This subject is a difficult one because whatever I say will be picked apart as either being racist or being a black apologist. I am neither. But I do believe my life experiences have given me special insight to the racism conundrum.
My father worked for the US Army after WWII as a physician in occupied Austria. The army did not have enough doctors to care for the troops, especially black troops, so they hired local doctors to help out. My father was dark-skinned. Especially in the summer, he tanned up and was darker than his black doctor co-worker, and this black doctor colleague became a good friend as well. I remember times when both of them would hold up their forearms and compare color. My father was always darker. Perhaps because of that or the fact that my father had his share of prejudice directed at him by his own family, as his father was different from that of his siblings, he got along very well with black people, be they doctors like him, or the regular troops. On July 26, 1948 President Truman issued Executive Order 9981. This was the beginning of full integration of the military, but it took many more executive orders and years to implement it. It was not until 1980 when the United States overturned the Icelandic government’s demand not to send black troops to Iceland. Iceland held on to racism much longer than the rest of the free world.
I recall “separate but equal” barracks, troops, and mess halls still in the early 1950s. I had the opportunity to visit my father frequently at his duty station, and he would often “store” me with his black troop acquaintances because he had doctor work to do, where I was not exactly welcome. I got to work in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and stirring huge pots, which I thought was really cool. I had actually never seen very dark-skinned black people until I worked alongside them doing kitchen work. My father was lighter, as were his doctor friends. Often I would spend time with the black family of his doctor friend when I visited Camp McCauley. The wife and one of her daughters were lighter, but two other siblings who were twins were quite dark. Nevertheless, I learned to tell them apart eventually, even though they were twins. My English was limited. Despite this, kids find ways to communicate.
The discrimination I witnessed was real, palpable, and harsh. Interracial marriage was still not legal until 1967, but in Europe, especially in occupied Austria and Germany, it was not unusual to see a mixed-race couple. When I went shopping with the family, I noticed people looked at us funny. I stuck out like a sore thumb, as a white boy and three black children. You could see people wonder what the story was. When we immigrated to the USA in 1954, I saw and experienced real discrimination toward immigrants in Chicago, where we lived the first year. The Supreme Court had just ruled in a unanimous decision in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. A year later, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus. That year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with his peaceful Gandi-like marches and boycotts, ended segregated buses in Montgomery and the rest of the country. It is due to him that many racially based interactions fell by the wayside even though he gave his life for that.
Thankfully racism has lost many battles from when the Klu Klux Klan ran wild. Mixed marriage has become common and socially acceptable. In the 1950s, black unemployment was 9.9% compared to white unemployment, at 5%. But it swelled to 19.5% in 1983 for blacks and 8.4% for whites. If it had not been for the Coronavirus the black unemployment was the lowest ever recorded, 5.8% even less than in the 1950s. More racial diversity than ever is seen on college campuses among students and professors. Minorities have a much higher percentage of ownership in small businesses than ever. We had a black president, Barack Obama, for two terms. That speaks volumes! And the professions, medicine, law, the clergy, and engineering have much more multiracial membership. Rome was not built in a day. In Morgan Freeman’s words, “Race plays no role in TODAY’S wealth distribution!” If you do not reach your goals you must look inside yourself to find the causes.
Lincoln fought the most vicious war we have ever had to ban slavery, and the Emancipation Proclamation formally ended it on January 1, 1863. More black and white “boys” died in that war than all other wars put together we have fought to date. Even Abraham Lincoln had to die for his belief that all men are created equal. But the rest of the world, Africa, North Korea, Asia, especially Southeast Asia, and India, still don’ t believe that. They are hotbeds of modern slavery. The estimates are at least 40,000,000 people are in some form of slavery today. Traditional history dates North American slavery back to 400 years ago when the first slaves were brought to Jamestown, but actually, it was as early as 1526. The Spanish had an outpost in what is now South Carolina, where they had slaves, and also around St. Augustine in Spanish Florida.
There are injustices still on both sides. Black, and to some extent, Hispanic. Affirmative Action is de-facto reverse discrimination. It assigns privilege based on skin color. That, too, is racism.
4.5% of black males are incarcerated compared to 1.8% Latino males and 0.7% white males. These are disproportionate numbers, especially when one takes into consideration that blacks are only 13% and Hispanics 17% of the population. You could blame that in part on racial profiling, but the murder rates you can’t. Blacks are responsible for 81% of the white American killings, but black on black murders is even higher 89.3%. These numbers need to change.
Something has happened to black society over the last few decades. Single mother parenting was rare; the divorce rate was lower. High school graduation rates were higher, and dropout rates were lower. Something happened to damage the black family and with it black society. Daniel Patrick Moynihan came out with a report in 1965 in which he details the reasons for the destruction of the black family structure. He pointed to the theft of the manhood of the black male by forcing the black family into a matriarchal structure. Contributing factors were increasing school dropout rates making the black man less competitive in the job market, a higher illegitimacy rate, a higher crime rate, and broken homes; what he concluded was “a tangle of pathology.” Black men could father children with no responsibility. Post civil war, black families were a much stronger family unit than what happened post World War II. Welfare did its share to weaken the family unit further. Welfare allowed men to come and go without guilt. I am not discounting the Jim Crow Laws that factors in the institutionalization of segregation. But Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Truman and Johnson, did effectively neutralize them. So why aren’t things better?
It is easy to blame race and racism for all these problems, but it isn’t the whole story. Black crime was not a major issue in the 1940s and 1950s when racism was much worse than it is now. We need to come up with better analysis and better answers. And it isn’t defunding the police! Or taking Gone with the Wind off the bookshelves, and taking down the statues of Robert E. Lee. That is so typical of what the Communists did when my parents had to flee their homeland. Stalin and Lenin rewrote history and in order to do that, they destroyed the monuments of the past as if they never existed. Re-writing history was a clever Communist trick. Out of sight, out of mind! I am surprised that even Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves, did not escape. His memorials in Washington and elsewhere were desecrated. What are these people thinking?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan had some clever ideas to change the train wreck that was about to happen. Unfortunately, no one paid any attention to him. He also proposed plans to put black men back to work on government projects, and recruit black men into the military. Have programs to encourage high school black boys to stay in school and possibly provide a baseline level of income for black men.
As said so insightfully by a black minister: “ Take down the crack houses before you take down the Civil War statues.” But the looters took down businesses instead. They forgot about George Floyd and focused on getting as much loot out of stores, many of which were black-owned. The message got garbled when they started burning police cars and stealing big screen TV’s. Seattle became a “free zone” or maybe not so free when they started brandishing guns, doing body searches, putting up cement barriers, and checking ID’s. It makes you wonder how these people can return to a civilized society. By this time, the whole “Black Lives Matter” movement had been forgotten! It looked like there were more white protesters than black by what I saw on TV. All the donations from the Hollywood crowd to bail out the looters would be better spent on black students, especially males, to keep them in school. So far, these protests have achieved little but to create discord, giving Coronavirus a boost in new cases, caused the resignation of several police chiefs across the country, burned quite a few businesses, and sacrificed 12 lives including two black police officers. Useful legislation has so far eluded our wise lawmakers. “Taking the knee” wearing Kente shawls, defunding the police, and creating an autonomous “free Seattle” will not do!