Saturday, July 04, 2020

A RACIST? WHO, ME? (AMENDED)

DECLINING CIVILITY
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent economic collapse and the civil unrest as a result of George Floyd’s death under the knee of the Minneapolis police officer, I’ve seen a significant change in civility in our society.

IT’S NOT JUST FACEBOOK
I won’t use the shift of tone on social media alone for this observation.  Every single night for the last couple months on the news - any news - we’ve seen the breakdown of civility all across the country, which is certainly exacerbated by the fear of the illness and compounded by so many folks being out of work and all the stress that alone brings.

FRACTURING OF OLD RELATIONSHIPS
What I have observed, however, is the willingness of some people to engage in nasty, vindictive, accusatory discussions with folks who express a differing opinion on some of the pithy social issues of the time.  I admit that I base this largely on my own personal experiences recently, but also of experiences shared - or that I have observed - as it affected others.  Sadly, some of those discussions have been between me and friends - not just Facebook friends, (I expect rancor from some on Facebook - it goes with the turf) but actual, honest-to-goodness long-time friends.  These real friends are those with whom we have never had these kinds of conversations in the past.  Our bond has been based on a shared life experience - growing up together and maintaining close relationships over the years.  Never in the past have we found the need to sit down and have a serious discussion about race relations in our country - it just never came up.  The discussions we shared revolved around the fun times in our lives, our siblings and parents and shared friendships with others.  We enjoyed hearing with great joy about the lives of their children and their accomplishments and families.  Never did I find the need to say to any of those friends, “I don’t know any black people, nor do I understand what their lives are like.”  It just never came up…. until now.

DEVALUING MY OPINIONS
I have come to realize lately that, as an old white guy, raised in a life nearly completely devoid of contact with black people, my opinions are being challenged by friends and others for what they apparently feel is my inadequate background and understanding of  racial diversity issues, thus negating my opinion.  Since almost all of those people do not really know all of my background their condemnation of my opinions are, at the very least, disappointing.  We ALL are entitled to opinions on issues, whether we have lived them or not.

A SHORT PRIMER
So, let’s talk about my limited background with black people.  Although I have known many Latino and Asian people in both my personal and professional life,  never knew a black person until I entered the United States Army late in 1963 - shortly after John F. Kennedy was murdered.  In Basic Training I had no “buddies” that were black, although there were a few in my training company.  In my first duty station, in the Army Pictorial Center in Long Island City, Queens, New York, one of my very best friends for the short 6 months I spent there was Hayes Manning, a black man from California.  He had a college degree.  His father went to Harvard and his mother attended Radcliffe.  His Aunt Joyce was married George Wein, the producer of the Newport Jazz Festival.  We used to jump on the subway and go to their home on Central Park West and just hang out.  We met legendary jazz musicians who wandered through.  That was the first place I ever smelled marijuana.  During that summer of 1964 there were riots in Harlem so Hayes and I, ignorently, decided to jump on the subway and go see what it was all about.  Huge mistake!  We stepped onto the city streets, recognized this was like a pre-lynch scene in an old “B” western movie and immediately left - both of us petrified from the experience.  He became a lifelong friend until his death in his early 50s.

FLIGHT SCHOOL
During my time at the Pictorial Center I applied for, and was accepted into, the fledgling Warrant Officer Rotary Wing Flight Training program - the  Army was gearing up for the need for more “bus drivers” in Vietnam - and spent the last few months of 1964 and early into 1965 attending an abbreviated Officer Candidate School and learning to fly helicopters in northern Texas.  I had no black friends during that time.  Although an eye ailment eliminated me from flight school, I was reassigned to the Advanced School at Fort Rucker (one of those bases the angry masses now scream about re-naming) and spent the remaining part of my enlistment at that location as a company clerk while my classmates completed their training.  87 men in my class (of the 142 who began) graduated in July of 1965 and all of them, including the 80 assigned to the legendary First Cavalry (Airmobile) Division at Fort Benning, GA (another of those bases the screamers would have us rename), were in Vietnam by September.  Six of those men did not make it through their first tour, having been killed in action in Vietnam.

