A lot of attention is being paid these days to racial and ethnic slurs. I’d be happier about that if I thought it was helping the situation, rather than just being a justification for complaining about it.
But in this present context, volatile as it is, an exchange came back to me from 1974. Itwas from a show called Chico and the Man. “The Man” was a cranky old man (Ed Brown) played by Jack Albertson. Chico was an ambitious young Hispanic (Mexican for TV purposes in the 1970s) man played by Freddie Prinze.
They meet at Ed’s garage when Chico rides his bike up to the place He looking for work. Ed turns him down without much thought. “Get out of here and take your flies with you.” There is nothing remarkable at all in that. The cranky bigoted old man is right out of central casting.
What was really remarkable, and the reason I have remembered it all these years is what Chico says as he leaves. He gets back on his bike. He says something that sounds like acceptance of the old man’s decision (it isn’t) and as he pedals away, he turns around on the seat and makes a “come with me” gesture and says, “Come on, flies.”
I liked him from that moment. It wasn’t a good show, even for the 70s, but that presence of mind and lack of resentment conquered the old man after an episode or two. It conquered me immediately.
I’m not making that one exchange on an old TV show a model for any kind of approach to today’s racial and ethnic issues. But it did take me by surprise and I admired it. Also…it worked.