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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Your Hatred Still Warms My Flinty Black Heart

Forward: Right after the last presidential election, I wrote about racism in America. Predictably, I got more than a few negative reactions from certain constipated folks who choose to be offended, because they read my post and decided that I was calling them, personally, racists  (I was).  Because their angry racists comments denying their racism amused me, I then subsequently wrote a follow-up entitled Your Hate Warms My Flinty Black Heart.  Last week, when I wrote an essay on a certain kind of racism in America, I knew I’d get the same type of reaction from the same type of pinch-faced unhappy people. And so I did (though not as many angry comments as I’m currently getting on the previous post about Jeff Fauxworthy). And I assumed from the start that I’d be writing another follow-up. And so I have and you’re now looking at it. This time, however, instead of holding the comments up to ridicule, I’m going to use their input to explore certain aspects of bigotry in America that I left out of the previous post for editorial reasons.

What?

Oh, fine, fine. Sure, if it’ll make you happy, we’ll engage in a little ridicule.  //Jim


 

 

Let’s see, where to start?

How about here:

stupid lib NO cents white man r u goin to covr us with white guilt. boohoo cri m a rvr. Peeplz hat their own peepz lik u make me sik fuq u

I know, I know, but let’s for the moment resist that urge and look instead at the actual question, to wit:

Hey, white guy, what the hell would you know about racism?

Fair question.

Where does a fairly well-off, middle-aged, straight white male, get off talking about racism in America?

What the hell would I know about racism (and sexism, and homophobia, and anti-Semitism, and etc.), seriously?

What would I know about fear and hatred and bigotry?

From personal experience, I mean.

I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, in a modest suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan, a place called Jenison.  I wasn’t rich. I wasn’t poor. I lived in a decent house in a decent neighborhood. My folks were married, they loved each other, they worked hard, they didn’t abuse their kids or each other, and they were home for dinner every night. I had enough to eat. I had nice place to sleep in a room of my own. I went to a nice new school. I attended a nice Presbyterian church.  And so on.

There weren’t a whole lot of black people around.

In other words, I was a typical white middle-class kid from the typical white Midwest who grew up in a typical white middle-class town.

Now, I do remember my first interaction with a black person.  I was maybe five or six. Something like that. We were on a school fieldtrip to the Grand Rapids Public Museum (the old Art Deco GRPM on Jefferson).  We were in the main hall, under the blue whale skeleton. As I recall, it was nearing time to leave, there were groups of children from many different schools running every which way, screaming and laughing and being kids, and adults attempting to herd them into some semblance of order.  As I rounded a display case, a black man grabbed my arm and began hauling me in the direction of a group of black children.  His grip was like iron, he moved like an irresistible force. He was yelling at the black children who stared back with wide white eyes. I remember being terrified. I remember confused shouting. I remember the look of shock and sudden fear on the man’s face when he looked down and realized that he’d grabbed the wrong kid.  He let me go immediately and stood there, waiting. That’s what I remember, he stood there, with his hands carefully at his sides, waiting. I ran back to the teacher and said something like “that man grabbed me!”  And he was just standing there, watching my accusing finger pointing at him, waiting.  It’s nearly fifty years ago now, but I remember it clear as a bell, his resigned look. There was a pause, the teacher said something to me like, “That’s okay, he’s a teacher too, he’s just trying to gather up his class. He didn’t mean to scare you,” and I remember the look of relief that came over his face.  He resumed his business and we went on about ours. 

I’ve never forgotten that incident, though it was many, many years before I understood everything that occurred or why in 1967 a black man would have looked so frightened for grabbing a white kid.

But, for the most part, I didn’t know anybody who wasn’t white. By the time I got to high school, I was a nerd, an outcast. I didn’t exactly have a lot of friends.  I vaguely recall a black kid in my high school, junior or senior year, I didn’t know him. We weren’t in any classes together. We weren’t friends. I remember he was really tall. That’s about it. He might have been an exchange student for all I know. Hell, he might even have been popular, I sure wasn’t and so I didn’t spend much time around the cool kids.  There might have been an Asian kid or two.  I remember I was sweet on a beautiful raven haired girl name Blanca – who I’m almost positive was some kind of Hispanic, but I have no idea beyond that. She sat in my Spanish class and spoke only marginally better EspaƱol than me, which is to say not much. She was about as Hispanic as I was Irish. I think that’s about it for diversity.

For me, for most of my childhood, race wasn’t a factor. 

Everybody around me was just like me (only way cooler). I wasn’t entirely ignorant, well, not academically anyway, I’d been to Flint and Detroit, it’s not like I hadn’t seen a person of color but I didn’t interact with anybody other than white people on a day to day basis. I mean I knew about racism, theoretically. It was that time after all. I saw it on television. It was in the paper. We must have talked about race and racism and the civil rights movement in school, in social studies maybe, as I vaguely recall. But nobody was protesting outside my school. Nobody was marching in the streets of Jenison, Michigan. 

So, given that, what would I know about fear and hatred and bigotry?

Let me tell you about my first experience with racism.

Let me tell you about it from my perspective.

I said I didn’t know any black people. That’s not entirely true.  I spent a couple of summers working at a Boy Scout camp, first as a CIT and later as a Camp Counselor. I loved that job, for two glorious months each summer I wasn’t a dork.  I was a guy other kids looked up to. I taught camping and orienteering and pioneer cooking. I taught other kids how to make rope and how to do  wilderness engineering and general campcraft. I was the guy who helped them earn their camping merit badges.

It was the place where I first started to really believe in myself and shape the adult I would eventually become.

When I was about seventeen, the BSA had made an effort to  become more inclusive (ironic that 30 years later the impulse is in the other direction, but I digress), and for the first time, there was a black troop in camp. And not just a black troop, but an inner city black troop from (I think) Muskegon Heights.  The Troop leader was an enormous black guy that everybody called “Rock.” He didn’t smile very much and he wasn’t none too friendly and he didn’t mix with the other white scout leaders, not socially anyway. He spent most of his time with his scouts. And his scouts, well, they were fish out of water, poor underprivileged inner city black kids in the woods for the first time.

Alone, in the wilderness, surrounded by white people.

Nowadays that would be the premise for a funny Disney movie starring Damon Wayans and in the end they’d pull a Mighty Ducks and out scout all the privileged white kids in some final battle of Campcraft Olympics and the movie would end in a triumphant feel-good handshake.

Back then it wasn’t so funny, in retrospect, I think most of those kids were probably terrified.

Now, for scouts working on camping merit badges, come mid-week they had to cook dinner for their entire troop at their campsite. In other words, instead of eating in the dinning hall, the scouts would check out a chuck-wagon box (camp stove, utensils, pots and pans, etc) and would get a certain amount of food based on a menu they developed from the commissary.  Usually, they’d cook your basic Scout menu, burger meat packed into an orange peel wrapped in tinfoil and roasted on the campfire coals, beans, chips, bug juice, that kind of thing. 

The white Scouts had been doing this since they were Cubs, the black kids had no idea – they’d never done anything like this before. That’s when I began to get a vague grasp of just how big of a gap there was between us.

The kids working on their merit badge are supposed to coordinate with their troop, but these kids didn’t understand and there was a screw-up and they all showed up for lunch at the chow hall.  But because they were supposed to cook for themselves that day, there wasn’t any food on their table.  You can imagine the kids’ confusion. Once things were sorted out, Rock herded them together, checked out his food and chuck wagon and gamely set out back to his campsite to fix dinner for his hungry troop.  Now, in retrospect, I’m pretty sure those kids thought some kind of flimflam was going on, white kids got to eat in the mess hall, they had to cook for themselves.

