by Richard K. Munro
I learned a lot about White Privilege from my father an immigrant who worked NIGHTS in the slaughterhouses of NYC where the UN is now.
My father worked five nights a week while he was in high school. He wasn’t able to do any activities at school -even date girls- or play sports (he had been a star soccer player in his home country). He did at times fall asleep in Mr. Sullivans 11th grade English class 7th period. But he never was late to school or missed a single day. At one time (during the Great Depression) he was the only person working in his household his father having been laid off in 1932.
There were many of his classmates and neighbors who worked in the slaughter houses. It wore them down and they slept in and missed many classes. Most dropped out.
Once my father turned in an essay with dark stains on it. Mr. Sullivan was very angry until to his shock he realized the spots were blood stains from the slaughter house and my father had finished the essay on his break at 100 AM.
My father endured and suffered and worked because
1) he had a loving mother who helped keep him feed and in clean clothes 2) some older men who were co-workers who looked after my father and let him sleep on the subway on the way home at 4AM.
My father never asked for any favors. He turned his entire paycheck 1932-1937 to his mother. He had one advantage -he studied in a Jesuit run k-6 school in Glasgow, Scotland and so learned to read and write in standard English (though English was not his native language) reasonably well. In Scotland the Headmaster said there were only two choices for him -the Army or the docks. At that time there was only one Catholic HS in Glasgow. Only the top students and those who studied for the priesthood were admitted. My grandmother said, “Och no, there’s a third choice. AMERRRICA.” The reason they came to America was so my father could have a CHANCE at an education.
Class prejudice. Religious prejudice. Ethnic prejudice were all things endured by my father -he was from the lowest orders of society Teuchters (Gaelic speaking Highlanders) and Joad-flittin hairstfolk (Migrant Irish farm workers). In addition to that his family was impoverished and forced into emigration to the four winds. His mother MARY MUNRO lost two brothers, a brother in law, and seven nephews and cousins killed in the Great War. As a small boy my father visited limbless veterans who were relatives or neighbors. The died one by one from 1919-1935.
There is a thing called CLASS PRIVILEGE (something Mr Obama had in abundance most of his life) and I suppose there is an advantage to be stubborn and healthy. I would prefer to have money and connections over any so-called “WHITE PRIVILEGE” anyday.
But my father was the only person in his family to graduate from high school (Manual Training High School in Brooklyn). and then kept on working and graduated from Brooklyn College. He enlisted in the US Army in Dec 1941 as a e-1 private. He worked his way up to E-5 Sergeant in the MPs 1941-1943 then was picked to attend OCS where he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. He rose to the rank of 1st Lt (the only officer in the history of our family by the way) and at the end General Sutherland on the recommendation of Gen MacArthur offered him a regular commission as a Captain in the US Army. He often said that if he had been in India in 1890 he would have accepted but he had not seen my mother for almost five years (they were married June 14, 1941). She did not want to live in a tent in Manila and after all she was already 30 years old in 1946. My father came home and went to night school at NYU on the GI Bill. He remained is the US Army Reserve until July 1953.
My father was never a millionaire or an influential person but he was a good father and husband (that was the biggest advantage I had a solid loving family life). He played ball with me and taught me how to keep score at baseball games, He never played golf or activities that would keep him from his family. Almost all of our modest vacations were family vacations though I remember once we stayed at my grandmother’s apartment when they went on a cruise to Bermuda in 1962. He was a remarkable autodidact. He taught himself ANCIENT GREEK, RUSSIAN, ITALIAN. In high school in NY he studied FRENCH, GERMAN and LATIN. He read all the great Italian authors, Greek authors, German authors, Latin authors, French authors in the original. He had an advantage because his Scots dialect helped him with German and his Gaelic helped him with French. During WW2 he was stationed in Puerto Rico, Lousiana and Texas. He taught himself Spanish. He was then sent to the Pacific Theater and 1944 -1946 was in the Phillippines in the Transporation Corps. He commanded a company of US soldiers and a batallion of Pinoy (Filipino) cargadores who only spoke Tagalog so he learned Tagalog. They called him Mbuti Teniente the Good Lieutenant. One of the things his did was make sure the workers got ice cold Coca Cola at least once a week and he would never drink his until each man had got his drink. Then he would take a break and joke and talk to the cargadores or sometimes the local priests (one who was Irish from Glasgow and the other was Spanish).
