“Who is John Galt?” – Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Daily Post Challenge – “Take the first sentence from your favorite book and make it the first sentence of your post.”
“Who is John Galt?” He spat it at me, his face livid, his color choleric. He had it now. He understood why I was such a problem child for his class on Political Science. He was a tenured professor at the local college. In my memory he was in his 50’s, but people look older when you’re young. That really doesn’t work as an excuse for me. I was 28 and back in school, doing my usual guerrilla warfare: “Get in, get the info, get out!” style of education. That semester I had signed up for Macro Economics, American Government/Political Science, and, according to my transcripts, Elements of Logic. I remember all of them though I didn’t score scholastically high. This guy, though… He taught me the hazards of tenure. The required books were unsubstantiated mudslinging, the lectures full of self-recriminations and how a man can be haunted by decisions he made in the past. I challenged him to his face, not understanding it was going to cost me. On reconsideration, it would have cost me more to keep silent. He had a problem with racism. It took the entire semester to get the whole shabby story. Initially, we were all at fault. Anybody who was white was responsible for slavery, segregation, humiliation of blacks and that racist attitude had to be addressed for three hours at a time.
Now, I come from a family of what I loosely call Anglo-Saxon – on my father’s side Irish and my mother’s side, English, French, Dutch and Belgium. I’m pretty sure we are from the riff-raff side of the equation – someone has to have been. The likelihood of aristocracy, especially in the United States, was pretty slim and none – no Daughters of the American Revolution here. I have never liked this idea of the sins of the fathers being visited upon their sons and daughter. Something intrinsically unfair on the face of it. In addition, I’m the 1955 vintage. That means that the brave souls that came before me, who paid the price of all those horrific times, all the colors – white, black, native American Indian, and, by the way, let us not forget the Irish – had, by the time I was 10 years old, the Civil Rights Act had been passed. I never once saw my mother or father, brother, sister, cousin, or a friend of mine behave in a racist manner or thought. Not once. This might be due to the fact I grew up in California and not back East. It wasn’t until I visited Charlottesville, VA (1998) and Pennsylvania (2005) that I came face to face with racism. That is not true, actually. I stumbled across it by accident in North Bend, WA in 1997. Oh, and Seattle, WA (2000). So, perhaps it was all around me.
That class, though… It was made up of students of every American variety, including some very big black guys – seven of them at least. One night, having listened to the professor harangue us, vilify us, chastise us in a way that would have done a preacher proud, I had had it. He insisted we owed every Black an apology. I raised my hand and pointed out that not all whites behaved in this manner. To behave in that manner was disgusting, but I hadn’t done it, my father and mother certainly hadn’t. I couldn’t speak for my grandparents. And to paint all whites with that brush was a form of racism in and of itself. He screamed at me that he was older than I was, better read than I was and how dare I question him. I should simply believe him and do as he said. In true Ayn Rand fashion, I said slowly, “Well, it is true you are older than I am, and you probably are more well read than I, but as to whether you are right, I reserve the right of judgment.” I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Later, I walked out of the classroom during the break and came face to face with all seven black men lined up against the wall facing the doorway. Gulp. We stared at each other. I may have opened my hands, grimaced and given a slight shrug of sorry-couldn’t-take-anymore…. To a man, they nodded at me. “Thanks. It is hard for us to listen to him as well.” I was stunned and it showed. One of them pushed off the wall, stood up straight and said, “Are you studying to be the Attorney General of the United States?” I started laughing and shook my head.
Does this mean I think racism doesn’t exist? No. It does most definitely. But it comes from all directions and by all races. When we can see the individual instead of the color of his skin, the shape of her eyes, the style of hair, the type of clothes worn, then we can say racism has ceased to exist. Why did I fall so in love with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged? It was the first time in my life someone had demanded my best. I swore an oath that I would give it.