The Shuberts', Karin and Rolf, from Germany.  Their son Lars was Freddy's best friend.  We had the Jakobsens' from Norway and a great guy from Sweden who worked for SAS, he played the guitar and sang for us (his name eludes me) and many more wonderful people in our social circle.  Ray Moss swam in our communal swimming pool at Windsor Green, probably one of the first Afro Americans to swim in a pool where only white folks lived!  In Minnesota anyway!  We were proud of that moment!

All of this was spinning in my head as I watched the movie "The Butler."  I feel truly grateful with all the "players" in my life.  Earl, or EmoSan from Hawaii, Charles Scott and his family from somewhere  in the deep South, Vern Herzer who kindly tagged along to school with Maria for Show and Tell, to speak about being a Native American.  Bob and Roz who fed us Tacos and taught us what  chorizo was all about.  Who would we be without these fabulous people and all these influences?

When President Kennedy was shot, Barbara was grief stricken.  Wondering who would care about "her people" the way she felt he did?

Then not long after that I came home from work that tragic day when Martin Luther King Jr., had been shot.  John visibly upset, saying to  me "Mommy, Mommy they have killed the King"!  He was trying to tell me in his way!  John was six years old!

Prejudices come in many forms.  Islamophobes, Homophobes, and oh, the Gypsies , etc.  Like a snake, crawling in tall grass.  We are all guilty of it to some degree or other, sadly.  I met, this person a while back who not long ago moved to California from Sweden, having landed first in Minnesota just like I did.  This person complained about there being too many Mexicans in the neigbourhood where her friends lived!

As it appears to me prejudices of all kinds, big and small are taught!  I have learned in my personal  life with my own children that they do not "see" skin colour, differences in the shape of eyes, or whether hair is curly or straight.  Unless you point it out to them.  They learn that later as they are growing up through their social contacts.

When I was growing up there were some members of our family who used and liked GARLIC! Imagine that!  They liked salami, God forbid!

What can one say, other than back in the day they burned "witches" at the stake for less!
How would it be if we just tried to be a bit more tolerant?  Allowing people to be different.  Not having  our neighbours necessarily  eat herring and pickled pigs feet if they don't want to.  Embracing immigrants. Being grateful for what they bring into our lives and into our culture.  Variety!  New tastes!  New ways of doing things!  Just because we have done something a certain way for the last 100 years does not always mean it is the ONLY way.  Does it?

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