Back when I joined the military in 1971 the Pentagon had a program targeted to try and ease race relations tensions on government installations. By the time I arrived on the scene the urban civil violence of the 60’s was waning a bit; the racial demonstrations and civil rights marches of the day had torn up a few major urban areas around the country and things were cooling down. But at its peak the civil rights turmoil was apparently felt on military bases as well, where I also suspected emotions were running high as a result of the emotional effects of the Vietnam War by a growing number of disillusioned servicemen (who were echoing a disillusion public; it was a troubling time in history in general). You can read about one such Air Force base that had a riot back in 1971 hereà http://www.dailyrepublic.com/news/solanocounty/1970s-race-riot-rocks-base/
Enough incidents inspired the Pentagon and USAF to come down with a “race relations” program. The requirement was that each airman must attend “X” number of hours (the exact number escapes me) of race relations “class” each month. Now the goal of these classes was of course meant to provide a structured forum by which we would all sit in a circle in an informal work group session and chat about all things racial that were troubling us, and hopefully that would ease racial tensions on military installations. There was in attendance an official facilitator (usually black) to direct the discussion. Looking back, we were actually doing what current politicians and pundits and civic leaders are calling for when they say that we need to “open up a dialog in our communities” to discuss the racial disparities in society.
Well, as servicemen… ok.. white servicemen, we’d go to these things and admittedly there was a boredom factor after a while, even amongst our black brethren. I mean, we all preferred being somewhere else on our time off… and there was just so-much “sharing” you could do and trying to stay civil cause we all had to work together. One day someone thought up the idea that if these were supposed to be race relations classes wouldn’t that include any and all races? But of course! So every once in a while (yep.. me included) we would occasionally bring up the unfairness of the white man toward native Americans. We’d try and carry on thoughtful discussion about how native Americans were discriminated against throughout history, persecuted, kicked off their lands, Trail of Tears, General Sheridan, yada, yada, yada. Generally speaking the (black) facilitators tried to steer us back to only black racial issues, but in fact our point was indeed valid (albeit we did it as our own little way to rebel against the facilitator). But it’s historically true… white Anglo Saxon Protestants, through history, have discriminated at times against native Americans, Jewish people, the Irish, Catholics, Irish Catholics,
Southerners (especially Confederate ones), black folks… I mean, you name it, “WASP’s” discriminated against it. But at that time in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s black Americans fighting for racial equality were garnering all the public attention. Over the last few decades the increase in the influx of Mexican, Hispanic, and Asian people have seemed to have taken some of the wind out of the sails regarding the public’s attention toward the black struggle for racial equality, together with a real shift in racial tolerance in the decades that have followed the civil rights years. Now the attention is shifting back to elements of our society still reflecting racial inequality largely due to recognition of police brutality, judicial inequality, economic hardship in black society, and incidents like the recent murder of the nine folks in Charleston by a white racist. The last couple decades is now being considered a period of “white complacency” toward racial equality. Huh? Complacency toward racial equality? Here I thought all that time we’ve all been trying to get along and treat all people as human beings. Silly me.
In my military days I was an Air Force Security Policeman… but not one of the guys dressed up as Adam 12 types who drove around in pretty patrol cars and manned the front gate. We guarded planes, bomb storage areas, missile sites, and B-52’s loaded with nukes… in all types of weather. I quickly learned that you made friends if you wanted the area supervisor or guys in the roving patrol vehicle to stop by your post and let you inside to sit down and warm up, get out of the rain for an hour or so, or break the tedious boredom. I also learned from talking to the black guys that certain white guys assigned to a vehicle would give shorter times for optional breaks to the black guys. Even some area supervisors exhibited some measure of this “favoritism”. Although I firmly believe some of that was indeed white guys trying to avoid the uncomfortable situation of being with a black guy one-on-one and not having anything to say… or knowing what TO say.
