16 Jan 2012

The Way Things Were a.k.a. Holy Fuck, 1965

If you know this blog, you know I loves me some vintage living. But what I like to explore - however ridiculously at times - is how a chapter in history was reflected in its media (and, in turn, the ideals and values that were impressed upon the culture). Well, that, and disgusting retro recipes. This is not, however, entirely reflective of reality. If you were to go purely by the 1950s women's magazines I own, you'd think, "race relations? What race relations? Shouldn't we be busying ourselves with a Jell-O mold right now?"

But come 1963-ish, magazine cover stories became less about "Soups Men Love!" and more about stuff like this (you'll know it when you see it):

"When A Negro Family Moves Next Door", written by Suzanne Hart Straight for Parents' magazine, January 1965. Oh, cringe.

I debated posting this entry because, well, it's totally horrible. That, and I'm a giant pussy whose intellect is more on the level with topics of Marshmallow Fluff than racism. But seeing as Martin Luther King Jr.'s life is celebrated today, it seems appropriate to remind people (and in some cases, educate people for the very first time) what he and those who fought for civil rights and dignity were up against.

Despite the unfortunate opinions expressed by some of the people interviewed in this article, I'm quite thankful for it, as it provides a look into what people really were thinking and feeling at the time without a PC-filter. It shows how far we've come, but it can also, perhaps, allow us to connect a few dots between those attitudes and how we view other groups and minorities in society today.

Isn't it weird to see those words in a magazine? It startles me that an article like this was relevant just 47 years ago and during my parents' lifetime (Barrack Obama would have been four years old, and my mom - whose birthday is today! Happy Birthday, mom, sorry to hijack it with this hate crime! - would have been eight.). It is downright strange to read what "normal" people once (?) were concerned about when it came to black people and all kinds of horrifying to read the vile things less-than-normal people were proud to express to a nationally-read magazine.

What's more, as I was reading, I had to keep reminding myself that this discussion wasn't about some weirdo town in the South that we all figure was full-on batshit racist, but was instead a middle-class neighbourhood in New Jersey. Yeah, buddy.

Let's not kid ourselves, there are still plenty of shitty things going on out there, said and done by people who weirdly claim it's not hateful (it's free speech! It's my religious belief! It's a genuine threat! It's hilarious! It's against my vision of America! The founding fathers wouldn't like it! Their hair products cloudy up my pool!). Give me a fucking break, you fucking fuckstains.

The author of  "When A Negro Family Moves Next Door" does what I clearly can't do (as I just demonstrated); she responds to some really heinous opinions calmly, with facts and without a lot of judgement, possibly because she knew that you win more flies with honey and that, at the time, Parents' probably had a fair share of readers who related to what was being said by these neighbours.

But that shouldn't stop you or I for letting a "holy fuck!" or a "oh, hell no!" fly out of our mouths while reading this, particularly when you get to the part where "Mr. Heath's" shithead opinion is shared. I mean, just look at what this asshole has to say:

Ugh. Yes, please leave, Mr. Heath.

But the article isn't just a bunch of awful quotes. It shows a turning of a tide, people who were clearly rational and thoughtful and no doubt helped to shape the attitudes of their own neighbours. And - as a lesson for me, they did it without calling anyone a "fucking fuckstain":

So, without further ado, here's the article in its entirety, followed by a "Group Discussion Article" - some questions and information for people to use when discussing this article with friends, family, co-workers, or neighbours (I love that! Gold star, Parents'!). You should be able to open these images into a separate tab where you can expand them to a legible size:

Discussion Prompts:

So, thoughts? Anything surprise you? Can you share any memories (or perhaps stories from your parents) from this time? Does any of it feel familiar when thinking of other groups that are currently marginalized in our society?

And finally, how are you spending Martin Luther King Jr. Day?


Keeley 2:07 pm, January 16, 2012  

Thank you for sharing this. I know you've been studying the 1950's (and 1960's?) and I was wondering when/if the issue of racial differences would come up.

I'm a 31 year old Black American woman and sadly, none of this surprises me. I was a child in NJ in the 1980s and I hate to say it, but I heard statements like this... 30 years after this article was written.

We can do better.

Anonymous,  3:05 pm, January 16, 2012  

Sometimes I think I must be so sheltered, because this is *ALL* so surprising and alarming to me. I've always lived in a multicultural city (Toronto), I'm of mixed race, and I've *NEVER* heard people speak this way about black people or any other group (besides in movies)! I think racism is much more subtle now because it is so unacceptable.

Di Smith 3:57 pm, January 16, 2012  

Wow. Shocked and appalled and bloody well disgusted doesn't come close to describing my thoughts on that article. Wow.

