Last week I managed to become embroiled in a heated argument with another old guy in a parking lot in a nearby town. Thankfully it was mercifully short because he walked away, yelling over his shoulder, “And cut your effing hair!” Say what? Other than briefly wishing him dead, all I could do was laugh, having not heard those words since the early 1970s.
Encountering someone still harboring such angry prejudices was astonishing. Hell, decades ago even the farm boys around here began growing their hair and sticking diamond studs through their earlobes.
A lifetime ago I chased rock ‘n’ roll dreams and, while touring with a band across Iowa, it was not unusual for restaurants and bars to refuse to serve us, because we all had long hair. We never caused trouble, simply walking away to search for food elsewhere. Raising a ruckus would have solved nothing, and likely would have made matters worse, and it was the first time this young man from rural America realized prejudices often have real consequences.
So what do you do in a Trumpian world when you realize the very way you look enrages others? I’m at a loss here. Can there be no hope in America for Muslims, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and those who don’t have much money? Have we truly learned nothing? Here is where a huge, over-the-top Wagnerian symphony should be echoing thunder across the universe, warning us that the end surely must be near for a civilization like ours, one wherein the center cannot hold.
Bank of America decides to change its checking account rules, doing the most harm to its poorest customers, and we shrug. The guy in the White House calls Haiti and Africa sh--hole places and our jaws drop for a day and then we move on, all too often because the same guy continuously covers one outlandish prejudice with another and, oh my gosh, it’s truly breathtaking.
Conservative secretaries of state do their best to keep the poor from voting, assuring that those with the most at stake have no voice and no hope, and we look the other way, because we’re not in the affected group. Police harass and arrest those not born white, the kind of thing that should spark a revolution but instead seems to further fuel prejudice.
In her state-of-the-state address Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds offered to be an inspiration to waitresses and grocery store checkers, suggesting that if they dream big and work hard they too can be successful. Well, isn’t she special? I don’t know how she measures success but some of the most successful people I know are, hold your breath, waitresses and grocery store checkers.
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A few weeks ago an old farmer said something to me about “n-babies” and I turned toward him so that he could read my Black Lives Matter T-shirt. All he said was, “Do they?” Never fast on my feet, I said nothing, vowing to simply stay away from the guy. Perhaps that makes me part of the problem. I promise to do better. At least he didn’t comment on my hair.
• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County