In retrospect, things could have been explained better (probably starting with me). 

Now, I already felt bad because there had been a screw-up, which was at least partly my fault (and if I’d been older and more sure of myself, I’d have gone out to that campsite instead of eating my own lunch in the chowhall and helped by example. Hindsight, thirty-five years too late, but then I’ve had a long time to think about this).  Plus, well, yes, I’d heard that there had been some racial issues with some of the white Scouts and maybe some of the staff, and I felt guilty about that, and I didn’t want those kids to think I was like that. 

It was really, really important to me. 

It was really important that those black Scouts not think I was a jerk. See, I was a dork, an outcast. I knew what it was like to be bullied and called names and to be an outsider. But in camp, I felt like I belonged. I loved that place. I wanted those kids to love it too. I wanted them to feel like they belonged.

So when an hour later one of the black Scouts came hurrying up the trail into Campcraft and approached me timidly, that’s what was on my mind. 

The kid asked for something, I forget what exactly now. Some tool or camp item, matches maybe. He was quiet and (in retrospect) scared and intimidated.  Whatever it was, I wasn’t supposed to give it to him, it was one of those items that were only supposed to be checked out by an adult.

I told him I couldn’t give it to him.

He asked why. 

And my answer will always be etched on my memory like a scratch in diamond, I said, “Well because apparently we can’t trust you.”

 

 

Yeah. I know.

Sure. It’s obvious. Now.

But I was seventeen. I was trying to be funny, I was trying to make a connection in my own bumbling dorky way, ha ha the adults, see, they don’t trust us. Us. You and me, see? Us kids, they don’t trust us.  It never, ever, ever, occurred to me that that underprivileged black kid from the inner city, maybe a only year or so younger than me, saw me as an adult, a white man in a position of authority. Nobody had ever looked at me that way and it just didn’t occur to me.

I had no context.

Humor is a cultural thing. We were from such widely different backgrounds that we had no mutual context, nothing to hang a joke on (a lesson that would stay with me decades later when I was leading Navy boarding teams onto Muslim ships in the Arabian Gulf and trying to find common ground).

What that kid heard was not what I meant.

Instead of laughing, he looked at me for a moment, shrugged, and walked away.

I knew I’d handled that badly, but back then I handled most interpersonal conversations with strangers badly.

I didn’t really know just how bad until until Rock came down that same trail ten minutes later. 

Remember I said he was a large black man? I meant large, big, huge (he may have grown in my memory, but he was a big dude, seriously).  They called him “Rock” for a reason. And he was furious. His hands were balled into fists and when he spoke his words came out like he was biting off 10ga wire and spitting out nails.  We paid our money, same as the white kids, he thundered, and my scouts are as good as any of you any day. They know the Scout Oath and the Scout Law good as you. And they’re as trustworthy as any white kid! And when I send one of my boys down here to get something, I expect you to give it to him without any racial comments!

I was horrified! Appalled! Struck dumb!  That kid thought I was saying that I didn’t trust him because he was black?  Oh my God! Rock thought that’s what I’d said! I couldn’t even speak. I was making squeaking noises. I was facing a very large, very angry black man and I was a dorky seventeen year old teenager who had barely ever even seen a black person before – and I’d just given mortal insult. I didn’t know how to explain. I didn’t know how to say, Stop! Wait! It’s not like that! I didn’t mean. I’m sorry.

So, I stood there, ashamed, and let that man think I was a racist.

We never spoke again.

And to this day, to this very day thirty five years later, I want to find that kid and explain. I want to find Rock and explain. I want to tell them that I’m sorry for being stupid and ignorant, for being unaware, for being able to be unaware – for having that luxury.

That was my first experience with racism.

I’ve thought about that moment many, many times since.  It shames me, thirty-five years later and it still shames me.  That those people thought I was a racist.  And it’s not that I was unfairly branded as a racist in their minds, it’s not that they misunderstood my clumsy seventeen year old self. It’s not that. I don’t resent that. It’s that they had every right to make that assumption, based on their experience. Hell, how many times had something exactly like that happened to that kid? How many battles had Rock fought just to be there with his Scouts? It’s not that he unfairly stereotyped me, rather it’s all the things have happened over the centuries of race in America that I saw in that man’s eyes that day. Behind his towering rage, there was that same tired look of pain, the same sad terrible look of pain as on that black man’s face in the museum while he waited to see what would happen next.

I’m not that dorky kid any more, I’ve travelled the world, I’ve led men in war, I walked through a hundred cities and set foot upon the shores of six continents. I’ve seen that look many times since, on far too many black faces.

And it shames me.

I doubt those people, Rock and that Scout, remember that event. I suspect that it’s just one more forgotten thing in a long list that shapes their lives. And that gnaws at me, that small thing, that Butterfly Effect.

It’s unlikely that that encounter changed them, but it changed me.

If I could speak to them today, I’d thank them.  See, because before that moment, I’d never looked at the world from anybody else’s viewpoint except for my own.  I was a racist, well of course I was.  Oh not in the white sheets and burning crosses fashion, not even in the cheerful smiling sickening sweet Paula Deen fashion, but from ignorance, from being ignorant of another’s obvious pain and history and culture.

When you’re seventeen, well you know, ignorance isn’t much of a sin.

But if you grow up and don’t learn better, don’t learn to see, then that’s the problem.

So, what’s the moral of my story?

That white people should feel guilty and ashamed for something they didn’t, personally, do?

That’s what a number of commenters got from the previous post about Paula Deen and I’m positive that’s what they’ll get from my story here.

They’ll read it and they’ll scowl to themselves and they’ll say, “Oh whatever, Man, more liberal bullshit. More White Guilt. Screw you!”

That’s exactly what they’ll say.

From Facebook (regarding the Paula Deen essay):

I think this article is a bunch of 'white liberal guilt' mumbo jumbo. I also think white people have had enough of the double standard...I dont want no problems with you […], its just my opinion! Haha!

Yes. Ha ha.

Here’s a another one:

isn't this th' same dude's face who was Big Brother in "1984" with John Hurt??

That’s my personal favorite.

I looked it up, my Facebook profile picture does sort of resemble Big Brother from the movie 1984, except I have a much better hat.

Obviously that makes my entire essay invalid.

BLACK people owned SLAVES!

Blacks call each other nggr! Its in the “music! Whutsup niggaz!! But yeh its only racist when white people use it . double standard! LOL!

hATE WHITES MUCH RACIST BAITER???

read the obvious made up complaint. lies. there lazy butts just looking for an easy pay day and Puala is a easy target beause of who she it

I could go through a couple dozen of these comments, but I can already hear the complaints: It’s too long, it’s tooo looong ahhh tooo long (Yeah, I get that a lot), but this guy basically sums everything up in one ugly paragraph (again, from Facebook):

This whole article is utter and complete drivel, Typical left wing reactionary white guilt pandering. It wouldn't bother me so much except that the only people that this kind of nonsense is applied to are white folks, apparently only we can be racist. We must also for some reason take responsibility today and forever for things that happened long before any of us were born and truth be told was instigated by the African tribes themselves anyway. I'm sorry I will not be made to feel guilty about who i am or for something I had no hand in, and as for the so called cultural or hidden racism of today? If anything it is exactly the opposite of what the race bating politicians and looney left liberals would have us believe from my experience.

Right, that’s what I said: Only white people can be racists. 

You may, if you like, imagine the Big Brother face from 1984 making an eyeroll here.

