My father was a Republican. I’m pretty certain he voted for both Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, but I’m very sure he would never have voted for a guy who cheated on his third trophy wife while she was carrying his child; who publicly bragged about sexually assaulting women; who went on TV to ridicule a severely disabled man and insult a Gold Star Family; who, as a developer, left a trail of unpaid contractors, driving some of them out of business; whose so-called charity and so-called university were scams; who pooh-poohed a viral pandemic that has so far killed more than 125,000 Americans; and who learned at his father’s knee how to redline would-be renters who were Black.
But this isn’t about Donald Trump. This is about my father.
From the 1940s into the 1970s he owned a photoengraving business with the same four partners. Dad’s shop was a place of wonder for a young kid, and I was dazzled by its sights and smells: flames and smoke from the blinding carbon-arc lights; glass vessels of nitric acid; the pervasive smell of acetic acid (which is vinegar to the nth power); and boxes of a red powder called Dragon’s Blood. It’s actually made from a tree resin and is used in the process of etching copper and zinc printing plates, but I thought it was the real thing. I mean, it said so right on the box.
Anyway, like any other line of work, the graphic arts have their own jargon, which can vary from place to place and from time to time. Thank goodness — because there was one term that badly needed changing. Let me explain.
Dad’s shop also made full-size negatives, mostly for advertisements in magazines. If it was a color ad, you needed up to four negatives — and they had to line up perfectly, or the result would be a blurry, out-of-register mess. So, in each corner of each negative there’d be a registration dot, about the size of this period (.) Line them up right, and everything would be fine.
Unfortunately, in that place and at that time, the middle-aged white men who seemed to hold about 99.9 percent of the jobs in that trade were in the habit of calling these dots “(n-word) heads.”
Dad was no crusader or reformer, but by the 1960s he had absorbed enough about the civil rights struggle from reading newspapers and watching Walter Cronkite to know that this was wrong. It probably irked him for years. So, one day, he sat down with his partners and said they should banish the offensive term in favor of “corner dots.” And so it was.
Now, this sounds like such a small thing that I’m almost embarrassed to say that I’m proud of my father for doing it — but I am. It was exactly the right thing to do. Easy enough to listen to a good sermon or write a check to a worthy cause. But it took, I think, a certain amount of moral courage for a middle-aged white man to tell the middle-aged white men he’d been working with for decades that it was time for a change, time to give up a piece of the casual racism that for so many years had gone unchallenged.
That’s the kind of thing we need more of in 2020.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.