“They're marching, Charles,” my mother told my father in one of the earliest exchanges between them I can recall.
“Who's marching?” he asked.
“The colored people.”
The venue was downtown Sandusky, a central shopping district in the mid-1960s. The cause was the civil rights movement. The march likely occurred around 1968, perhaps after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.
Referring to blacks as colored people was standard language; it wasn't offensive. By the 1970s, however, the words “blacks” or “African Americans” had replaced the term in common usage.
Other words to describe blacks and practices designed to oppress minorities were common in the period, and before then even harsher words and harsher practices were employed.
In the mid-60s it was also pretty standard to hear Polack jokes (making fun of people from Poland), jokes about blacks, women and supposed humor about Jewish people, people with developmental disabilities or physical handicaps. It was all pretty standard fare, but society changed, and by practice, effectively outlawed public displays of bad humor.
There was “white Philco” in Sandusky where white people were employed to build radio tubes and later television tubes, and there was “black Philco,” where blacks worked doing the same thing at the same wage.
The segregated factories represented considerable progress for civil rights, jobs and equal opportunity for blacks. Most people alive today don't even know it was that way, or what it meant or how racism and prejudice challenged the lives of those in the minority in those days.
Change is generational. That seemed obvious on Friday as a reporter Andy tracked down a story about a Norwalk councilman's racist email he forwarded to some city officials and friends. The email, with spelling and grammatical errors, is presented as if written by African-Hispanic school girl telling about winning a spelling bee.
“I gots a 47 percent on the spelin text and 38 points for being black, 10 points for not bringin drugs to class, 10 points for not bringin guns to class, and 15 points for not getting pregnut during the cemester. It be hard to beat a score of 12 percent,” the email reads, in part.
“In hindsight, I can see how it can be interpreted as racist... but that wasn’t my intent when I sent it. I thought it was humorous,” Carleton told the Register.
That's a straight-up answer. He simply did not see how offensive the email is and saw humor in it rather than discerning how it demeans others. In hindsight, it seemed Carleton really wanted to take another look and understand how he could have misinterpreted the email, or found it funny.
It will be interesting to learn how that turns out and whether it will reflect the same view from some some city officials who already weighed in with their thoughts.
“It's unacceptable. It was a poor choice,” first-term mayor Rob Duncan reacted.
“I was shocked,” city law director Stuart O'Hara said. “I didn’t care for the joke, if that’s what it was suppose to be.”