It’s the False Dichotomy Fallacy: If you admit slavery once existed in America, then all white people are racists, right? If you acknowledge that slavery was terrible and without a shred of moral justification and its horrible legacy is still with us today, you admit up front that all current white people are responsible for it and should hate themselves.

I mean, that’s what you got from my essay, right?

Yep, that’s what I said. Riiight.

Sigh.

That’s how it is with these people. They’re like truculent children. It’s all one or the other. Left or right. One or zero. Period. 

It’s one thing to act like that when you’re five and your brain isn’t fully developed, but as an adult?

The world is many shades of gray, it’s not all black or all white.  You can acknowledge the evil legacy of slavery and centuries of bondage and oppression without having to engage in self loathing as a white person. Acknowledging the toxic effects of racism and slavery does not mean that you have to hate white people.  But you can’t convince people like the commenter above that that’s what you’re saying. No, for them, any acknowledgement of the mistakes our country has made, any admission that the United States isn’t perfect to ten decimals places, means that you’re telling them they have to hate themselves.

They are unable to accept criticism of history without making that criticism into a personal attack on themselves.

Again, it’s like arguing with an angry child.

I have no empirical proof, I’m not a brain doctor or psychologist, but I suspect that this petulant childish binary viewpoint is at least part of where racist comes from in the first place.

It’s a lack of empathy, a lack of being able to see the world from any viewpoint but for your own.

It’s the Bush Doctrine, you’re either with us or against us. Us and them. Black and white. Friends and enemies. Those are the only two choices with these people.

So they wash their hands of it: c’mon, slavery wasn’t that bad, besides it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away and also besides, yeah, what about black people started it! Yeah, that’s right, slavery was started by Africans, what about that? Huh? Huh?

Oh, well, then that makes it okay, I guess. 

Based on that reasoning, I guess it’s okay when Palestinian extremists gun down Jews on the streets of Israel, I mean, hell, the Nazis were killing them first, right?  Shit, all kinds of people have been killing Jews, all the way back to the Romans at Masada, must be ok. C’mon, the Holocaust wasn’t that bad, why do you guys have to keep bringing it up?

See? See how stupid is sounds when you drag this kind of reasoning out into the light?

Folks, I’m gonna go right ahead and call Shenanigans. That whole “Black Africans practiced slavery way way before white people and besides it was black people who were selling black slaves to the white people” is a bullshit dodge. Sure, there were black slavers, sure Africans enslaved Africans, sure Black Slavers sold black slaves to white slave masters.  Yep. It happened. So what? That doesn’t justify white enslavement of blacks in any fashion whatsoever.  It doesn’t justify any kind of slavery, anywhere or any time.  It just means that black people and white people are both assholes when the opportunity presents itself – something else we all have in common – and it’s still an atrocity.

Seriously, if you have to have this explained to you, you’re an idiot.

If you’re using this nonsense as a get out of jail free card, you may not be a racist per se, but you’re for damned sure a clueless jackass who’s using a racist argument dreamed up by racists and promulgated by racists to justify one of the most heinous acts of racism in history.

I’m sorry, but I will not be made to feel guilty about who I am or something I had no hand in…

Right. Because that’s what my essay was about, making this assclown feel guilty about himself.

You know who talks like this? Closet racists who know they’re racists and are afraid someone is going to call them out on their racist bullshit, that’s who.

You don’t have to feel guilty about being white. If you do, well then that’s on you. You deal with it. The rest of us don’t have to pretend that several hundred years of history didn’t happen just because you can’t put on your big boy pants and face the past. 

No, slavery wasn’t your fault.  Nobody’s blaming you for it, certainly not me.

Up above I said that these people would never understand the point of my story. And like Paula Deen, they simply don’t get it.  I didn’t feel ashamed for being white, I felt ashamed for being ignorant

If you can’t see the difference, I can’t explain it to you.

Look, here’s the thing, ignorance has consequences. 

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and we’ve seen exactly that over and over, haven’t we?  The reason for acknowledging our history isn’t to make these silly goofs feel guilty about themselves (I doubt anything can do that), but so that we can all understand why those words hurt so much, so that we can be better human beings, so we don’t have to go through life being a jackass like the clod up above. So we can see the world from each other’s viewpoint. So we can find a common context.  So we don’t make the same mistakes again.  The reasons are endless.

Frankly, I wouldn’t think you’d have to explain that to people.

You don’t have to feel guilty about being white, no more than you should be made to feel less than a full citizen for being born brown.  That’s the whole damned point, Dumbass.

It’s exactly the opposite, from my experience.

And what exactly is this guy’s experience? I mean, honestly, what’s this guy’s experience? No really? He can’t shout racial slurs in public any more? People of color should get a fair shake? Everybody gets a crack at self determination, not just the folks he approves of? Oh how terrible, political correctness has done run amuck, the country is doomed.

His Facebook page has a little rant about how he and his family were kicked out of a popular restaurant chain because he was carrying a concealed handgun (obviously not that concealed, if the wait staff could see it, I mean. Just saying).  He was outraged at what he called a violation of his Constitutional rights … and completely, utterly, oblivious to the Constitutional property rights of any business to disallow armed patrons. Nor did he bother to check the restaurant’s policy first, he just assumed, because, hey, it’s all about him and his rights, isn’t it?  And, of course, based on his response to my essay, he’s apparently fine with Paula Deen’s restaurant chain denying Constitutional rights to black people who happen to be her employees.

That, right there, is his “experience.”

It’s how he looks at the entire world.

These are the kind of people who think that freedom is a finite resource, e.g. that if others get more freedom they somehow get less. They look out at the world and glory in their democracy, their freedom, their liberty … and then bemoan the collapse of dictatorships in the Middle East and the rise of democracies.  They talk about how it’s better for us, the United States, if Egypt and Libya and Iraq are ruled by strongmen. They’re willing to dismiss the brutal regimes of Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Murbarak as easily as they wave away slavery and oppression in their own country’s past.

They love self-determination, these patriots, they just don’t think anybody else should have it. 

When these people talk about how white folks are losing their rights due to “political correctness,” that’s exactly what they’re afraid of.

This is why pundits like Glenn Beck claim white men are the most persecuted minority in America - and why he’s so popular with these people.

You wonder why there’s still racism in this country? 

You’re looking right at it.

 

What would I know about racism? Only what I see around me.  

Same as everybody else.

79 comments:

  1. Binary world view - Check
    Ignorance - Check
    Lack of empathy - Check
    Narcissism - Check
    No critical thinking skills - Check
    Projection - Check
    Fear - Check

    Did I miss any? Probably. Most or all of them are present in this lot.

    Thanks for another spot on deconstruction of racist thinking and logic, lack thereof.

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    1. Gosh, it's good to know you're so advanced that you could read this and only be jaded and cynical about the whole thing. You must be so cool.

      Delete
  2. You need to bring back "You're a God" for this one. Thanks. And, actually, I cried.

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    1. Ditto.
      You're a God.
      Holy cats!
      I cried.
      All of the above.
      And I've only read the first two examples!!
      OK....diving back in.
      But you had me at "I know, I know..."

      Delete
    2. Wait, umm, Jim explained this a while back. "Holy Cats!" is the current equivalent of "You are my God." Umm, I think; the ol' memory ain't what it used to be. I just checked that one, anyway, so I damn sure hope so.

      Oh, and when it comes time to change the check-boxes again, I would suggest "Effing Brilliant!" as one of the options. Always appropriate, always.

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  3. Thanks Jim for telling it like it is and what most of us are incapable of verbalizing on our own. Until we walk a mile in someone elses shoes, we do not know what he feels. And if he has no shoes, walk barefoot down the paths he must walk.

