By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
These people are my parents.
Perhaps they’re a lot like yours. Maybe not at all.
Mom grew up on Chicago’s South Side, Dad was reared in an archetypical suburban neighborhood in upstate New York.
Either of their stories could be considered the classic American upbringing, and despite differing in a host of ways, their lives shared plenty of similarities.
Neither of their families was measurably rich, but neither dirt poor.
Both enjoyed the loving embrace of family, although the structures and casts of characters varied.
Church played a prominent role in both their lives. Mom learned to sing there, honing a skill that would later propel her to a fair level of celebrity, while Dad attended parochial schools, looking for any opportunity to make a mockery of the system. Let’s just say my devout grandmother was regularly displeased.
And both parents got the hell out of their hometowns at the first opportunity.
They met when my father followed his love for jazz into a small Iowa club, where my mother was the featured vocalist of the evening.
As a mixed-race couple in the Midwest in the mid-1960s, my parents had some serious guts. As they were crossing a street together in Cedar Rapids one afternoon, a white motorist noticed my obviously pregnant mother, rolled down his window and barked at my father, “Boy, you oughta be shot!”
When I was born, it was illegal for them to be married and live together in 17 states.
Yes, se-ven-teen. Nearly one-third of the nation. Could have made a cross-country road trip kinda awkward.
Mine has always been a multiracial world. As a kid, I remember a girl named Lucretia insisting on the school bus that I must be either black or white, but certainly couldn’t be both. She was really a sweet girl, but simply didn’t understand that in my universe, there was never one side versus the other.
Maybe what I didn’t understand is how very real the differing expectations of life are – depending on skin color. Some will vehemently refute that notion, but generations have lived it as their “normal,” while huge demographics have absolutely no frame of reference from which to comprehend the idea.
A recent video posted on TikTok shows a family – a black man, white woman and their child – taking part in a quick survey. They’re asked to put down one of their 10 outstretched fingers for every “yes” answer to experiences like being called a racial slur, denied service for no apparent reason or followed around a store unnecessarily.
The man runs out of fingers before the questions stop, while the woman finishes with all 10 still up.
My life has been generally peaceful and rewarding, mostly free of prolonged need or suffering. I had only two fingers up at the end of the quiz.
As an adult, multiculturalism has continued into my marriage and family life, and honestly, in that way, I’m pretty darn lucky. From birth, I have always lived with the idea that we all simply have no choice but to find a way to work it all out.
Now seems like a good time to put that idea back into wide circulation.
Protests are events born of society’s unaddressed ills, announced by voices forced out of silence. That’s where we find ourselves at this particular moment in history.
There are many names to say out loud, the uncountable whose stories preceded George Floyd. We have a national shame to confront, and until we do so frankly and honestly, there will be many names to follow Mr. Floyd.
Historian Shelby Foote said the roots of the Civil War took hold “because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise. Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising. Our true genius is for compromise. Our whole government’s founded on it. And, it failed.”
We’re failing again, folks.
As a journalist, my tendency is to defend the media before the message, to promote the free exchange of ideas and opinions. The 21st century has posed a formidable set of challenges to everything humans have ever known about communicating. And yes, social media is at the heart of it.
When the South seceded from the Union, deep-rooted and fundamental differences had driven states apart. People of like minds huddled together to reinforce their beliefs, to find confirmation and affirmation in friendly confines.
Social media brings the ability to retreat into our own camps to our fingertips – literally – and amplifies the strength of whatever message we choose to hear. The enormous difference now, from any other point in history, is how distressingly efficient online communication is at silencing any and all opposing views.
We isolate ourselves in our own echo chambers and preach to our own choirs. That only serves to drive us apart. Factions are at their worst when their zeal runs amok, and have a history of dividing republics. Abraham Lincoln struggled mightily against such an out-of-control storm and somehow maintained a steady hand of leadership, and kept a disintegrating union intact.
What we are seeing now – frankly, amid a glaring lack of any form of inclusive national guidance – is a desperate call for some dialogue … remember that word? It originates from Latin and Greek, meaning “to converse with.”
The marches and demonstrations are not the result of troublemakers nor rabble rousers. Hundreds of thousands of folks were not sitting idly at home looking for an excuse to stir up trouble. They had to be pushed, catalyzed into going out in enormous numbers – and to do so during a pandemic.
Those people clogging our streets are longing for the conversation, to speak and to feel they are being heard, and to consider what they hear in return.
And let’s not equate the demonstrator with those who will take the occasion to vandalize property and loot stores. MLK once called a riot “the language of the unheard,” and true as his words are, we all have a moral duty to look out for each other and not act like criminals ourselves. Those folks will face their own reckoning, one way or another.
The opening track on Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life” is a heartfelt plea for civility, and a potent opening to a superb collection of music. The lyric of “Love’s in Need of Love Today” is formatted as a late-night TV ad, imploring listeners to gather love and “Don’t delay, send yours in right away.”
I’m sending out as much as I can stuff into the envelope.
Mikey Hirano Culross is the Rafu sports editor. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Rafu Shimpo.