Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
When I was 16, some friends and I formed a basketball team and we arranged to play a team at the Phyllis Wheatley Settlement House on the North Side of Minneapolis. We went and found ourselves surrounded by black faces for the first time in our lives, a minority of white teenagers playing against boys who were bigger, faster, better players than we, and it was scary. We got our pants beat off us but the other team was polite and we shook hands afterward, but nonetheless we were shaken. We came from a small-town high school with one black boy, Lincoln Berry, who came from an evangelical family and played piano. Being minority whites was scary.
Racism comes from fear, including the fear felt by white men. It is the result of limited experience, the result of segregation. It changes over time but slowly because it isn’t an intellectual fear, it comes from narrowness of experience. It can’t be talked out of you, you have to live the life.
I went away to the U of M where African students were plentiful and you’d sometimes see African men and women walking through campus, speaking beautiful French, since they came from French colonial Africa, which was an astonishing sight to a Minnesota kid. But they were more serious students than we, and our habits of separation persisted. I never met African-American folk from north Minneapolis at the U. Never. College was where I made close friends with Jewish kids — that barrier was crossed in my youth and crossed swiftly and easily — but I was never thrown in with black people except in the civil rights movement, which at the U of M was quickly overshadowed by the anti-war movement.
Our righteous anger at the Vietnam war led to the end of the military draft in 1973, a profound change in male society. For our fathers, military service had been a near-universal experience, a profoundly democratic one, in which (especially after the military was desegregated in 1948) young white guys from small towns were thrown into close contact with black urban America. Society became more stratified as a result of the volunteer military.
The liberal progressivism of my generation in Minneapolis is a rather thin aspirational ideal not based in real life experience and that’s why the city I love is burning, people living in dread, as the result of having tolerated a police force that has its own code and doesn’t live by our ideals. (Maybe our ideals don’t translate into law enforcement, I don’t know.) I don’t know anybody in law enforcement. My friends are writers and musicians. I only know a couple of people in the military. This isolation is changing in the generations behind me, but the change comes slowly.
Meanwhile, there are angry forces in society that thrive on chaos and thanks to social media, they are able to rally each other. Anger does not change the fear that lies behind racism.
The burning and destruction happened in the neighborhood beloved to my mother’s family, thirteen kids grew up not far from there, around 38th and Longfellow. I walked those streets as a kid, our Sunday School was in the neighborhood. I pray that peace returns. This pandemic has isolated people and maybe that was a factor — schools are our most basic democratic institution, followed by grocery shopping and sports, the bus system, and your early work experience. That’s where real change occurs, not in righteous pronouncements like this one.