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  4. On a recent visit to small town Arkansas, we were at a big box store. As I approached the entry from the parking lot, I saw an older woman nearing the door from inside. She saw me, stopped, a look of resignation came over her face and she stepped back and aside to wait for me to enter before she came through the door. That look, in that instant spoke volumes about her life. I opened the door, holding it open for her to exit the store and watched an amazed look replace her resignation. We smiled. One small step for humanity.

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    1. I am so glad I am not the only one who makes sure to be as polite as humanly possible to older African Americans for just that reason! I don't care how much others might jeer "White Guilt!" at me, it's only the right thing to do.

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    2. SuznAZ, I expect you would have done the same for any person older than yourself, and probably younger too. That is was a gift of kindness and courtesy so well received is the true treasure here. Thank you.

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  5. There is a whole lot of fear among the current majority that when they will lose dominance when they are not the majority any longer. So making immigration and voting more difficult for those who don't share our color or religion is a knee jerk reaction. We are too often afraid to call anyone who does't look like us neighbor. If we can dehumanize and deflect, we don't hold ourselves accountable.

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  6. I grew up in a small island community in S. Fla. in the 60's-70's (we're of the same generation.) Our elementary school was on-island, but after that is was busing to the mainland and the bigger middle and high school there. There were 3 distinct factions: the island kids, the mainland kids and the black kids from the really, really poor shanty town just outside of the city limits. We had a couple of black families on the island. We all ran around together fishing, boating, playing. My first crush was on a black boy from one of these families. (got my first kiss from him too). But then I couldn't understand and was hurt as to why he wouldn't play with me any more, talk to me.

    It wasn't until years later when I was being bussed through the shanty town and the way the mainland kids treated the black kids that I started to get an idea about racism. Now I know why that beautiful black boy wouldn't go near me. It wasn't because he didn't like me. It was because he was protecting himself and his family.

    Later, during my college years in S. Ga. I had several incidents where I was treated badly because either a)by whites who didn't like that I was talking to the black students or b) by the black students who didn't like me talking to them. At the time I thought "reverse racism", but now older and wiser, I see exactly how dangerous it was to them to create any kind of relationship with a white girl.

    So, here we are 40+ years later and I'm very sad to see that racism is still alive and well in the U.S.

    Perhaps, as one of my college philosophy professors once suggested, we won't be able to come together as human beings, blind to any difference in skin pigmentation, sexual preference, or spiritual practice, until our species is subjected to a common enemy such as an alien invasion. Only then will we be able to put aside our societal / biological differences and embrace our commonalities instead.



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    1. My best hope is that the kids today are increasingly colorblind, and more interracial marriages may make the races harder to tell apart. Could be the best thing happening.

      But we have a long, long way to go.

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    2. Sadly, hedgewytch, even under those circumstances, there will be crazy "red necks" who would prefer to die alone than stand shouldr to shoulder with a person from a different race or culture.

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    3. I found a comment from a nice boy in my yearbook. I really didn't think he'd paid much attention to me at all during our years together, I barely knew him, but he said he wished he could have asked me to date him. The thing he wished could have been different was our races.. he was black, I am white. His family wouldn't have approved. Mine wouldn't have either. I was surprised by his admission, especially as I thought our school was quite 'integrated' ... 80's in a big Florida city. We weren't quite there I suppose. I do believe that our children and grandchildren are becoming more tolerant and colorblind. My 10yr has taken my Sims2 game (you create people and families, build them houses, give them jobs, etc and try to keep them alive and happy.. they're quite willful so it isn't always as easy as it sounds.) She has since created many families... most families she creates rarely consist of only one 'skin color'. We aren't a mixed race family, but this is her 'normal'. Her latest couple are lesbians. The 'guy' her character was dating turned out to be a girl. She was ok with that too. "As long as they are happy". Can you even imagine parents allowing this sort of play 20-30 years ago? Even if kids thought to play this way? Even in the 80's, I worked in a department store and saw parents deny their kids toys if they weren't the right color. So often I saw kids getting dragged out of the store crying... the black girl who wanted a white cabbage patch doll or the white girl who wanted her Barbie to have a black friend.. oh hell no! Can't have that! Thank goodness we are moving beyond that.

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    4. hedgewytch, I think you and I may have lived in the same place? (FMB?) I went to the Beach School until we moved off the island in '67.

      Delete
  7. It's unfortunate that because you speak clearly, and hit the points dead on, there are some (a lot, apparently) that will refuse to understand the words you speak. Too bad for them... and their children.

    Thanks for putting this out there - it's important to put into words what some were/are trying to capture - and maybe.. just maybe it will be an epiphany moment for someone who was once ignorant, but because of your assist, are no longer on that playing field.

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  8. First thing Jim, if you find yourself in Knoxville, TN PLEASE PLEASE find me and make time for a beer and a discussion. We may find ourselves in loud and violent agreement or, we might find a point or two on which we can respectfully disagree but either way, I expect us both to enjoy it.

    In reference to the Blacks selling Blacks canard, it is an issue of people being too dense to understand the difference between tribalism and racism or, them being unwilling to acknowledge the difference. I have opined on such in a newspaper column and would be happy to share the essay with you should you so desire.

    The one point you did not touch on in this blog is that many Whites owe their current prosperity to slavery and/or discrimination against Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Indigenous Americans. The corollary is also true. My father, a veteran, could not get a job in construction because he was Black, ignoring the fact that he could operate all of the heavy equipment and was capable in a couple of trades. I have failed miserably when I tried to explain this point to some well-educated, conservative White friends of mine. There seems an active unwillingness to be able to see the point.

    In any case, you cannot imagine how much it warms me to have found your site. We really ought to talk.

    s.m. dupree
    USN '73-'83 (CTO2)((Well to be accurate, CTOSN, CTO3, CTO2(briefly), CTO3, CTOSN))

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  9. I grew up in Central Oregon. We had no black people at all at my elementary school and ONE kid who wasn't white. His last name was Chicano until the school decided it wasn't acceptable and he had to change it.

    But being the odd person out? Oh, yeah. You don't read college level in 3rd grade without some fallout. PTSD, shyness, and being intellectually advanced were enough to attract the unwelcome attentions of my classmates.

    My inability to conform to expectations made me visibly different, which, in turn, attracted assholes and idiots. By the time I was a teenager, a long haired teenager in a rural suburb of Seattle, I was a different kind of visibly different. I was stopped and harassed by the cops simply for looking like I did. And they weren't exactly kind about it. Stopped and threatened for walking home from work at 3 in the morning?

    Sure, why not?

    Is it the same? No. But can one extrapolate what it might be like to be a visible minority from my experiences? I sure can.

    I'm not color blind, though I'd like to be. I'm far more interested in what goes on inside a person's head than in the color of his or her skin. People are defined by their ideas and their actions. Period.

    I've sat down and written out my own rants on what it could be like to be a visible minority... how I can understand why blacks should be suspicious of being overlooked for a job, or for a promotion. Because THEY have to ask themselves "Is this because I'm black?" White men don't have to do that. If they lose out on that promotion, they might have to ask "Is it because I'm too old?" but it's NEVER because they're too white. And if they think this doesn't matter, they're stupid.

    It took 90 years to free the slaves. It took ANOTHER hundred years before we agreed to treat them like human beings. I don't feel guilty for this... I feel OFFENDED by this. I wasn't there. It doesn't serve any purpose for me to feel guilty. But I'll be DAMNED if I'll sit by silently and let people off the hook for being racist assholes NOW.

    Those who don't get it, I offer you this deal. You deliberately alter your features or dress to be visibly different--something likely to attract suspicion from authorities and fellow students. See how comfortable YOU are.

