Today, United Fruit is a huge corporation, but that Black/Jewish beginning is almost lost in history. In today’s world it would be seen very differently from what it actually was. It was beginning to lose that history when I was growing up because Jews were beginning to call themselves “white” and the general U. S. society could not see such an alliance and friendship as one amongst equals as existed between the man who founded United Fruit and the man who was responsible for a serious part of its early growth. But when I was a small child, the stories and the talk were about how United Fruit would not have existed or grown as it did without the friendship and working together of those two men – the Jew and the Black. Back then Jews were not hired to work regular jobs. In fact, it is within my lifetime that banks went from hiring no Jews to now hiring Jews for jobs up and down the bank ladder. Jews back then had to either start their own company or find some other independent way to make a living. That is what Mr. Zemurray was doing. Looking back into that history from today, it is easy to re-write it so that its real beginnings are “cleaned-up”.
Racism, when it has become “structured” into a society and into its institutions, is a very complex thing. We like to think it is an “unfortunate incident” which happened because the person to whom it happened was complicit in some way. It is not. Every action you take is governed by the bigotry structured into the society in which you live which has successfully structured that bigotry into every core and every cell of its existence. The experience of bigotry is not a one time experience. It is all day everyday for those who are the “minority.” It is also an all day everyday experience for those who are “white.” Their lives move ahead beyond their talents and contributions to this society because of the fact that they are in the “better than” group.
As a young girl, I lived in a middle-class Black community surrounded by people who made me feel that I was incredible and could do anything I set her mind to. It was a recipe for constant conflict with a racist, sexist society and its institutions throughout the rest of my life.