While this was playing out on my home turf I had a very different experience when visiting my Italian-American and Polish-American relatives in South Omaha.Many of them said racist things, freely using the “n” word and criticizing my parents for staying put as our neighborhood became increasingly integrated and within a few years predominantly black.
By the time I became a journalist in the mid to late 1980s I had personally observed the transformation of my neighborhood from virtually all-white to nearly all-black.
I would remain in that neighborhood, in the house I grew up in, until 2005, my parents having long since moved out.
I saw a lot of things play out in The Hood that gave me a certain appreciation for and understanding of African-American life from a social justice, sociological, cultural, anthropological perspective.
If you’ve noticed I write a lot about race, you’re right. The most recent is with my girlfriend of six months. My interest in dating interracially can be traced in part to my growing up experience.
That is to say I do revisit the subject in various ways in assorted stories, though truthfully race makes up a very small percentage of what I write about. The first of these was of long duration, 12-plus years. I was raised in a northeast Omaha neighborhood that was almost entirely white until I was 10 or 12.
But there are reasons why I keep returning to the topic and some of them are very personal to me. I was born in 1958 and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that blacks could get homes as far “west” as 42nd Street in North Omaha because of restrictive covenants and red lining tactics. As the landmark TV series became a sensation in the very early 1970s my older brothers and I used to joke that our father was our family’s own Archie Bunker.The following cover story for The Reader ( about interracial relationships will appear in that newspaper’s Valentine’s issue. It was an exaggeration to call him that but he definitely had some bigoted attitudes.For proof that God has a sense of humor the first black family on the block moved on one side of us, the second black family on the block moved on the other side of us, and for good measure a single black woman moved across the street.My father and mother got along famously with our black neighbors.My brothers were too old to be playmates or friends with the black neighbor kids but I wasn’t and so I spent a fair amount of time over their homes as they did over my home playing Army Man, ping pong, pool, and just exploring the neighborhood.My folks and the black adults next door to us and the black woman across from us enjoyed amiable, cordial, even warm relationships.