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    Replies
    1. makes me think of 'Black Like Me', by John Howard Griffin ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Like_Me ). And only his color was changed! Imagine if we could make more radical changes so the bigots could see life from the other side.

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  10. Jim, hope you don't mind me posting a link to a very, very interesting essay about the origins of liberal and conservative viewpoints, because I think it may have some bearing here as well, the lecturer concludes that both viewpoints are essential to functioning societies, and that demonizing each other leads to social breakdown and anarchy. It's well worth a view, and consideration:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html

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  11. "Seriously, if you have to have this explained to you, you’re an idiot." This is the money quote to me. The rest is frosting on a great big cake of truth. It amazes me that you seem to nail one issue after another and that I am fortunate enough to "know" you.

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  12. Jim,
    Thank you for this post. I am so thankful for your ability to communicate exquisitely well-thought out and reasoned responses to the crazy most of us deal with every day. Please send this on to the Anchorage Daily News.

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  13. As a young girl of 3 I carried my baby doll with me every where...dressed in a very pretty dress made by a neighbor wrapped in a pretty flannel blanket..I grew up just like Jim.....I remember a day being on the square of our town and hearing a man standing next to me asking my mother why she let me carry that doll.........He was dressed in a fine suit and hat.I stood just above knee high to him.....My little heart was so hurt ...I heard him say that I should not have a N------ doll...........I luved that doll she was so cute.......After hearing him get louder and mother was looking flustered ...although I did not know that word then or why he would even say those things.......I looked up at the man and stating singing Jesus loves the little children all the children in the world........the year must have been 1955....I have never forgotten....

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    Replies
    1. Growing up in the South, from Florida,to Georgia, to North Carolina we interacted with blacks and whites in my family. I may have left out we were a military family. My original elementary school was segregated in Albany, GA. This was 1960's Albany with the well known Sheriff "Bull"Connor in residence. One might remember hearing about a march there during that time. My next school was in North Carolina and was integrated. I never attended another segregated school after that,although one high school was involved in"voluntary integration" in North Carolina later on. I thought it was a joke when I matriculated there.It always seemed so incredibly stupid to me as a reasoning human being. I give a lot of credit to a man named Harry S. Truman who integrated the U.S. military by presidential order in 1948. Yes, I know what racism looks like. It has been apart of my heritage and I am sure that at times it still can rear its ugly head inside my head if I am not vigilant, because I am a human being and fallible. It is not guilt to be aware of unconscious motives in ones choices, it is good sense to observe from others perspectives. Thank you again Jim for the courage and integrity you bring to all the subjects you tackle with your pen and brain.

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    2. What you experienced is something I experienced a generation later. It turns out that young children cannot identify race. It turns out that you and I were in our "pre-racialized" state.

      In my case. I had a best friend names Larry. We we best pals in pre-school, and he moved away when I was 4. He came back to my small town about 4 years later, and I was shocked to find out one of my best friends as a pre-schooler was black. I had no memory of him as black, just memories of what we did together. You literally had no idea there was a "problem" with your doll, because you had not been trained to notice the difference yet.

      To me this means that race is actually a social construct, and it is a construct under fire not only because of social change but because of technological change. Look at al of the violence in the Middle East, and replace Sunni and Shiite with the race of your choice, and it's easy to see how easily this social construct becomes pseudo-scientific fact. There is no difference between people of different races, as there is no difference between between people of different religious faiths. Can a Sunni and a Shiite have children that can have children? Of course. Yet so can two human beings of any race. Nature has spoken. We are all the same. We just choose to see ourselves as different.

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  14. I grew up in Central Massachusetts in the 60's and 70s. No black students in my school, no Asians, one Jew. One Puerto Rican, but his parents were college professors, so he wasn't really one of "them." Only black person was a French teacher from the West Indies who coached soccer -- and his story could fill a book. I graduated from high school with such limited contact with people different from myself (or, in the case of Mr. French Teacher, negative contact) that I saw little issue with using racial or ethnic slurs. It wasn't that I didn't know those words were hurtful and meant to belittle -- I did. But using those words around a bunch of other white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (or, in my case, white Catholics from the "right" side of the tracks) was, I thought, a little like a tree falling in an empty forest. Who was going to hear them? Who was I hurting? Everyone within earshot was just like me, right? Fast forward a couple of years to the Iranian Embassy hostage taking. I'm in college, with several classmates who are from the middle east. Anti-Iranian posters appear on campus. Somebody makes up a new epithet for Arabs, Persians, and generally everyone else from that part of the world. I uncomfortably realize that this hate speech is not just political or meant to unify "us" -- it was meant to make some people I knew feel unwelcome, to put it mildly. Like your encounter with The Rock, that was a turning point for me. The best cure for hate is get to know someone who is a little -- or a lot -- different from you.

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  15. Typical deframing of bullshit trying to pass as reasoning - check
    Thorough, well-thought analysis - check
    Presentation of complex concepts in a writing style that even a fifth grader should be able to follow - check

    This list - it's meant to be a list of why stonekettle columns have been a must read since I was first led to it

    Another spot-on post!

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  16. Something I'm trying to think about all the time now is your rights. As in "What rights do I want you to have?" I think, as an American, that any right I want to claim for myself is a right that I think you should have, and by you, I mean every other American. Pipe dream, yes, but wouldn't the world be in better shape if everybody thought this way?

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  17. So, let's assume that your world view is more or less accurate. (For the record, I think that it is). The question is, what do you do about it? In most behavioral problems, the first step is admitting that there is a problem. Clearly, a significant amount of the population do not agree that there is a problem, and it will be difficult to persuade them differently. What then? Laws that prohibit institutional racism is a good start, but hard to enforce. Affirmative action seems like a good idea, but has some pretty obvious problems. NGO's? Social movements? I strive to live my life without racism, but could only count a few times in my life where I was faced with and opportunity to make a stand or take action without seeking it out.

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    Replies
    1. What do you do about it?

      I write about it. What you do is up to you.

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    2. When you do encounter it, you do what the white woman who started the whole Paula Deen mess did - you speak up (ok, so I gather it took her a while, but she eventually spoke up). What else can you do? You can lead by example, you can refuse to patronize businesses that support or practice racism (even though it's illegal, it still happens), you can refuse to associate with people who practice racism ... you bring up your children to understand that people come in all colors and shapes and sizes and that it's what is in their hearts and heads that should determine how you interact with them - not what they look like on the outside... If you don't encounter it, you are very lucky.

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    3. You don't take it to the Supreme Court where they don't believe its happening! (humor) (not funny humor) Of course the court thinks that voter ID laws, and voter suppression, aren't happening. what reality are they living in?

      I think the bigger picture is that the industrialist,(citizen's united) are using fear to divide the nation. The right wing base runs on fear, weather its God in heaven, race, economics, or gun rights.

      Don't give into the fear.

      Jim another great piece, and I agree study your history so we don't repeat our mistakes.

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  18. P.S.
    I wish for you, in my heart of hearts, that you somehow have the opportunity to cross paths with Rock and that fellow Scout, again. Even, perhaps, that they have somehow come across your blog and have read this, recognized themselves, and forgive, understand and trust where your heart and mind actually lay that day.
    Blessings, friend.

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    Replies
    1. I concur,and what my friends of many years would do is forgive I am sure.

      Delete
  19. Because of airbag issues, one is not supposed to allow children under 12 to sit in the front seat of the car. I've always been willing to fudge this, and generally let a kid ride up front by about 9-10 if they want to, but it does mean that my son (who is older by 4 years) was allowed to "ride shotgun" much earlier than my daughter.

