Thursday, January 09, 2003

Race and me

Although I'd like better, if you looked at my voting patterns you'd find that I vote Republican about 99.9% of the time. That of course makes me a "racist" to the kind of people who think there ought to be "hate crimes". So let's study this little pathology - where did my parents, my village, the govt, the human race and the very cosmos itself go wrong in creating such a monster?

Let's start at the beginning - when did I first become aware of race?

I'm from a lily-white town up north where most of the blacks we saw were either in prison or working prison-related jobs. Then as now blacks were more prevalent in prisons than in the general population. I can't say I was aware of that when I was a kid, but it dawned on me later on.

There weren't any black kids in my neighborhood, so my earliest impressions had to have come from the family and the media. It just never came up around the house - other than athletes, blacks just weren't part of our everyday experience. Guys like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks just happened to be black, that's all. They were heroes, and it never occurred to me that their color would make any difference (many of my relatives were darker than most, and I could be as much as 1/16 American Indian myself). It was a big deal to call someone a nigger, but there weren't any blacks handy, so the recipient was always white. Probably Irish...

And there was media coverage of Dr. Martin Luther King. We generally had the TV on in the background listening to Huntley and Brinkley around suppertime. I don't recall hearing anything negative about Dr. King on the news, and I knew it was a big deal when he was shot.

So what of blacks in general? Again, I never saw any live ones until I was about 8 or so. But the earliest impression that I recall was of a sainted people putting up with no end of BS without deserving it. Beatings, dogs, firehoses, the whole works. I didn't know the details about the Freedom Riders, but you can read about them here.

Then later things changed. Near as I can tell it was after Dr. King was shot. It seemed that from that point onward everything I saw about blacks showed riots, crime, violence, rudeness, and alienation. Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Cassius Clay avoiding the draft, then renaming himself Muhammad Ali. Lew Alcindor becoming Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Huey Newton, H. Rap Brown, etc. The one constant was that they were always differentiated from whites and usually made a point of it - in the presence of such distinctions it's natural to expect differences and even to look for them.

Then there was school. I knew of 6 black kids in the entire school system - Greg, Patty and Bobby from the same family in the normal classes, and Steve and two girls were in special ed. Greg was a few years ahead of me and had played in the little leagues, Patty was my age, and Bobby was a few years younger. Once in a while I heard some mumbling about "niggers" or "coons" or maybe a "jigaboo", but nothing specific about the ones I knew. It seemed that the more strongly ethnic the speaker was, the more likely he was to talk that way.

So nominally we were integrated from day 1, but not in spirit. The best example was some dance lessons that were offered after school, and the two special ed black girls were enrolled. I saw a number of the white boys refuse to dance with them - maybe they turned down some white girls too, but I never caught them at it. Anyway, the girls soon figured out that I didn't worry about it. Next thing I know I was dancing with one or the other almost exclusively, and it wasn't because I was Fred Astaire. I wasn't too thrilled with this because I wanted to mix more, but I wasn't rude enough to send them away. (In retrospect, it's also easy to see why nobody wanted to be the first to integrate - unless others did too, the resulting clientele would have become almost exclusively black, which usually meant less affluent and thus less money to spend).

Also, the lack of segregation might also have reflected the fact that it would have been very expensive. Certainly they wouldn't build an entire parallel school system for half a dozen black kids, and there were too few of them to be seen as any sort of threat. Segregation simply wasn't as cost-effective as it was where there were more blacks, such as in the South. So let's not ascribe virtue to what was at heart a financial decision - there were real racists around, and I'll get to that.

In jr. high school we moved South to a town of about the same size. The local jr. high had been the old black high school. I don't know how much renovation had occurred before it was reassigned, but it didn't seem to be a whole lot worse than the town's white high school. The white high school was fancier on the outside, but inside it wasn't significantly better if at all, and all of the once-segregated middle and grade schools all looked the same to me. Separate but equal? There didn't seem to be enough difference to fuss over.

I rode the bus to school. It passed through several black neighborhoods before it got to my stop, so I'd get on to a bus full of rowdy jr high black kids who I didn't know. (I don't know if it would have been much better if it had been a bus full of strange white kids though - if nothing else I didn't expect the black kids to "accept" me). They could tell I was uncomfortable and hazed me a little, and one girl in particular wouldn't keep her hands off me (gimme a break, I was in jr. high). But I never had any real trouble, and I never saw anyone have trouble who wasn't looking for it. So I'd have to say that but for some very goosy beginnings integration did me some good.

