Why I'm a Liberal
by Dale Easley
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,
12 January 2001
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
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.