Me and Prejudice

posted in: The Stories of Pitman NJ | 0

By Rev. Tom White, August 9, 2017 — From my earliest years, I was taught that there are differences in people; some people were “different.”  Sometimes we were the different ones.

Let me say that I did not learn prejudices from my father or mother, but from a larger circle of relatives and acquaintances, it was different.

As a child, I was spending a week with an aunt in suburban Philadelphia. Her house was straight out of Better Homes and Gardens.  It had no fewer than four toilets.  One was located in the basement, where my brother and I liked to play.  My aunt admonished us not to use the toilet down there because “that’s the one used by the maid,” and “she was colored.”

From then on, it was used by us regularly.  I suppose it was our way of saying:  “So what?”

My grandparents were Irish; but they were very prejudiced against most Irish. One day I asked my father:  “What are ‘micks’ and ‘harps?’”

He said “‘Micks’ are Protestant Irish, ‘Harps’ are Catholic Irish.”  My grandfather always spoke negatively about the Harps.  Although this does not excuse their prejudices, I could understand how they got so bitter.  The general public discriminated against them because they were Irish.  Many times my grandfather saw signs that read: Help wanted, no Irish need apply. The Catholic Irish taunted him because (quote)—“He was the wrong kind of Irish.”

But I still had some lessons to learn.  As a teenager, I was told that to go swimming at Lake Oberst you had to get a membership card.  Why this new policy?  I was told that it was “to keep the colored people out because they were too raucous and they made trouble.”

My response was that the lake owners were targeting the wrong people. It was the Italians they ought to keep out.  I judged this to be true because of the antics of a few, especially the families of boys in school.  In fact, not only were Italians troublemakers, but so were Catholics. Between the Italians—and you know that all Italians are Catholics—as well as all the Harps were Catholics.

It was only in my young-adult years that I learned that those troublemaking boys—the Barberas, the Paglias, the Pirris—were actually all Protestants!!

Like I said, it was an education.

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