In high school there were plenty of black kids, but outside PE class I recall very few classes with them. I generally took the most advanced classes available, and I honestly can't remember any blacks in any of them. Then again, why would I? - I wasn't looking for them, or trying to prove any points. Even my sport was white - there were only two black wrestlers that I recall, and we could have used the help. Other teams had a few, because I remember the first guy I pinned in a dual meet was black.

In engineering school there were very few blacks. The only ones I knew were all men, about 6 of them, from the dorms, and that was over my entire time there. I don't recall a single black woman there, but then there were plenty of locals. Although I don't recall any racial incidents, there wasn't much mixing either. We'd have the occasional bull session, but usually when something sociable was happening the groups just wound up self-segregating. Again, it wasn't anything I ever thought of, and I don't recall ever thinking of them as being different in ways other than the obvious.

Should there have been more blacks in my engineering school? Beats me. The Bakke decision came out when I was in college, and I thought the quota Bakke fought was wrong then as I do now. If there was any discrimination going on, it was awfully sneaky, and the blacks I knew weren't top performers, so it's entirely possible that they were there because allowances had been made for them.

What to make of this? Nothing really - I don't recall ever questioning how things were, or having reason to. And I was in what was probably perceived as a white guy's major in a white guy's school which had no liberal arts college. One oddball data point does not lend itself to sound conclusions.

After college I worked to construct and test nuclear power plants in the South for a while. I'd hear comments or jokes that would be called "racist", like this: "How do you get rid of crabs? Paint one of them black, and the rest won't eat with him". That in particular strikes me as showing just how ridiculous color distinctions are, but get caught telling it at work and you'd probably lose your job nowadays.

The Southern town I lived in had some interesting history and was still largely segregated. Whether that just hadn't changed organically yet or was being kept alive by real estate types I don't know. I never had any business in the black part of town north of the railroad tracks, so I can't say much about it.

After a few years I came back up North again because that's where most of the family was. I started noticing a few things, and hearing more history. For instance, one yellow-dog Democrat from the area would deny it now, but contemporaries say he swore that if any blacks tried to join their local construction union they'd have 'accidents'. And I never saw it, but a relative told me that another town about 40 miles away used to have a sign at the city limits that said "Nigger - don't let the sun set on you". This, a century after the Civil War - suuuure, they fought to free slaves all right.

So how have things turned out? Well, it so happens that nobody I would call a real friend is black. Of course that's also true of Germans, and I'm heavily Kraut myself - it means nothing other than that the right situations haven't arisen. I've been around enough to have a realistic view - there's no point in forcing anything. I'll admit to one prejudice - I expect many blacks to look for grievances, because if people who purportedly spoke for "my" race spoke as today's nominal black leaders do, I'd be looking for grievances myself.

But personally I'd rather just forget about it, and I'm tired of this succession of politically fabricated non-issues you have to sign off on to avoid being tagged a "racist". Sorry, but whatever Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did wasn't on par with George Washington's accomplishments, but who has his own Federal holiday? How about hate crimes? - I guess it would have been better if James Byrd would have been white or his attackers had been black? Or affirmative action - sorry pal, but I wasn't overprivileged either, and shouldn't be subject to arbitrary quota-driven screwings because of something someone else might have done to you. "Reparations" aren't even worthy of a serious discussion. And don't get me started on this !#$! stupidity about the Confederate battle flag - surely if this is an issue then we must not have any real problems left. What's next, a ban on white sheets?

And let's not forget the latest in stupidity - this contrived McCarthyist charge of "racial insensitivity". It's the latest Democrat effort to make sure race is a political issue. Even if it does prime people who had been favorably disposed to ending racial injustice to respond to the latest charges with a reflexive visceral "Bullshit!".

I had been primed from an early age to do right about race. Then politicians and race hustlers took me from there to where I am now. Let them keep it up long enough, and you'll run this completely into the ground like with feminism and anti-Communism. Anybody who doesn't see that coming truly is inferior.

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