    This INFURIATED my daughter. She hates it when HE gets anything that she doesn't get, and the concept that he also had to wait until a certain age to ride in front or stay up late holds absolutely no water with her. So last year she turned 9, and the air bag technology had improved as well, so if it was just the two of us in the car, I would offer to let her ride in front. She refused. She would only ride in the front seat if it meant that HE had to ride in the back. If he wasn't in the car it was simply ruined. It wasn't until a couple months ago when we got a new car that she suddenly accepted to offer of the front seat, and since then they have to take strict turns on who gets the front. (An accounting which I refuse to have any part of.)

    What is my point? I see the racist/conservative viewpoint as essentially childish thinking. Even if someone else's gain is not their loss they are ready to cut off their own noses to spite their faces just to keep someone else from "getting away with something." It is the same logic by which working poor hate the "Welfare Queens", even though they might someday need the very programs they are fighting so hard to demolish.

    I see a whole nation of people stamping their foot and squealing "Its not fair!"

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    Replies
    1. "I see the racist/conservative viewpoint as essentially childish thinking."

      Misanthrop . . ., are you really saying that 'racist' and 'conservative' are interchangeable terms? Or, that if you are a conservative, you are by definition, a racist?

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    2. Sandy, my thought exactly.

      Except that the word "conservative" has been hijacked by people who are no such thing.

      maryellen

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    3. I find this concept as judgmental as that of the conservatives who think that all liberals are baby killers. The group of people who are racist and call themselves conservatives do not represent what "conservative" really means - and there are still plenty of those types of conservatives out there.

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    4. The term "conservative" is meaningless. What in the world are they conserving? What are they preserving? What *deserves* preserving? All I ever see them clinging on to are institutions that demean people and deny their humanity. Even the nice ones are like that. I'm tired of it. I'm not even going to get into the "outdated" argument here (human rights are not dated) and I find the term "progressive" equally meaningless, as I fail to see where we are actually moving forward in an improving kind of way. It's more like groping around in the dark and hoping you don't fall down a dry well. (Or a wet one.)

      "I want small government." Great, you want a small government for a gigantic country. That'll work. "I want limited government." Limited in what way? I might not agree with you and I'm a citizen too. "I want old-fashioned values." How far back do you want to go for that? Because back for about 10,000 years the "values" have been all about taking power away from the 99 percent and concentrating it in the hands of the few by making us all go begging to the elites for permission to live. Unless you want to take up cave-painting again, better try harder to convince me. And on it goes.

      And yes, you're damn right I'm judgmental. Between my amateur's background in religion and mythology and philosophy and learning to see certain patterns, AND my present state of metaphorically hanging on by my fingernails and hoping to Ceiling Cat I don't lose my grip... I'm in a unique position to see what is going on. And I don't like it one bit.

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  20. Freedom! Except for "those people"... and anyone with lady parts.

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  21. Hey Jim, I did not know the impact that it had on you. I remember the troop very well, and the discussions of them coming to camp and what damage they could do to the camp. I remember that it was a good week and how they handled themselves changed other's perspectives. I also remember that none of us were racist back then because we had our token black staff members, Ed Taylor-Cline, Willie, and Medwin. Ed was before your time in 1974. My first memory of racism was with my Grandmother who lived in Detroit. It was a big deal to visit, and I was a big baseball fan. Whenever we went to Tiger stadium though, I always had to root for the team that had the most black players on it, but luckily that was still usually the Tigers, or she wouldn't take me. I guess the way I have always handled my "racism" is by always trying to look at the person since that day because I could never tell my Grandmother that my favorite player was Willie Horton. That was the first time I was given the opportunity to stand up but I didn't. The bottom line is this, thanks for your perspective and another way to look at things. There are things that were said at camp where I
    should have stood up and said something also but did not. That has long since changed. This one really came from your heart...Great job!

    Your racist/Tea Party/Glen Beck supporting friend,
    Scott Flegel

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  22. Racism is taught. Either by example, social pressure, or an extreme negative personal experience. Once ingrained it is hard to remove. A person either has to have it pointed out to them over and over almost like a reeducation or it needs to come to them as a personal epiphany that racism is harmful and wrong.

    I work with a racist he hates everyone not of white European decent and I'm not sure he likes all of those either. He has used the "I have a black friend" argument, the difference between blacks vs n****rs argument and probably a few others I cannot recall. He hates people of Mexican decent because they take American jobs and won't speak English. Of course to him none of them were born here even if they're 2nd or 3rd generation Americans. All Asians are gooks and deprive Americans of available University admission slots. He hates Jews whilst also hating Nazi's. (???) Don't even get him started about Muslims. The list of his groups to hate goes on and on.

    He's also a complete hypocrite. He draws disability while working the minimum hours a person on disability can work. Yet rails about poor people on food stamps and welfare. Another example is the last presidential election and we had a mild discussion of the merits (HA) of the republican candidates during the primaries and he ripped Romney a new asshole and claimed he hated him as part of what is wrong with this country. Fast forward to just after the convention and he's singing the praises of Gov. Romney for all to hear.

    At this point in his life I highly doubt anyone is going to change his mind unless, and it's a long shot, that he has that personal epiphany I mentioned earlier.

    I have told him to STFU a few times. I usually get a somewhat hurt/angry stare but he does stop with the racist rhetoric afterwords and much to my enjoyment for a few days afterward as well. Meaning he won't speak to me. Hurray! They just hate it when their personal views are shot down as unacceptable. With the usual result of having them act like angry chastised children for a few days if not longer.

    I'm sure some of you have met someone just like my co-worker. It's not pleasant. He has toned it down, according to my other co-workers, since I started working there because I won't put up with that shit.

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    1. Er. Descent. Wish posts here were editable.

      Delete
    2. My favorite argument from someone who did not want to give up using the word "n****r" was "it's not a race, it's a state of mind, and whites can be n****rs too." It never occurred to me til much later that I should have asked, "So when am I going to hear you calling some white idiot a n****r?" Because I never did hear it. Maybe occasionally a couple white guys slinging the word at one another jokingly the way I've heard some young black men do... not sure what that was about, and I'm not sure irony was their strong suit. But that was as far as it got.

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    3. The "black friend" thing always makes me think about how the brain processes the faces of people we know differently from faces of people we don't know. It feels like there's a counterargument in there somewhere, but I can't work it out.

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    4. I know a white hill billy woman who calls her own relatives "n----r" because they treat her very badly. And she means it as an insult. Yes, all her kin are white hill billies too. And BTW I am not using hill billy as an insult either. My neighbors in the MO Ozarks own the term with some pride.
      Chandra in MO

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  23. There were a few blacks in my high school. Prior to high school, I don't remember any black children in my classes. I thought my parents had done a good job, though, of raising us without racism - a difficult job considering that both of them had come from families that had no problem using racial epithets. I thought my parents weren't racists. Looking back, I realize that while we were taught to accept blacks as our peers - we were also taught to lock our doors and roll up our windows when we had to drive through the black neighborhoods in the city, and that you don't marry one. My mom tried really hard when I told her about the crush I had on the cute young black man when I was in junior high (eighth grade, maybe), talking about what liking a boy meant, etc. But I was very conscious that interracial relationships were still pretty much taboo (think of the children!). And when I asked her what if he asked me out, she stopped for a minute and then she said, "Well, your father and I would understand ... but it would kill your grandmother." That's the moment that I knew that racism was very ingrained in my family and that I had to do my very best to make myself different.

