I never thought that I might be a racist until just recently.
To be sure, anyone born and raised in New Albany, Ind., in the 1950s would be exposed to racism. I recollect my dad explaining to me the difference between a “colored guy” and the N-word. My dad’s willingness to share a meal with a colored guy actually typed him as more progressive than some. Annual visits to my grandmother in Kentucky were highlighted by going to the Mercer County Fair with its sulky races, corn dogs and “coloreds only” bathrooms.
But I went to college at Vanderbilt, a bastion of southern enlightenment. I took the first course in black history ever offered at Vandy. Too bad there were only five or six black students in the class. On my own I read Wright, Baldwin, Fanon and Cleaver. I voted for Bobby Kennedy and cried when he and Dr. King were murdered. I bought my first home in Oak Park in 1976 and have lived here ever since. I don’t want to live anywhere else.
But at 7 a.m. on a Saturday last month I was out on my morning jog/walk and I noticed that Madison Street between Lombard and Austin was abuzz with activity. Black women were pouring into beauty salons. And for the life of me this white boy couldn’t figure out why so many black women would be getting their hair done so early in the morning.
I thought that I would call a black woman friend and just ask her. One problem: I didn’t know any black women well enough to ask the question. That disappointment initiated a cascade of reflections regarding my friendship with blacks. I’ve lived in a community that prides itself on its diversity, and I couldn’t recall ever being to a black baptism, wedding or funeral. Very few African-Americans have ever been to my house. I tried to remember a black person at a block party. Oh, I’ve had lots of serious discussions about race — just not any with black people. To be sure, I sat with the black fathers at basketball games, and served with black men and women on the YMCA board. At the time that made me feel good about living in Oak Park, but those relationships in hindsight were situational and not very substantial.
How can I have lived so long in Oak Park, yet have so few meaningful relationships with persons of color? Is that a bad thing? If so, whose fault is it? Do I give off a racist vibe? Is there something wrong with me? To be honest I don’t really think there is anything very sinister at work here. It just makes me sad.
John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one.