During my first year at Penn State when I was living in Pinchot Hall, I encountered a lot of different kinds of people.
For example, there was Tom, a third year Pre-Med major.
Tom was, how shall I say this, a terrifically good-looking fellow, smart as a whip, and just a genuinely all-round nice guy.
Although he was usually up for a party on weekends, he kept his nose in his books during the week. He was serious about making a career in the medical field.
One time he needed to make a quick trip home for something, so Mike Carr and I went along for the ride.
Home was a small community, about 90 minutes away in Schuylkill County where we met his mother and his sister. And although he never said so, it was probably his sister who inspired him to make a career in medicine.
For she was suffering from an extreme case of Down’s syndrome.
And Tom absolutely doted on her. And she lit up when she saw him.
Afterward he never mentioned her and none of us ever asked him about her, so my speculation about his motivation is just that, but it seems likely.
Anyway, the reason I’m writing about him (and by the way, his name wasn’t really Tom) is because he was the first out and out racist that I had ever known.
Yes, coming from a rural community as I had, there was a lot of racism, but it was mostly kept under the surface because, well, because we just didn’t have a very diverse population. So out of sight, out of mind.
But at a large university, even in central Pennsylvania in the late 60s, there were more than just your standard white Anglo-Saxon protestants.
And according to Tom there were two kinds of people: if you showed even the slightest bit of empathy for the Negro race (the transition to Black was just coming into fashion in those days), you were a n—er lover, and then there was everybody else.
Now I have to say, Tom was not an angry racist. There was almost a twinkle in his eye when he said things like he wouldn’t help the victim of a car crash if he was a Negro. It was because of that twinkle (or almost-twinkle) that Mike was convinced that Tom wasn’t really serious. And who knows? Maybe he wasn’t.
And I do have to say that on the one or two occasions when I saw him interact directly with a Black guy, he gave no indication of his prejudices. It was only afterwards that we got an earful.
I wonder whatever became of Tom? I did try to locate him but was never able to find any trace.