But down the line when I achieved some rank and got assigned a vehicle during the shift or when I also acted as area supervisor I not only “played” fair and equal in handing out breaks but I also had no fear of engaging anyone and everyone in sincere conversation. I played cards to pass the time with anyone on post, got them coffee, and did the things a supervisor should do because they were “my” guys for that shift. I had a good rep amongst my peers as being not only fair but a decent guy to anyone regardless of race.. and I’ve carried that through life. I also taught my kids that as well. My actions always demonstrated who and what I was. Honestly, I am certainly not the only white person with human scruples in what seems to be perceived as being a vast sea of white racists. But now it seems being white means you have to rise up and confront racism among our peers, or so says a number of black Americans with a social voice. I guess I don’t know how to do that and there’s no other race to set me an example that I can draw upon.
Here’s a representation of the typical mood; and my response to Jamilah Lemieux of Ebony.
Recently I read a post from a black American female blogger that quoted a portion of an article written by the senior editor of Ebony. I visited the Ebony site and the Ebony author was Jamilah Lemieux and her editorial was about the recent shooting. What perturbed me the most (beyond her arrogant elitist perception of how white people are supposed to act) was this paragraph…
“In times like this, White people are quick to throw their hands up and dissociate themselves from racism and the person accused of the racist act. But how many of them can say they have actively worked to challenge the racism in the people around them? How many folks have sat quietly as Uncle Jimbo tells the story of the time he put that one nigger in his place at work?”
(Read more at EBONY http://www.ebony.com/news-views/white-silence-kills-9-in-charleston-503#ixzz3e9ATrS2M )
Well, that was sure a measure of condescending racism in its own right. To presume that somehow all white people need to accept the guilt of all racism against black Americans, in whatever form it takes seems a bit presumptuous, to say the least. First off, if there’s any white hands being thrown up to disassociate themselves from any racist act it’s likely because a black person is making a generic accusation that all white people are somehow to blame for all racist acts. Makes no sense and sure sounds racist to me. Now you are saying that white folks have to “challenge” the racism in the people around us?? Now how do you propose we go about doing that? Are black Americans in the habit of challenging disparaging talk from fellow black people regarding white folks… or regarding anything else, for that matter? Perhaps you can inspire this old white guy on how exactly I might go challenging my “racist” peers. “Excuse me, Uncle Jimbo, it’s not appropriate for you to use the “N” word.” Or.. would this be a better approach… “Excuse me, Uncle Jimbo, but it’s inappropriate to put a black person in their place.” Or maybe.. “Excuse me, Uncle Jimbo, but I’ve heard that story a thousand times and it’s getting old.” Maybe this one works better, “Excuse me, Uncle Jimbo, but only black people can use the “N” word.” Then again… what if Uncle Jimbo IS black?
Here’s the point…. as a white person I don’t owe any apology to any race of people and it’s not my job to accept responsibility for how my white peers act in life. I know how I have behaved through life to my fellow man, I’ve taught that successfully to my kids, and to this day I continue to show no animosity toward any race. But I dare say that you, Ms. Lemieux, are too young to have even an iota of understanding the true suffering of your ancestors. For the sake of argument here, let’s remove from this racial mix the abuse of the police and the occasional racist nutcase murderer and let’s look at EXACTLY how YOU are suffering from racial inequality. Have YOU been enslaved? Have YOU been persecuted? Have you been denied a loan or home purchase because you are black? Have YOU been denied the right to vote? Have YOU been made to drink from only certain drinking fountains or using certain rest rooms? Have YOU been denied an education? Have YOU been denied a professional career because you are black? Have YOU been denied a seat in the front of the bus? I think you get my point. People like Martin Luther King and others in the Civil Rights struggle helped to change that for the future generations like yourself. You’re jumping up and down screaming racial inequality because of a Confederate flag, a white racist murderer with mental illness, and abusive cops… and you are assuming all whites should bear that responsibility. Sorry.. life doesn’t work that way. You will never know what it was like to be enslaved and I will never know what it was like being a slave owner. In my case I don’t want to ever know. In your case… it sounds like you are enslaving yourself to a principle in which the only credibility you have is not one of experience but one of skin color only. You obviously have a position where you can influence others with your writing. Use it to focus on the problems and possible solutions… not finger pointing for sensationalism. There are a lot more problems in black communities than just the external racism.
(Note: I also posted my remarks above regarding Ms. Lemieux’s opinion as a response on the Ebony site.)