While in the army my father, who was a natural teacher, tutored African-American soldiers with the help of an Irish-American chaplain and a local African-American minister and his wife. My father believed if given a chance those men could improve and learn. Many of his men later became NCOs some became ministers! He risked his commission but the Commanding officer , the Chaplain and the local community backed him up and he was given a recommendation at the end. The men were very grateful. When he was overseas from time to time some of his former soldiers would vist him if they happened to be in the area. Challenge and response. An individual choice to help others and individual choice to take advantage to improve oneself. Most progressed but my father said some used the free time to goof off. That’s human nature.
My father was the Entertainment officer for his Batallion and so he would pick the movies so one of his things he would do would invite people to see his movies. One of the persons who saw movies with him was ROBERT MONTGOMERY whom he knew in the war. My father had a signed picture of Montgomery which said TO MY FRIEND TOM MUNRO FROM BOB MONTGOMERY. My father also arranged for General MacArthur to see Laurence Oliver’s HENRY V in technicolor. My father had the only technicolor copy in the Pacific (Eisenhower saw it in Black and White by the way).
So my father briefly met Generall MacArthur and used to tell some stories about him. MacArthur, after inspecting his base said to my father, “MUNRO that’s a fine old Scotch name isn’t it? It isn’t Italian!” My father saluted and said, “NOT AS OLD AND DISTINGUISHED as the NAME MACARTHUR”. Old Mac cracked a smile.
My father taught me that to be happy and successful
#1 thing is working hard consistently while being on time and reliable
#2 try to get along with people . Be polite and not too sensitive.
#3 treat all people with respect ESPECIALLY the poor, women and children. My father also said “never date a girl who wouldn’t be a good mate.” My father said one of the most important decisions in you life is choosing a good life partner. If you are lucky you can have a nice family and many years of trust and companionship. My father and mother were married for 59 1/2 years and separated only by war and death.
#4 never seek a fight but don’t shun it if it is forced on you. Some people want to fight or steal and so sometimes you have to fight back. You might not always win but you will make the bad guy think twice about tangling with you. Keep your doors and windows locked at night and have a plan if someone breaks in.
#5 live your life with honor. He often said, “this is the only life you have this side of paradise so don’t be an SOB.”
#6 ifyou drink alcohol drink in moderation -booze can destroy your mind, your character and your health. I never saw my father drunk at anytime. At ball games he NEVER had even one beer if he had to drive. He liked coffee and cokes. He bought me my first drink when I was 18 (a whisky sour). He told me “don’t like it too much and have only one now and again.” MODERATION.
#7 ECONOMICS: primary rule of economics is SCARCITY. You have only a limited about of time and money. Spend both wisely. SHARE (Charity) SPEND and SAVE. Be generous but never spend your bottom dollar. He gave to educational and religious charities. He often gave people magazines and used books (paperbacks) to read (especially children). I am very glad I grew up with books. Gilbert Highet was not on any college reading list but I read many books he passed on to me. He never denigrated my love for baseball books. He said you should read serious books and also light books for fun. He had a 1954 Ford (free and clear for over 20 years) . He never spent money on fancy cars. I think the fanciest car he ever had was a 1972 Chrysler New Yorker. It was still running in 1988 and had over 200,000 miles.
#8 My father was interested in societal problems. In the late 1950s there were some people who did not want to sell homes to non-White families. My father said: “I would not want just anybody to live in my neighborhood either. But anyone who could afford to pay rent or pay for a mortgage in this town is welcome to me.” My father was convinced the number one reason for increased black poverty and educational gaps was due to an enormous rise of black single-mother families (25% circa 1965 and today over 70%) and a destructive chaotic vein of ghetto culture. A lack of a strong family structure, a lack of discipline and moderation made the education of many youths problematic and at risk. My father did not have all the answers. He said some things cannot be known and some problems are endemic and can never be completely solved. But he did believe children need to have a safe and orderly home life and school. Our home was always a remanso de paz -a haven of peace full of music, books and some beautiful objects (mostly reproductions) but some original art or handcrafts. We never had more than one television and my wife and I have followed that. The difference is that today everyone has a laptop and phone. But still we all watch certain things together such as the CBS news TVE news (Spain) and Jeopardy. We share the TV. In my library I listen to the radio (mostly ballgames)or podcasts.
