I’ve been a big believer in Charles Barkley’s infamous line, “Sports stars are not role models.”
We see it all the time, right? A kid looks up to some sports figure and idolizes him. Wants to be just like him. Makes him his hero. And then the hero makes a horrible choice, or reveals himself as who he really is, and the kid is crushed.
The latest: Conor McGregor
My retort to Barkley has always been: You should look up to your parents, not some sports star or entertainer.
But even that fails. So often…
In the past few years, I found out the man I looked up to my whole life was a jerk. A racist. A big fucking jackass.
That’s hard to say.
Now, I knew my grandpa used to be a racist. I mean, he said bad things. He thought bad thoughts. And in the end, he evolved. He stopped saying hurtful things. I truly think he transformed from a racist to a loving person.
The racism he exhibited in my youth was nothing compared to what he did to his own son…and I hate that part about him. I want to think it didn’t happen. But it did. It hurts my heart.
I didn’t know about this until long after his death. And it happened long before I was born. Time does change a person, especially if they’re receptive to change. So, again, I hope he evolved from that. But he still did it and it sucks.
Here’s what happened: My uncle met his future wife and my grandparents didn’t like her solely because of her race. To thwart their attempt at being together, they literally sent him away, to another state, to work for his uncle in Arizona.
Now, I’d heard that part, about him working for my great uncle. But I hadn’t heard the real reason: To keep him away from his future wife (yes, they got married and still are married, 50+ years later, so I guess it all worked out for them).
I’d always believed my uncle and aunt didn’t visit my grandparents often (especially when they became sick) because they didn’t care.
Life has a way of punching you in the nuts, especially when you assume you know everything like I did when I was a teenager. I assumed they were selfish jerks for not helping my mom take care of their own parents.
But maybe not. Maybe it was karma. Or payback. You know, they say it’s a bitch.
Or maybe they were still steaming over the way they had been treated.
My Aunt Anita is awesome. I love her to death. Whenever I went to their house, I felt nothing but love and care. (Except she always made me salami sandwiches with mayonnaise!)
She made me laugh, too. Still does.
I just never knew my grandparents didn’t like her because of her race.
I’ve never understood that. I doubt I ever will.
But it’s now clear–and immensely sad–to me that my hero, my grandfather, was so racist as to send his son away to keep him away from a girl who wasn’t white.
I haven’t told you why my grandfather was my hero. Maybe in a future post. I don’t know. I don’t think I have any heroes left.