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Prompted By Prejudice

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My maternal grandfather was my first exemplar of bigotry. It didn’t take me long in life to begin to wonder if there was any group of human beings that he didn’t detest.

My maternal grandfather was my first exemplar of bigotry.

I eventually narrowed it down to Norwegians.

I also noticed that all of these groups of people were designated by the word “the.” The definite article served to objectify them just a  bit more, to encapsulate them into the tight little containers that allowed him to dismiss them, to ignore all individuality among them, to consider that some of them might not be…like that. How could they not be, when they were ALL “like that?” Worse, these disparate groups were all forever on the verge of “taking over” and he really dreaded that day.

I learned very early in life that Pop-Pop was a hateful little gnome and generally full of shit.

Without exaggeration, these are the groups of people that I remember my Grandfather talking down upon. The words used are his, except for one example that I will gladly bowdlerize:

The “Blacks.” Except he usually didn’t use the word “blacks.” If he was feeling kind he said “coloreds. He was seldom kind.

The “Spics.” Which in his time were people from Puerto Rico, not Mexico or elsewhere. Blame West Side Story.

The “Micks.” Which amused my many friends of Irish heritage.

The “Wops.” Like me, like me…. Occasionally they were referred to as “Dagos” or “Guineas.” He once called me a wop in front of my Dad. Only once.

The “Faggots.” I severely doubt he ever knew of even one.

The “Gypsies.” I think my town had, then, maybe five Rom families, living in a building on Broadway at around 23rd St. But dammit, to him they were a threat!

The “Broads.” I guess he was annoyed that he only had daughters..

The “Polocks.” I had more Polish friends than Irish!

The “Swedes.” Seriously. Norwegian v Swedish rivalry and dislike was a real thing.

The “damned Democrats.” His hatred of FDR was almost cartoonlike.

The “Jews.” Originality was never his forte.

The “Hippies” and their close associates, the “peaceniks.” Whom I think were mainly “faggots” in his mind.

This was the environment that produced my Mom. Presumably my dad grew up immersed in a similar foul stew. How they managed to be, as far as I could tell, two of the least bigoted white people in the Greatest Generation is beyond my ken.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: bigotry, prejudice, grandparents, generations
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    Pop-pop had a pretty full catalogue of others to despise….Sometimes kids rebel against their parents, and don’t simply turn into them. Thank goodness your parents didn’t become like Pop-pop. He certainly would have been a MAGA enthusiast. So hard to understand what twists in a person can cause that.

  2. Dave, thanx for your grim story, and so wonderful that your parents managed to overcome the sins of their fathers and were able to pass their moral sensibilities on to you.!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    It sounds as if Archie Bunker could have been modeled on your Pop-pop. Glad your mother didn’t incorporate his thinking into her world-view and pass it along to you. Too many like him aren’t afraid to share their thoughts openly now. In fact, TFG eggs them on now. What a sorry state of affairs.

  4. Your piece–and specific, your enumeration of all the groups–called back to mind a section of the Spike Lee film, Do the Right Thing. I wonder if your grandfather would have enjoyed this? That is, if he would let himself see a movie made by one of “those people.”
    I liked your first point and title. Use of “the” in front of any group diminishes them by overgeneralizing, as you stated. I first learned to avoid this misuse of language in talking about people who have disabilities: no more speaking of “the disabled,” “the blind,” “the mentally ill,” etc.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      I doubt he would have cared who directed a film; he watched baseball and cheered no matter who scored for his team (The Mets; so like him…).

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Damn, but Spike did some extensive linguistic research for that scene! I’d completely forgotten about, among others, “mita-mita,” “spaghetti-bender” and “tootsoon (sp).” I think Spike made up “360-degree basketball dunkin'”, though. We would have considered that to be high praise!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I would like to hope that your grandfather’s attitudes are gone, but Trump and MAGA has allowed this thinking to emerge from under its rock. So sad.

  6. Another sad story. I welcomed Bill Cosby (back then) as part of I Spy and Diahann Carroll on Julia and Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier with Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones … the incomplete repressive production practices actually help me to overcome some of our racism.

  7. Dave: He missed the word for Jews, Kike.
    This term had derived from a double prejudice. Its origin was Kiker or one who circled. Many immigrant Jews in New York were poor and illiterate. For religious reasons, they did not want to make a cross for their signature or an x . So they made a circle. Later this term lost its original significance. It was generally used from inspirations in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion which claimed they ruled the economy and planned to conquer the world.
    It is a great irony that the first use of the word applied to the poor, the second applied to the rich. The meaning of this story is no matter where one stands–rich or poor, black or brown, male or female,–the bigots can think up reasons to hate you.

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