The Jolly Bigoted Hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1950
by Regis Boff
Most everybody from Pittsburgh grew up on a hilltop.
Hills surround the city.
We were bigots and racists.
All of us had our peak, the results of the game of musical chairs that is continuously playing in America. Our timid arriving immigrant masses huddled on any vacant space they could find. Then they hard prayed the English language would become decipherable to them in time.
Our little ethnic villages stood like bearded goats on these elevations, each confident that their summit was closer to whatever they believed was God above them.
There were no hills for women, as they were scattered equally and none for gays and lesbians because they did not yet exist. Blacks somehow did not get any top land, so they got a middle ground and called it a “side.” Jews seemed to be hiding around the big University of Pittsburgh. They appeared to feel safer there. I hardly knew about Jews when I lived there in the fifties and sixties. But we knew all we needed because of jokes at their expense.
Mind you. We made fun of everyone except ourselves.
Class envy existed, but nobody had very much of that. We were all kind of a shitty shipment of lower classes, so fighting about so little would have just proven demoralizing and too obvious.
No, the best playing fields for prejudice lay in the more fertile areas of skin color and accent.
I grew up in a time when snobbishness was a greater offense than discrimination. Nowadays, conceits are confused with power, and bigotries punished like little homicides.
The geography of my youth helped me stumble into a critical ditch of reality in my life. It is that crowds are meaner than individuals. One person can reflect before they make a mistake, but a group cannot.
Groups develop from the fear of friends.
There was no one to show this to me when I was a kid. Hurting someone weaker or different is reassuring to anybody frantic for acceptance.
You do not have to come from Pittsburgh to know that.