    I do not always do well at it, even as an adult. I was going into the DMV the other day, as a matter of fact, and there were three black men standing just outside the door. My first instinct was to be afraid, to tuck my wallet up out of reach and assume a kind of defensive posture. And then I silently admonished myself, relaxed my posture, smiled and said hello as I passed them on my way in the door. I consider myself a work in progress ...

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  24. Jim, will you marry me?

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    Replies
    1. If Jim accepted all of the offers of marriage he gets, then he'd likely be a bigamist in all 50 states (even in Utah, if he accepted the guys' proposals) and maybe many other countries. That would be an accomplishment, even for a sailor. [Well, it *is* an old sailor tradition... I think it's called "showing the flag".] [[I just hope Jim's wife doesn't see my comment.]]

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    2. Anonymous, You should bear in mind that Jim's wife has access to and training in weaponry.
      Maybe we could try cloning?

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    3. She lives with the man. With all of the interest being shown, she may list him on e-bay....

      Danny

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    4. Ah, I don't want to marry him, don't think marriage to me would improve either of us. I just want to keep reading his posts.
      Do understand the feeling, tho.

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    5. And here I am single. Jim gets all the girls. You Lucky devil, you.

      Jeff Lamm

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    6. It's the modern navy. A girl in every portal.

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  25. "The world is many shades of gray, it’s not all black or all white."

    This hit the nail right on the head. I'm a software developer, and in the seven-plus years that I've been doing it professionally, I can tell you that simple statement is what makes my job so difficult.

    I work in binary, I don't live in it.

    -Another Jim in Madison

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  26. After reading this, I'm not sure what to think because my experience is so different from many Americans. Yes, both of my parents are white, and I grew up middle class, but because my dad was a university professor, there have been people from different backgrounds in my life since I can remember. And it wasn't anything unusual. They were friends of my parents, and many were (and still are) colleagues of my father's. People that were treated with the same respect that anyone else would receive. When my baby brother (who is bi-racial) came to live with us, apart from thinking he was the most beautiful baby in the world, I couldn't think of him as anything other than my little brother. When I was in first grade (in 1971), my teacher (who would retire the next year) asked me about him and I said "He's 1/2 black and 1/2 white, and he's the best baby brother in the world!" thinking that was as plain as anything (my brother's biological mother was white his biological father was African-American). When she answered back, "Like a zebra?" I thought that was the stupidest thing any adult had ever said to me. I'm pretty sure she got my first "You have got to be fucking kidding me" face.

    Anyway - point is, probably one of the reasons I fight for equal rights of every kind, is that from my first recollections, people have been people, no matter what and I have some pretty great parents.

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  27. Have you read "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James W. Loewen? We (Americans) are so misinformed of our own history. It's embarrassing. Thanks for trying to set the record straight.

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  28. John in LafayetteJuly 8, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Had I been capable of writing such a thing, I would have. Our experiences mirror one another quite closely. Thank you for giving voice to what I have long felt.

    "I didn't feel ashamed for being white, I felt ashamed for being ignorant."

    I remember feeling that same shame. I never want to feel that way again. And remembering makes me a better person.

    I was an Eisenhower baby; I grew up watching the civil rights struggle unfold. I remember bragging to my mother one day that I was a superior individual; I was NOT prejudiced (I was about ten years old at the time). I'll never forget her response: "Not prejudiced? Of course you are. Everyone is. It's the mark of an intelligent person that he recognizes his own prejudices and works to overcome them."

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  29. Jim Wright, have you read In the Garden of the Beasts, by Erik Larson? Story of the American Ambassador to German, 1933 - 1937 and his family, especially his daughter. Quite eye opening as to the mentality of the times - yes! Nazis! At one point, a high Nazi official states that Roosevelt is a Jew. Nowadays, if there is disagreement with the President, he's a Muslim. I'm not sure what other words are available besides racism that portrays the situation.

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    Replies
    1. Authoritarian followers have to have a group to demonize. Someone to hate. Orwell understood this. The 50's through the early 90's it was communism. 90's through 2001 it was liberals. 2001-2008 it was muslims. Now of course they seem to want to lump them all together and hate them all at once.

      Hate is an ugly thing. It turns a person into a raving lunatic or an internally seething time bomb. Those who cause, use and direct the hate of others for evil purposes are the the ugliest of all.

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    2. Should have said "nefarious purposes" in that last sentence.

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  30. Jim, thank you for another brilliant essay. When I got to the part where you made the comment you intended as a joke to the other scout, I had to switch to a different tab. Remembering times when I caused pain out of ignorance, not malice, made it too hard to keep reading. It took me a day to come back and finish reading your post. Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable, to tell of a time you did something you regret, in order to help all of us learn about ourselves, and maybe grow up a little. You are a real mensch, Jim.

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  31. Thirty years ago I left the apartment of a woman who had once been my best friend -- and never spoke to her again. Being African American and growing up in a small midwestern village that was ninety-nine percent white gave me a leg up recognizing and dealing with casual racism. The only virulent racism I experienced was a fifth grade classmate's father banning the N***** from her birthday party.

    Anyway, I'd met this woman my first day of college. She lived next door to me in the dorms. She was creative and funny. There was a strange moment—her parents visiting and staring wide eyed at me when their daughter introduced me. The mother said---"Oh I didn't know you were a little black girl". And since I was raised well and these were "parents" I bit my tongue and exited stage right. I actually gave props to my friend that my color had not been the overwhelming issue when she talked about me to her parents. I thought. We became so close. We were together constantly and told each other
    everything. I held her hair back when she'd had too much to drink and she did the same for me. Pregnancy scares, worries about grades, family traumas—we went through it all together.

    But then something happened with this woman near the end of our freshman year. Later I put it off to drunkenness and the stupidity of being eighteen. She suddenly stopped talking to me for a few days. I ignored her—she could be a moody. Her roommate finally told me she was miffed because a guy talked to me at a party and ignored her. He was white and she was put out that he was talking to her black friend instead of her. The roommate had not been there and it was true I had talked to the guy. So she could have only gotten the story from my "friend". She got over it and I said nothing so as not to out her roommate. I became guarded around her. The relationship was not as it was. After a while we silently went our separate ways. Life went on.

    Jump ahead six years and this woman who I had not seen in five years (we both moved off campus) and never really got together anymore except brief phone conversations once or twice a year--calls me up and invites me to lunch. I hop a bus and walk up the stairs to her loft. Its like we were never apart. I almost forgot why our friendship fell apart—until she realized she'd forgotten a spice she needed to finish off lunch. She looked at me soulfully and asked "Now you won't take anything while I'm gone, will you? I've had a break in and have been thinking about moving 'cause the neighborhood is more "ethnic" than I thought." Of course that is when I knew she was probably more cluelessly insane along with being racist. I smiled. She left. I watched her from the loft window as she turned the corner. I left then—and have never heard from her again.

    Did I do her a favor by not confronting her? No. But frankly—I didn't care. There are too many people
    who struggle with the way they were raised, and get over it by logic and openness and understanding.
    Everyone can change, I just didn't want to wait around to see if she would.



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  32. Jim -- This is a really wonderful, careful, and heartfelt post. You bring out so many of the problems with discussions of "race" in America today. From the idea of rights as a zero-sum game ("if someone else gets rights, it must mean I'm losing mine!" -- see http://ase.tufts.edu/psychology/sommerslab/documents/raceInterNortonSommers2011.pdf for the boring empirical research that shows that, yup, that's just the way many white Americans in fact think!), to the willful ignorance of the continued existence, and importance, of racism in the lives of "non-White" people today... Thanks for saying clearly what too many people try to deny.