THE WATTS RIOTS AND CHANGE
During my time at Fort Rucker the Watts Riots occurred back home in Los Angeles.  My very best friend in life was a rookie cop with the LAPD at that time and was involved in that chaos.  In fact, he was doubly involved because he was also in the Army National Guard and his unit was activated and assigned to riot control at the very location he had been working at with the LAPD.  Yes, I was interested.  And, I saw that societal event change things at Fort Rucker.  Before that event men of all races would mingle and enjoy each other’s company in our company Day Room - a place with television, pool tables and a library plus comfortable chairs - a kind of living room for our barracks.  When the Watts riots occurred I saw a polarization occur - blacks sat with blacks and whites sat with whites.  When the television showed blacks looting stores in LA, the blacks in the Day Room would stand and cheer.  When the National Guard fired  on them, the whites would cheer.  Nothing was the same on that post from that time forward in the summer of 1965.  In fact, three weeks before I mustered out in December, there was a cross burned on the lawn of a black sergeant, where he and his family lived in his on-post housing domicile.  Keep in mind that Fort Rucker is located in the armpit of the South, where the “N Word” was used in casual conversation by the civilian populace.  In Dothan - the biggest town near our post - there were drinking fountains marked for “coloreds” and black folks were required to buy tickets at the local theater on the outside of the ticket booth and take an outside stairway to the balcony - they could not sit with the white folks downstairs.  Yes, this was a tough time to be a black person in the South.

TENSION IN THE SOUTH
As my best friend from flight school and I drove from the Primary School outside Fort Worth, Texas to the Advanced School in Alabama we drove past Philadelphia, Mississippi, the location where, just a few months earlier, three civil rights workers were murdered.  Also on our route we crossed over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the day before the big march.  We were clueless about that stuff, but did wonder why there were 200 State Police cars staged on the north side of that bridge.  We found out the next day after we arrived at Fort Rucker.

THE ’N-WORD”
Following my military service I worked for a national insurance company in progressively responsible assignments that took me to Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Hartford, Houston, Hartford and San Francisco over a period of seven years, until I resigned and we returned home to Southern California and bought the home we’ve lived in for more than 46 years.  During that time, and in subsequent jobs I’ve had, I had very limited experience working with black people.  I had no long-term relationships with any black people during that time.  The only significant experience I had with black people was during my time in Houston when we attempted to hire young black women - graduates with liberal arts degrees from all-black Texas Southern University - into entry-level clerical jobs to which they had applied.  We were unsuccessful.  These women showed up woefully unprepared for the jobs and it is likely that the societal chasm they found themselves in made it hard - impossible - to achieve success.  My first day at that office, where I held a senior management position, I heard the “N-Word” spoken in casual conversation by the woman who worked for me and did most of the applicant preliminary screening.  That was the last time the word was spoken in my presence.  Regardless, it was indicative of the systemically hostile environment that young black women were exposed to in that office.  I tried to overcome that terrible bias by working hard with supervisors and managers, but was unsuccessful in single-handedly buffing off a century of racial bias.

NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS
In my last assignment with the insurance company I worked in San Francisco and lived in Concord, in the east bay.  Our next door neighbors were a mixed race couple.  He was a black man and a Captain in the United States Navy.  We established a relationship that has lasted for nearly a half century.  Both parents are gone, but we still have a relationship with their kids.

RACIAL DIVERSITY WAS NEVER A CONSIDERATION
In subsequent jobs I had virtually zero exposure to black men and women.  The companies I worked with were mostly white, with some Asians and Latinos in the population.  I did not seek them out because of that lack of racial diversity - I just never considered it in my job searches.  Most of those assignments involved some part of the recruitment process.  We never specifically targeted any racial group when trying to fill positions, although occasionally we would hire black people.  When I struck out on my own early in the 1980s and created a consulting practice that specialized primarily in Executive Search, the issue of racial diversity never came up.  In no case did a client company charge me with finding a woman or man of color - nor did we sort any out that appeared as a result of that search.