All his life my father was worried about
1) being jobless 2) not having enough to eat 3) being homeless. He knew comrades of my grandfather (from the Great War) who never got their lives together and who would have been homeless without my grandfather’s help and generosity. One was his nephew Jimmy Quiqley. Jimmy (whom my father and first cousin knew well) was 16 when he enlisted in 1914. He served the entire war in the infantry and saw hundreds of days of heavy combat. He saw friends killed. He killed. He was buried alive at one point. During the war he began to drink and smoke. It is sad. He survived the war but never had a steady job and never married. He died in the early 1950s in New York and was buried in Long Island near his aunt my grandmother.
My father never cooked in his entire life EXCEPT he knew how to make 1) a pot of fresh coffee or tea (very hot) 2) how to open a can of tomato soup 3) he knew how to make toasted cheese sandwich with sliced tomato. 4) he knew how to make a toasted English muffin with butter and marmalade. He used to do those things if his mother, sister or my mother were out shopping. Otherwise he never went to the refrignerator or kitchen. He did not like to waste food. Sometimes he brought home food from business lunches or business parties. He brought home the high quality plastic forks and knives and washed them for his personal use at home. He always washed his own dishes and if necessary his own clothes. He vacuumed the house on the weekend and thought nothing of moping the floor and helping out in the garden and taking out the garbage. But I did learn to cook a little from my mother and this helped me be independent. But my father never had a barbecue and rarely camped out. He did rent cabins for vacations in the 1950s and 1960s. But the only picnics he ever went on with his father were hotdogs at Ebbets field or Yankee stadium with his father.
I used to call my father on the phone 1973-1992 and the first thing he said was “HOW’S YOUR WEE JO-AB (job).”
He figured if I was still working I would be in good health and things couldn’t be so bad”
I would pay a million dollars if I could talk to him now only for five minutes. But I have no regrets my father and I corresponded for years and talked on the phone or in person thousands of times. I still enjoy reading his comments in some of books and the occasional letter I find in a book. I have been retired now for almost a year. My father would be proud of me because I am reading Latin every day and studying Modern Greek about one hour a day every day via Duolingo. I have learned the Greek alphabet and have the goal of studying ancient Greek so I can read Homer and the New Testament. I have a small Greek library I inherited from my father upon his passing in 2003 (including an interlinear NT) and I preserved them for some future ocassion. My father said “Greek is a door that opens straight to paradise. ” Sophocles wrote “For these things live not today or yesterday, but for all time.” I do find study of ancient literature a sweet distraction.
The other day my son called me and said how lucky he was to have a good role model in me and the older he got the more he appreciated the sacrifices I made for his education but especially the example of always loving and respecting and cherisihng his mother. I didn’t say anything but I knew my father who lived to see my son graduate from ASU would be very proud of his grandson as I am. It is good to know someone of our splendid ancient heritage has been passed on to a new generation
My father felt prejudices and racism were part of the human condition. He felt, however, they could be palliated if not ended gradually via intermarriage and societial integration and assimilation. So he was reasonably optimistic about the future of America.
But my father also said said people will ALWAYS be prejudiced in favor of BEAUTIFUL, YOUNG SLIM and RICH PEOPLE over ugly fat old and poor people.
Some people will always have insider advantage and privileges. That’s life. RANK HATHS ITS PRIVILEGES. Officers will have it better than enlisted. College professors have it easier over k-12 teachers.
Some people will always hate and resent Jews or some other groups
The best we can hope for my father said is like the ancient Roman Coin CONCORDIA et PAX Harmony of peoples and peace.
The best we can hope for is Honoring citizens OB CIVES SERVATOS For Saving the Citizens)
All people could become citizens of Rome even Africans Jews, Greeks or Galatians. There are many questions that can never be solved.
Some things can be cured but instead must be endured. But one must guard one’s health and cultivate one’s own garden. With luck one can find some tranquility and happiness.
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