The Waldo Line & Musing on Politics

I’d always heard through family supposition that the Waldo line of my family came from Germany.  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the name itself “sounds” rather German.  Either way, I fully expected the family to come from Germany. As Bryan Sykes points out in Saxons, Vikings, and Celts, mythology of origin shouldn’t be counted out.  It’s very often right.  But this time origin myth, and I, were both wrong.  Or sort of wrong.

My ancestors on the Waldo line may well have come from Germany, but they took a very long furlough in England first.   Until recently, I knew very little about the Waldo family.  While in the midst of my “database black hole” a couple of weeks ago, I found a set of grandparents I hadn’t been able to find before.  

This lead back from  Virginia to New York, where I discovered the first Waldo to come from Europe came from England.  He was one of the most agressive slave traders in early American history.  Cornelius Waldo has been on my mind ever since. 

 Especially today.  I watched Barack Obama’s speech last night after I got home from work. I think it was one of the best speeches on race I’ve ever heard.  He made it very clear that he understands exactly why there’s this huge gulf between blacks and whites in the U.S. He also made a point that I think is very hard to disagree with — the truth is, people of the lower and middle classes have more in common than they realize. Those commonalities have nothing to do with race. 

They have to do with basic problems that do need to solved in this country.  And while Pastor Wright’s language might be regrettable, it is definitely not surprising considering where he comes from and the challenges he has had to face as a black man in America. In fact, it is understandable in some ways. At the same time, if we continue to remain ‘stuck’ in that sort of angry phase, we will never move on to acceptance and forgiveness. Without acceptance and forgiveness, none of our problems as a country will be solved because we will be overwhelmed with what Obama calls “distractions.” 

The truth is, too, that this is a generational difference in how people relate to race in this country. Those of us in the Gen X and Gen Y categories simply do not have the same attitudes about race as the Boomer generation.   Maybe its because of more widespread school integration in the 1970’s, something our parents didn’t necessairly experience and never experienced to the degree we did. Maybe it’s a positive side effect of more cultural sensitivity in the schools and work places in general.

But here is the difference: I grew up in an America where most of the culture stressed the immorality and illegality of racism; I am the product of an America that incoporates the idea that racism is immoral into the very fabric of its school curriculum; I am the product of an America that on the surface says that all good citizens should believe in the equality of all humans, regardless of our personal prejudices.  That doesn’t mean that we didn’t (and don’t) know that racism is a serious problem that needs constant attention.  What is means is that we don’t ever question the bedrock notion that racism is a bad thing, a social problem instead of a government sanctioned social control method.

The Boomers did not grow up in that America.  They are still, in some ways, living in an America where that kind of injustice is, as Obama put it, “endemic.”  While the Boomer perspective is understandable, the continuation of that perspective is not going to get us very far in terms of solving our problems. 

At some point, we are all going to have to realize that the only way we can make a difference for all people in this country who are poor or oppressed is not to allow those who create poverty and oppression to pit small groups against other small groups. The only way we will end the war, fight poverty, and get our schools in shape is to work together across racial boundaries. 


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