NO RACIAL EMPHASIS ON THE BLOG
During the past couple of decades when I wrote this blog and wrote commentaries elsewhere, none involved specific issues of race.  During this time I got to know a couple black Costa Mesa officials.  Judge Karen Robinson was a terrific leader, our mayor for a time and is an effective judge.  Rick Francis was a really good Assistant City Manager and just a good guy.  But that’s about it.  My focus has not been about racial issues.  Is that good or bad?  It is what it is.  

NOTE: A couple days after I published this piece an old friend, who has followed this blog from the very beginning, reminded me that I did, indeed, address race.  He reminded me that in my frequent jousts with another blogger in town who has written extensively on racial issues - I called him a racist, but he defined himself as a "racialist" - I did take the issue on to refute some of his putrid prose.  He has shriveled into insignificance locally, but still fouls the ether with his drumbeat of intolerance.  Sorry for the misstatement - he is something most are happy to push back in to the corners of our memories.

A LACK OF DEPTH, BUT NO REMORSE
So, as I read back over this essay I realize that, although I’m a pretty smart fella, I DO NOT have a background with any depth of experience with black folks.  I DID see how blacks were treated in the deep south in the 1960s - a pretty awful experience for them.  I have had a solid relationship with a couple black friends, but none lately.  A friend asked me the other day if I had any black friends - my answer was NO - not counting the Concord neighbors mentioned above since we only hear from them once a year.  As I contemplated that fact I realized that I don’t have any particular remorse about not having any close black friends - I don’t have feelings about it one way or the other.  Does that make me a racist?  If you think so I’d like to hear about it.  Because I’m ambivalent on the issue, am I considered a racist?  Because I’m VERY angry about the behavior of the current crop of demonstrators, those who are threatening to burn down our society, do you think I’m a racist?  How is it wrong for me to want to protect those I love and their personal wealth?  I don’t get it.  Is it wrong for me to refuse to just step back and say to those rioters “Go ahead - take everything I’ve worked for just because somewhere in your history - four generations ago - there may be slavery in your ancestry.”?

I LEARNED, BUT NEED MORE
Recently I listened on the radio to an excellent discussion moderated by my friends, John Stephens and Tom Johnson, with four black men of a variety of backgrounds, but each with a local connection to my city, and came away with a much better understanding of their plight.  I have a better understanding of “systemic racism” and want to learn more.  I understand a little bit better about how things like red-lining and inequitable school funding have so adversely affected black men and women in this country and I want to learn more - to more fully understand the issue and what possible solutions there might be.  If you feel the urge to educate me on these issues, go ahead.  I’m a good listener and sometimes actually ask good questions.   Otherwise, please keep your caustic, holier-than-thou comments to yourself.  If you don’t like what I write, just don’t read it.  If you think you can offer constructive observations, go ahead.

…BUT, DON’T THINK YOU CAN JUST TAKE IT!
But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to have my state, California, decide to use my tax dollars to pay billions (trillions?) of dollars in reparations to every black man and woman in this state for alleged mistreatment of people of their race generations ago.  There is a move afoot to create a commission to study that very issue and I don’t like it one bit!  I didn’t do it and I don’t want to pay for it.  If that happens it will be the final straw.  It will mean to me that California - the state I love for her natural beauty and as the home to so many of our relatives - will become unlivable for a guy with conservative values.  I will just pack up and move elsewhere - look out, Texas!  

IS CHANGE NECESSARY?  PROBABLY…
Do I want to see that systemic racism eliminated?  Of course!  Do I want to hand the fruits of my lifetime of labor over to someone who just wants it because he thinks he’s entitled to it?  Nope - not gonna happen!  If a mob shows up on my porch demanding possession of my home and all I own, I will do all within my power to resist that criminal act.  When I say all, I mean ALL!  

LIKE IT OR NOT, THERE IT IS.
So, that’s a couple thousand words about how I feel on this issue.  I don’t really care if you like it or not - it is what it is. You cannot comment here - comments are disabled.  If you want to rant about it you must go to my Facebook page HERE.  Or, you can communicate with me privately. It’s your choice.  

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, MY FRIENDS
In any event, I wish you all well and hope you are having a wonderful Independence Day holiday.  How’s that for irony - Independence Day in the middle of a catastrophic pandemic, economic collapse and social unrest not seen in this country for more than 40 years?  Oh, well…

Labels: , , , , , , , ,