Your response (um, ending with stains...) is pretty close to what I'm thinking - it just lacks the passionate rage when the f-bombs are omitted.

I'm so happy that my kids are not exposed to this kind of attitude, that they're taught at home, at school and at church to value people regardless of race, religion, class, language, gender, sexual orientation, etc... To love and accept PEOPLE, fer cryin' out loud.

Will ask my parents about the '60's and this unbelievably tragic and ridiculous attitude of hate.

Melissa O. 6:11 pm, January 16, 2012  

On the one hand you can tell that the lady writing the article is trying hard to overcome her own prejudices. However, her rationalizations can be down right appalling. I know in some ways society has a long way to go towards equality but I'm thankful that progress has been made. As a Southern, white, Christian mother, I strive everyday to teach my boys to love one another no matter what someone looks like, sounds like, acts like, etc. And sometimes my oldest looks at me with "Duh, Mom" expression on his face. This makes me smile because to him it's natural to do that.

Thanks for sharing the article. I read it with interest and a little horror! :) I would be curious to know if they ever had to deal with this on Maple Terrace and how the neighborhood handled it. Hopefully, there was a HUGE and rowdy farewell party for Mr. Heath!

longerthoughts 7:36 pm, January 16, 2012  

Thanks for sharing. This isn't your main point, but with respect, I would say that we have come a long way - in fact, farther than you think. Because I think several of the examples in your rapid-fire linked collection of "hateful" stories are in fact not examples of hate. The Arizona immigration law is probably the best example - most people in favor of that law favored it because they wanted to reduce illegal immigration, believed that the federal government wasn't doing enough and thought that the state needed to do whatever it could. Whatever you may think of the law, that was their motivation. They didn't hate Hispanics, the charge leveled at them by many in the media. (I remember an NPR survey that found that 27% of Hispanics favored the law - a minority, sure, but an awful large minority to explain away if you think support for the law is really the result of racism!) Oh, I've little doubt you could find a few people that favored the law because they were racists, but they would represent only a small and irrelevant minority.

And I would make a similar argument about *some* of your other links.

Why does this matter? I think we should be very careful not to accuse someone (or some group) of "hate" or any of its specific forms (e.g., racism) without exceedingly good evidence, because every time you make an accusation that someone doesn't believe, you diminish the future power of that accusation for everyone. Racism is probably the best example - that charge has been so common in politics in the last 20 years that many people today literally laugh when they hear it. They just assume it isn't true, and you'd have to work incredibly hard to convince them otherwise, because 49 of the last 50 times they heard it it didn't appear to be true. A charge that should make people gasp instead makes them roll their eyes. What a terrible situation for the next person who really is a victim of racism.

Anne 9:11 pm, January 16, 2012  

Woah. I don't even know what to say about that. I do think that the good thing about this article is how shocked and appalled we all are by it. To me, that more than anything shows how far we've come.

But still. Woah. My eyes bugged out seeing some of those words in print.

Stephanie 10:51 am, January 17, 2012  

You know, I remember my parents saying the same things ten years back - but about gay and lesbian couples moving into the neighborhood, not African-Americans.

Northern Living Allowance 11:31 am, January 17, 2012  

I watched "Mad Men S1" several months back and while I enjoyed it, my modern self just wanted to throw a shoe through the screen and knock some sense into these people. This is just typical of the time: women were secretaries and called "sweetheart" at the office, men smoked and drank at the office and were the boss and bringer-of-bacon, wife stayed home with the kiddos, people were quite appalled - almost paranoid - of divorcees, etc. This is what it was when it was. I sincerely hope we've come a long way (baby!) since then, but it is an individual thing as well, and we're all responsible for making these changes within our selves to help things continue to be better.

Meagan 1:53 pm, January 17, 2012  

Wow. That's horrible.

I live in a predominately white, Christian area in Utah. I remember my sister (probably 7 years old, 12 years ago) telling my mom that some kids couldn't play with her friend because she had two moms. My parents never had an issue with my sister playing there. In fact, they made the "two mom" thing seem like no big deal--and it's not a big deal, but in this area they were evidently the odd parents letting their daughter play at the home of a lesbian couple.

I'm glad we're making progress, I just wish it was happening faster.

Anonymous,  9:25 pm, January 17, 2012  

Wow. And while we've come far, I think we still have a ways to go, as evidenced by the hysteria around the LGBT community, Muslims, the Mexican border ... 50 years from now, I'm sure a future generation will be mocking our headlines. At least, I hope that's the case.

doubledutchduh,  11:16 am, January 23, 2012  


You just keep on with that, bucko. What about illegal immigrants who look "American"? Speak English? Do you think they are a target of that law? Hmm? No? Interesting.

Arizona has a helluva track record. Context is important.

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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