A few years ago, my wife and I got out our wedding album and showed photos to a woman I will call Edith (not coincidentally the name of the wife of Archie Bunker). Edith had grown up with my wife and was her oldest friend.
On three different occasions, Edith pointed to three different men in the photos and asserted seemingly without any doubt in her mind that they looked uncomfortable. One of those men, who is African-American, was one of my groomsmen; the other two, ushers at the wedding, are, in one case, African-American, and, in the other, Latino.
I said to Edith that she was wrong, that those three members of the wedding party were quite comfortable and happy. It was obvious that Edith was projecting her own discomfort onto the three men, who had known me for years. In fact, one of those men, my groomsman, had at one time been my best friend; we had gone to junior high, high school and college together.
When my wife and I discussed Edith's comments about the photos, my wife mentioned that Edith's ex-husband, whom I have never met, is a racist. We both chalked up Edith's behavior to the fact that she had lived with a hatemonger for decades.
About a year and one-half ago, my wife told me that when I had gone up to buy a Pinkberry yogurt for Edith and her, Edith, whom I had treated to meals for more than a dozen years, created a verb out of my religion in describing how her daughter had finagled a man in a deal. She "Jewed him," Edith said.
My wife broke this news to me of Edith's anti-Semitic comment around the time that George Zimmerman, whom I characterized last year as a "law-enforcement wannabe," shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen.
For the record, Edith lives in Orange County in southern California, a county that may be not so different from Seminole County in central Florida in terms of its racial and ethnic composition and its historic attitudes toward blacks, Latinos and Jews. Three years ago, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., was repeatedly booed at UC-Irvine, not far from where Edith lives.
Needless to say, when my wife told me about Edith's "Jewed him" statement, I was stunned. I told my wife, who over the years had become increasingly upset with Edith for her negativity and rudeness, that I would never see Edith again, not unless she apologized.
In the past, I had attributed Edith's brusque ways to a kind of cantankerousness. I had never heard her utter any epithets. I had simply heard her make bizarre or clueless comments in the bitter but almost lovable vein of Archie Bunker. I suppose that my wife and I had also wanted to believe that there was a decency to Edith because she was my wife's oldest friend. They had shared a lemonade stand and performed neighborhood skits together as kids growing up in the Detroit area.
At the time of the Trayvon Martin killing, I wrote about the "insidious" racism that still exists in this country in the wake of Barack Obama's election as president; I compared it to what marketers refer to as "post-purchase dissonance," akin to buyer's remorse, in which even some people who supported President Obama may have a tinge of racism-fueled regret at having voted for him.
There are of course many legitimate reasons to be critical of President Obama. Some people on the right and the left disagree with him on foreign policy, though I think he has gotten it just about right so far in phasing us out of Iraq and Afghanistan, staying out of Syria and continuing to keep the pressure on Iran over its nuclear policy.
Others, including some of his biggest supporters, believe that President Obama has trampled on our civil liberties with the revelations of his administration's snooping on our e-mails and telephone records.
From my perspective, as a Hillary Clinton supporter from 2008, I felt burned out five years ago by what I perceived to be the unfair treatment dealt to her in that primary. Like many, I have wondered if she might have connected better with the Congress than President Obama, the most methodical of men, whom I have speculated might have a better temperament for the U.S. Supreme Court than the presidency.
It is a testament to our country's strength that we can engage in a lively, vigorous debate about our politicians, whether they are African-American, Jewish, women or even the whitest of white men like Mitt Romney.
While we have a long way to go in this country, the jury's verdict of not guilty in the George Zimmerman trial may say less about racism than about the poor case mounted by the prosecution in, among other things, bringing to the stand a witness who lied and used an epithet in describing white people.
That is not to diminish the racism that we still have in the U.S., as evidenced by the atrocious comments of recent years by Edith, my wife's former friend.
After we broke ties with Edith, I initially felt a sense of loss. My wife said that, before Edith married her ex-husband, Edith had never expressed any racist or anti-Semitic views. I believe that. Unfortunately, Edith allowed her husband's hatred to seep into her own brain to the point that she too has become a racist and an anti-Semite.
I am still willing to listen to Edith if she genuinely apologizes and renounces the hatred she spoke to my wife. But I am afraid that bigotry does not go away so quickly. Unlike the life of Trayvon Martin, who was cut down by a bullet to the chest at the age of 17.