|Message From The President
Leslie J. Castaldi
I spent my “wonder years” in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy. As a child growing up in the 1960s, I was oblivious to the tumult in society around me. I was idealistic, buying into the concepts of civil liberty and equality (“It’s a Small World After All”, “Jesus Loves the Little Children, all the little children of the world”…), believing that the world could be no other way. I was surprised, therefore, when parents of my classmates threatened to boycott my elementary school if it participated in desegregation (“busing”). I was shocked when a few of my classmates celebrated when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated.In high school, now living in Northern Virginia in a lovely suburb of our nation’s capital, I personally witnessed the war of the races. My high school football team played against T.C. Williams High School (“Remember the Titans”) and those games were only played on Saturday afternoons (in contrast with the usual Friday night games) with a visible police presence. I stood, helpless, in the hallways or in the cafeteria of my school, watching as my friends – black and white – beat each other to a bloody pulp. On one occasion, my black friend, Cornelius, and I stood on each side of the fight, looking at each other with fear and sadness. Years later, at our twentieth high school reunion, we shared that memory, both of us with goose bumps on our arms.Then I read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and I kind of fell in love with the protagonist, Atticus Finch (it didn’t hurt that Gregory Peck played Mr. Finch in the movie). He was, after all, a hero, a white man fighting for the poor, defenseless, wrongfully-accused black man. A white man whose thoughts were pure and free of the racism of his peers and neighbors.So, when I heard the news that Harper Lee was publishing her first novel since “To Kill a Mockingbird” and that Atticus Finch was portrayed as a racist, I put my foot down. No, I was not going to read “Go Set a Watchman”. I wasn’t going to let my hero come tumbling down off the pedestal that I had created for him.
Then I started to think about my reaction. Was I so superior that I could not face the realization that people are complex and that, just because I wanted Atticus to be a white hero, I was not willing to admit that there are hypocrites hiding among us – maybe even somewhere inside of me? Could I not admit that we still have not faced our racial divide, no matter who the heroes may have been – real or fictional? Especially now, when the struggles have become so pronounced even 40 years after the civil rights movement of the 1960s, was I so afraid to face the truth?
Needless to say, I bought “Go Set a Watchman”; I am reading it now. It’s uncomfortable. The point of this message is not to discuss the book (there is too much controversy about why the book was published, etc.). Rather, as our society continues to experience the pain of slavery, racism, and inequality, we struggle to resolve the problems resulting from our history as well as our present.
I don’t have the answers. I only hope that we all can look into ourselves and try to find where our own hypocrisy lies and reach out to our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, and our fellow citizens to work together so that everyone in this country can have the same opportunities that I have had, being born – totally fortuitously – as a white person in the United States of America.