Why I'm a Liberal

by Dale Easley
12 January 2001

When I was a preschool child, we attended the Baptist church in the small town where I grew up. Most of the kids my age were from a large extended family that dominated the church. Nearly everyone was related some way or another---except me. Besides that, I had an additional burden---my mom was raising me to be a nice kid. As Garrison Keillor said,
You taught me to be nice, so that now I am so full of niceness, I have no sense of right and wrong, no outrage, no passion.

When the other kids picked on me, yeah, I knew their behavior was wrong, but I took the humiliation rather than stopping being nice. I got my ears tugged and hair pulled, but I didn't get angry and fight back---we were in church, of all places.

So why were they picking on me? Simply because I was different, and because they could get away with it. It was my first insight into the clannishness of Yugoslavia or Somalia, or parts of the South, especially small towns. No, no one died from it, and my life hasn't been ruined, but certainly my life was shaped by it. Part of my identity became seeing myself as an outsider. Added to that, the first time I really felt accepted by my peers was among the African-American kids where my mom worked.

Mom was a school secretary in what had been the black high school before integration. She went to work there in 1970, the year the school system in my hometown was integrated. I rode the bus to her school to wait for her to get off work, and then, later, went to school there for four years. In fifth grade, I began playing basketball on the playground while waiting for her. I discovered that if I could play well enough, I would get picked to be on teams and, if we won, get to continue playing on the court. It didn't matter if I was the only white kid on the court, as I often was. What mattered was how I played.

Unfortunately, society cared about other things, and the kids on the playground haven't fared so well. When I was in 8th grade, we had the best team in the county, and I was the only white guy who started. By 12th grade only one person off of that team was playing at the high school, and he was too high most of the time to accomplish much. Because I was white I had other avenues for success, and opportunities continued to appear. For the rest, there was the military or prison, or both.

I've benefited tremendously from American society---scholarships, free libraries, opportunities to travel, a decent job. I think any person who calls himself a self-made man deserves a whack up side the head for ingratitude. But mostly, I just wish it could have been different for those other kids---not the white ones pulling my hair; they can all go to hell---no, I wish the playgrounds we grew up on had been a bit more level. That's why I'm a liberal.