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  33. I think Adorno writes about the physiological efects of racisism.

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  34. A former student pointed out your blog to me this morning, so I have just discovered it, but I want to tell you how much I appreciate what you are doing. We can expect Reason and Evidence delivered to the Emotion Factory to be rejected and ignored, but as reasonable and educated adults we have to keep trying. By the way, I was delighted to see that you are from Jenison. I was born (1945) and raised in Southeast Grand Rapids, when Jenison was a long ways away. And as a former university English teacher, I think I would call you a very successful writer.

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  35. I once had a similar encounter in the mid 1990's when I was working at a fast food restaurant. I grew up in a very large ethnically integrated city and had only an academic acquaintance with racism until the day a redneck customer walked into the restaurant and up to me where I was standing at the cash register. He asked me who would be making his food. Completely puzzled, I gestured to the two women who were standing at the food line waiting for his order. He leaned in closer and asked me again. Still confused and clueless, I told him the ladies behind me would make his food. At which point he grunted something rude and walked out. There were no other customers at the time, so I walked into the back and the ladies on the food line asked me what had happened. More fool me, I told them. One of them got a look on her face that I will never forget and turned away. I was still clueless about his behavior and wondered out loud what his problem was. My manager came over and heard the story and hushed me up pretty quickly. It wasn't until later that night talking it over with my mother (I was still in high school), that I finally realized what had happened. I am white. The ladies on the food line were Native American and Black. My manager was white. If I could have gone back in time and bitten my tongue off rather then hurt my co-workers that way......I still feel guilty. I just didn't know that people actually still behaved like that and I couldn't believe it even after I figured it out.

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  36. Actually, the shame of the part I unwittingly played that day makes me sick to my stomach whenever I remember it. I did learn from it, though. I vowed to myself that if he ever dared show his face again I would throw him out on his stupid, fat, prejudiced redneck ass. I might still be a little angry at him.......

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  37. Jim, once again, you score a home run. You should be a featured guest on the Talking heads Sunday shows.

    And honestly, if you're not compiling and prepping your missives into a collected hardcover form, you're doing yourself and the rest of us a great disservice.

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  38. I wish you could find that young man (and Rock), too. What a sad thing for everyone involved.

    Have you seen this? I read your piece today and was reminded of this. It made an impression on me, especially as a parent who doesn't have to worry that her son is going to be killed because of the color of his skin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=M-ckDJ3xTaE

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  39. Great essay.

    I think binary thinking is usually a result of one of three things: simple egotism, fear, or a perception of "the one true way."

    Simple egotism is not hard to understand; it is a person who believes that anyone who disagrees with them is to be bullied into submission.

    A person who cannot go into a restaurant without a firearm, and doesn't understand why anyone else would object, is dominated by fear. Fear, at its most extreme, divides the world into "things and people I am afraid of" and "things that are OK." In someone dominated by fear, the circle of "things I am afraid of" just grows and grows. If there are a lot of people in a society who are dominated by fear, well, everyone's circle of "things I am afraid of" is just a bit different and the society fractures.

    The perception of the "one true way" includes religious obsessions, but is actually broader. In this view, followers of the one true way are acceptable, and anyone who chooses differently is a heretic, which word literally means "one who chooses." And this is the Bush Doctrine. George W. Bush, who seems to have a religious obsession, apparently believes sincerely that holy war--he even used the word "crusade" at one point--is an appropriate response to a world religion which is not his. For this, he killed at least half a million in Iraq, and has started a conflict which may echo down the generations.

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  40. Awesome post. And I agree with the idea of a hardcover book of your essays.

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  41. I would also love a book of your greatest ... but you would have to make it a series

    Humorous essays including your travel to Alaska with the world's dumbest 2 cats and their efforts to ensure that you work long past retirement age to keep them coughing up furballs.

    Then those essays that make us think....or look inward into our own prejudices.

    I keep reminding myself that the majority of today's young people are less interesting in a person's skin color, their dating preference, etc.... This give me hope!!

    I also wonder if what gives me hope does just the opposite for the ultra conservatives... who are realizing that they are losing power.. That their idealized world of Christian white homophobic men is changing.

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  42. I'm thinking that all these apologists for Paula Deen aren't aware that the woman Lisa Jackson who is bringing the suit against the restaurant and Paula Deen's brother is . . . white. Or maybe they are and they think that she's a "Typical left wing reactionary white guilt pandering." blah, blah, blah.

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  43. That was a great read Jim, thanks for posting it.

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  44. Again you give us all excellent food for thought! I so envy your writing skills.
    Pete

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  45. :-) Jim, I think I love you.

    on a more serious note, I just discovered your blog today, and I've been spending hours reading both your works and the comments ... and i'm impressed. I enjoy both how your readers are able to disagree and still remain civil (mostly), and I've gotten a kick out of the way you deal with the trolls. "this could be the start of a beautiful friendship."

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  46. I am very glad I found this site. This is a beautifully reasoned essay, and I have shared it widely.

    As an Australian, I was astounded on my first visit to the US at the openness of the racism. I am not saying Australia is racist. It is. Terribly so. But not, I think, as prevalent as in the US, and not as open. I was having a coffee a while ago with an African American who lives here now, and he told me about when he first got here and went for a walk down one of our main streets in Melbourne. He told me he went home after a little while and just sat there. His partner asked him what was wrong and he said 'everyone looked at me like I was human. They smiled at me and looked me in the eye.' I laughed and he said yep, that's what my partner did. But it was true and he just found it really disconcerting. I have heard this from quite a few African Americans who have come to live here.

    It's very natural for me to walk down a street and look people in the eye and smile. I grew up in a small town, and that's what you did. I found that I got some very strange reactions in the US when I did that, never more so than when the person involved was an African American. There was a level of fear and anger that I found overwhelming. I worked on a camp up near the border of Canada. It was an all girls' camp (and if the thought of that doesn't strike terror into your heart, it should!), and another young woman and I were den mothers to a cabin of about six teenage girls. One of the girls was African American, the only African American on the camp. We also had a girl with a cognitive disorder, and the African American girl was making her life a misery. So one day I confronted her about it. The first thing she said to me was 'I suppose you don't have niggers in Australia'. I was so gob smacked that all I could say was 'you cannot be serious. You cannot'. And then I stormed out of the hut and went for a walk to calm down. I had to really, really think that one through. The interesting thing is that we managed to work it out really well, had a big hug and tears when she left, and she was the only kid who wrote to me after. I think it was because after I thought about it I realised that there was far more going on than I could see, and we had a good heart to heart about that.

    I really, really worry for your country. I try not to read FB and online comments anymore, as so many of them make me sad and fearful and angry. The US has been a force for much that is so bad in the world, but also for much that is so good. If the US falls into civil strife, it will have a massive flow on effect in the rest of the world, and countries like mine whose interests are very much aligned with yours will be in deep trouble. But mostly I feel sad because I know so many decent Americans, people who think deeply and act morally and thoughtfully. Overall I think America is a much more introspective and thoughtful country than mine. My country has just destroyed its first female prime minister, and I would say the chances of us ever electing a black prime minister as virtually nil. I have a deep admiration for your country, whilst being troubled by so much it has done and is doing. I hope it is the voices on this blog that will prevail. But I fear not.

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  47. I'm very delinquent in reading your blog....shame on me! This is beautifully written. I work in an dental office and we have ONE African American patient. At one time we employed an African American assistant. My boss flings the "n" word all the time, so one day I mentioned these two particular people stating their race. The response given back to me was "Oh I don't think of them as black!" It still amazes me at how "smart" my boss is but how ignorant.

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