Thursday, June 19, 2008

An old-timer’s view of race

I’m officially a geezer and grew up during a time when the races were segregated. In the south, the N-word wasn’t used as a derogatory term as much as a descriptive term – it’s what blacks were called – including those that were held in affection. True, most often those genuinely liked by whites were nannies or cooks, but they wouldn’t have been intentionally disparaged.

Blacks were viewed as second-class citizens to be sure. History tells us of the indignities they were forced to endure, and the older among us have witnessed (and participated) in those indignities.

In hindsight, we now know that it was not right to treat blacks as anything less than equal. I say “in hindsight” because back then most whites were “educated” by society to view black persons as inherently inferior. For most whites, it wasn’t done with a particular malice – it was just the way it was. That was life in America in the forties and fifties.

Practically everything was segregated and that meant that there was little positive interaction between the races. There were few blacks in government, on police forces, in the movies or on the radio. But, there were also fewer single-parent families and a much lower crime rate. Unwed mothers were taboo and black children, even though in less than favorable surroundings, learned. The black community, while mistreated as a group, remained a positive force in the lives of black America.

Then, there came a period of gradual transition – probably late fifties to seventies – when the civil rights movement prompted white Americans to do some soul-searching. There were still bigots and racists to be sure, but they were in the minority. By the time that this 15-20 year period ended, most white Americans no longer viewed blacks as less than equal. I know that my four years in the service were entirely integrated and devoid of any racial problems. We ate, slept, and did everything together – as equals.

Since whites held all of the power and outnumbered blacks by something like 8 to 1, advances experienced by blacks were brought about by whites. Blacks simply didn’t have the numbers or the power to do so themselves.

During this time, young white people began to embrace “black” music, and black actors began to appear in movies and television.

Fast forward to the 21st century.

In 2000, blacks occupied over 9,000 elected positions in government, including the position of mayor in many of our largest cities. Blacks have been appointed to cabinet positions, Secretary of State (twice) and Supreme Court Justice. In 2008, we have a bona fide candidate for the Presidency with a real chance of winning.

Yet those whose business is racism like Jackson, Sharpton, and Wright continue to tell us that “the white man” is keeping them down. Black folks aren’t responsible for any of the ills suffered by the black community – it’s all whiteys fault. They do their best to ignore the progress that’s been evident over the past 30 years.

In today’s culture, the term “closure” is often used to identify the completion of a chapter in a person’s life in order to move forward. It’s my opinion that many blacks need closure to release painful links to the past. Slavery is gone – today’s white generation was not responsible for slavery – let it go.

The same is true for segregation. While many older Americans (like me) likely did contribute to racial mistreatment in their earlier years, the vast majority have revised their thinking to recognize that black folks are indeed our brothers and sisters. While segregation may not be completely eliminated, it has been minimized and is no longer the impediment to an individual’s progress that it once was – now, black folks need to let it go too.

No comments: