The Year My Conscience Awoke

My Real Memoir

My modest brush with “persecution” seemed to kick loose some new level of awareness in me of when I was in 4th Grade. To be honest, there were lots of things that occupied more real estate in my brain: my paper route; improving my spelling and perfecting my signature (see above evidence); making out my Christmas wish list in September; adventure movies like The Swiss Family Robinson and Journey to the Center of the Earth, plus the best comedy ever Some Like it Hot, as a result of which I developed a major crush on Marilyn Monroe; TV shows like The Twilight Zone (“Submitted for your approval…”) and Rawhide (“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…”); and singing along with the Chipmunks on “Christmas Don’t be Late” (“Me, I want a hula-hoop!”).

Still, I did deliver newspapers. So I heard that some guy named Fidel was the new president of some place called Cuba, and that it made a lot of people less free. Not everyone was free to do or be what they wanted? That just seemed wrong!

Movies opened my eyes further. I saw The Diary of Anne Frank and Ben Hur that year, and learned that Jews had been persecuted forever. This gave me a context for the Jewish boy at our school who was perpetually mocked for being different. I hated this.

I grew more sideways than vertically that year. As a result, for a while I was shoved around and called “Fatty.” But it was nothing compared to what that Jewish kid or our two Japanese-American kids were called. One of whom was particularly proud of his father’s medals for serving on “our side” in WWII. When I stood by him and tried to explain, I was labelled a “Jap-lover.” But it was nothing compared to what he experienced.

I’d seen movies about unique or deformed people, too, and would secretly distort my voice and body, and then look in the bathroom mirror and say lines from those movies, and start to cry.

There were no “negroes” where we lived, and I began to wonder why. A few years later, I saw the movie A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sidney Poitier, one of my favorite actors, about a family “politely” blocked from moving into an all-white suburb. When I learned that a similar incident had happened in our community, I was disgusted. I’d always known I was different too, arty, bookish, a dreamer. And yet I knew…

It was nothing compared to what they experienced.

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to The Year My Conscience Awoke

  1. wynneleon says:

    I love that you stood by the Japanese-American boy and learned both about the internal honor and external derision that doing what is right can sometimes bring. This reminds me of a Mark Twain quote, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”

    Nice post, Mitchell!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Pingback: My Teacher Turned Me Into a Martyr! (I Got Better) | Mitch Teemley

  3. Excellent post, Mitch!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thank you for standing beside your Japanese friend. It’s hard not to join in when you’re young. I hope we can teach kids to do that today. It would change the face of bullying in schools. Wonderful post.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I am a messianic Jew who had a news route when Castro first captured Cuba. Thank you for your kindness. The Jews lead the U.S. still in being the victims of hate crimes. I think the best film ever made about treating or not treating each other as humans made in the image of God was The Elephant Man. I get choked up just thinking about that film.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Hi Mitch. Just like you, I feel disgust whenever minority members of our Human Family face down discrimination; at times, to the point of their getting beaten up / beaten to death. Such inhumanity, in part, is traceable to revolting politicians, who wrongfully accuse minorities of stealing jobs from Caucasians; in reality, the very jobs that have been downsized and outsourced out of existence.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. murisopsis says:

    The world is shrinking and we’d better learn to get along! Being a “melting pot” I have faced discrimination at various points in my life. It has made me more willing to stand up for those beset by bullying and unfair treatment…

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Karla says:

    We really don’t know true persecution do we? I enjoy reading about your childhood. Who you are today is because of those experiences. At a young age you had the kindness to stand up for what was simply right; but that tugging in your artistic mind was already the working of a humble heart. I witnessed a lady at the post office speaking hateful to a Japanese family, new to our area. It bothered my heart and I made sure I shared kindness to them as they were leaving. On a side note, Mitch, your handwriting is wonderful! It’s the teacher in me, lol. And you remind me a bit of Beaver Cleaver! I’m an old sold, I’ve been watching westerns my entire life. Rawhide being a favorite. I also love The Rifleman and my family laughs when I tell them I’m watching the newest episode. Thank you for being a light in this world.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. beth says:

    i love these memories and what you learned.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great post, Mitch. I grew up in the country so there were no minorities I know of. The first time we had any dealing with a black person was in high school when two black girls enrolled and I heard so much hate spoken at that time that I couldn’t believe it was coming from some of the people who said it. I have friends of all backgrounds now but will never forget the day my sister took my young daughter to a movie for the first time. When they got home my daughter was excited, telling me “there was a lady there who has skin the color of oil. Is that alright?” I told her it was fine and gave her the first of many talks about skin color not being something to judge people by, but how the person reacts to that is sometimes a problem. A few years later a cousin from out of state was visiting and said something about going to a “colored” church. I almost cheered out loud when my daughter asked her what color the church was, knowing exactly what my cousin was talking about all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. gregoryjoel says:

    Great story Mitch! I remember when the first African American family moved onto my grandmother’s block. Within two weeks there were 8 for sale signs up. I work with communities directly impacted by white flight – no access to healthy food. It’s hard to keep going some days – it seems like it will never change – but little victories keep the hope alive. Thank you for being an ally at a young age and continuing “ally-ship” today.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Hetty Eliot says:

    No one ever, ever, ever regrets doing the right thing when they’re a kid.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. scribelady says:

    Reblogged this on Country Ripples.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Ann Coleman says:

    Learning to see the world from someone else’s eyes is always a good thing, I think. And using that knowledge to try to do the right thing to help is even better!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Nancy Ruegg says:

    No doubt you’ve benefited many people, Mitch, since you first started demonstrating empathy. That’s an unusual trait in a nine or ten-year old boy!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I really love this post, Mitch. As I came to the end of it, I wished that it had gone on & on.
    I wished to read more and maybe continue to feel.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. It’s true that people who look like me (white male) have, as a group, experienced nothing like what some others, like the groups and others you’ve mentioned, have experienced. That’s changing to some degree, however, because of media and political attacks on so-called “white supremacists.”

    On a side note, The Twilight Zone (the original) is easily, IMHO, one of the top three shows ever made. And Ben-Hur (1959, with Charlton Heston) is way, way up there in terms of movies!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Appreciate you sharing your journey and that you were so thoughtful about things you saw. That’s the thing, there were others in the same place as you, but you saw, you considered. I suppose it’s partly attributed to how God wired us.

    Liked by 2 people

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