I never made it as a hippie, not even close. But I can remember being labeled as such because of my longish hair and bell-bottom jeans. Old people would stare at me, some with distain in their eyes, and others would just shake their head. Even worse, some knew that I was college-educated and that made it even more intolerable for their simple lifestyle. ‘Who did I think I was?’ They would ask themselves.
As radical and shortsighted as it may seem, damning the intellectuals is actually a tactic that’s been used by those in power for centuries. From the Roman gladiator games to the Khmer Ruge in the 70’s, blaming the problems of the state on those deemed different from ‘regular folks’ has always seemed to work…..at least for a while.
The Ku Klux Klan grew in power as poor whites found another class lower than themselves (in their eyes) and blamed their own problems on that class of people. My own mother revealed a deep-seated distrust of Jews when she would occasionally talk about being ‘jewed down’ by some merchant in town. I was too young to completely understand the source of her prejudice but even then I found it distasteful and ignorant. More recently, my In-Laws would occasionally criticize those in the cities for their own rural issues.
Henry Ford was a successful capitalist but a fervent anti-Semite. Charles Lindberg was a great aviator but an anti-Semite too. Down through the ages, leaders, great and small, have found a ready audience to appeal to by passing blame on to another ethnic group of people. Intellectuals are often at the head of that classification.
I can remember back in college when I was working at a motor freight company in Saint Paul. Our job was to clean out the warehouse and loading dock each Saturday morning. It was neither a hard nor intellectually stimulating job but it paid the rent.
Our boss was the weekend foreman who hated his job, hated himself, and most of all hated “those Goddamn college kids.” For whatever reason, he held a disdain for educated youth, especially college kids.
No question was honest or reasonable enough that he wouldn’t use it to criticize the questioner. He loved to belittle, denigrate, insult, and ridicule anyone who dared inquire about anything. The best way to deal with him was avoidance at all costs. After a while his comments became the source of many hilarious jokes made at his expense. It was a great way to pass the time, ridiculing his clothing, stance, ignorance, and pitiful outlook on life. It was also a very sad statement at his station in life and the depth of his hatred for himself and those around him.
In his best-selling memoir ‘A Walk Across America’, Peter Jenkins talks about the reception he received from many small town folks as he wandered through the southern states back in the early seventies. With his wild hair, full beard, and backpack; the locals were immediately suspicious and wary of this stranger in their midst. ‘He was probably a hippie, high on drugs or worse yet some college-educated kid come to laugh at their simple lifestyle. Either way, he wasn’t welcome in their midst.’
When Peter decided to live with a black family in North Carolina, the locals went crazy. The whites hated him because he was white and living with n#**#*. The bootleggers suspected that he was a revenue agent sent to spy on them. Worst of all, he was college-educated which sealed their conviction that he was a problem, plain and simple.
I can remember encountering ignorance at work, in the service, and the workplace. A lack of education is one thing - hand-me-down prejudice is something else.
I never made it as a hippie, not even close. But at least I tried to be open-minded and accepting. A trait I’ve tried to pass on to my children and grandchildren. I think it’s stuck with them and I couldn’t be happier.