Apparently on Tik Tok- a medium I couldn't care less about- there are some who are encouraging the 'canceling' of music legend and Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan because of his use of the word 'n****r' in his 1975 song "Hurricane. This got me reflecting on race in our culture, and, specifically in my own life over the years.
I grew up in Essex Junction, Vermont in the 1960's and 70's, which makes me about as Wonder Bread-Velveeta-Roy Rogers-White as possible. I remember the first time I met a Black perwson my own age. He was the opposing pitcher on the Little League diamond. I distinctly remember two things about that encounter: I hit a triple off of him, and I really wanted to befriend him. In my 11 year old naivete, I thought it would be cool to have a Black friend simply because he was Black.
The next year he ended up being in my class at school. I learned his name was Shalesh,and looking back, I think we were more like acquiantances and clasmates than true friends, but nevertheless we played basketball together, talked about girls together and laughed about the math teacher together, as all school boys do. It was only after several months that I found out that my first Black friend wasn't Black; He was Indian! Yep, that's how White I was: I couldn't tell an Asian from an African-American.
My first real exposure to a multi-cultural community was in, of all unlikely settings, the rural mountains of Vermont. I had gotten a job as a junior counselor at Camp Wapanacki, a summer camp run by the world renowned New Yprk Institute for the Education of the Blind. This camp had many People of Color among the other counselors, support staff, and of course, the campers themselves. Honestly, when they put a bunch of high school and college kids together and made us responsible for 200 visually impaired kids for a summer, and we all seemed more concerned with dating, days off and doing our jobs than skin color. I do, however, remember going back to my high school after that summer at camp, and telling my friends, "I spent the summer playing basketball with Black kids from New York, and I dominated the court...of course, they were all blind!"
Working at summer camps through high school and college was the norm for me, and it was always a great growth experience. I remember working at Camp Bloomfield in Malibu, California, where most of the POC were Pacific Islanders from Hawaii. My God given interest in all things social studies was nurtured during these multi-cultural summer jobs.
After college graduation, I taught in Summerton, South Carolina for three years. The student body (and 98% of the staff) were African-American. It seems, once integration became the law, the White minority of Summerton started a "Christian" (Using the word very loosely here) school that all White kids got 'scholarships' to. While this was very eye-opening to this 21 year old Velveeta-eater from Vermont, it was an essential and ultimately positive time. The music teacher, Yoseph, became my next door neighbor and best friend. Both single, away from home, and not getting a lot of dates, we hung out almost daily, and in fact, he was best man at my wedding. As often happens, we eventually moved away from each other and lost contact.
Living in Maine for over 30 years now, I'm happy to state that northern New Englad has become much more ethnically diverse than when I was growing up; even here in Western Maine. My daughter, Naomi's best friend since childhood is a Jamaican girl. When this friend's mom was trying to get out of a bad marriage, she lived with us for a few weeks. In all likeliihood, we will soon have two Black sons-in-law! Oh, if Shalesh couls see me now! Furthermore, we as a family have spent time as the only or some of the only White people in a given community when we've worked with churches in Mexico, Paraguay, Ecuador, Crow Nation, Uganda, Dominican Republic,and even Philadelphia.
I don't write this to post as some ill-concieved resume of tolerence. This is simply the background I bring to my understanding of this move -be it big or small- to silence Bob Dylan for one word in one song he wrote almost 50 years ago. The song in question, "Hurricane" is about boxer Reuben "Hurricane" Carter, a Black man falsely accused of a triple homicide in Paterson, NJ. While Dylan's use of the n-word is unsettling, it's meant to be for the greater point he's making. Mr. Carter was innocent, profiled, framed, arrested and sentenced. And Dylan uses the word refering to what people were saying about Carter when they should have been defending him. Shortly after the release of the song in 1975, Dylan led a concert for justice for Reuben Carter, and (perhaps due to the attention Dylan brought, perhaps not) the "Hurricane" was eventually exhonorated and freed.
So, before these tik-tokers discuss not just canceling one word or one song, but a man's life work, I hope they can see things in context. Bob Dylan, along with Joan Baez and Mahalia Jackson, sang at the March on Washington when MLK gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Bob Dylan's body of work includes several songs that played significant roles in the civil rights movement: "Only a Pawn in Their Game", "Subterranean Hpmesick Blues", "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", and, of course, "Blowin' in the Wind".
I believe that most cancelers - at least in this case - want the same thing Bob Dylan wanted when he wrote the song "Hurricane" and the same thing I hope most sane people want. It is the same thing that Dr. King dreamt of when he said, " One day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." I know I'm about as White as one gets, but to me we shouldn't be trying to silence our allies.
Am I wrong?