RACE OR RACISM, IS EITHER REAL?

We are still talking about slavery. Jefferson prohibited importing slaves in 1808, and Lincoln abolished it in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery has been a human institution for thousands of years.  It became a factor 11,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture.  The need for cheap labor was the driving force. It was practiced by almost every ancient civilization and society, including all races, all colors, and on all continents.  It was often people that were defeated in wars that were then enslaved.  There have been no slaves in the U.S.A. since 1865 with the adoption of the 13th Amendment, but it is still practiced in the rest of the world, and there are thought to be 20 to 40 million enslaved people on earth today, more than ever before. The countries that currently have slavery are mostly in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Why are we obsessed with the Civil War when we have actual slavery happening right now in the rest of the earth? How about we think more about the present!

One justification for slavery has been racism.  One race is superior to another, a belief that finds support even in the holy books of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, something that did not elude Jefferson Davis. It was religion that reinforced slavery and helped to imprint it on civilization indelibly. But is race real?  

Race has, in fact, no basis in science. It was a Philadelphia physician,  Samuel Morton, who in the the early 19th century measured braincase volumes.  He did it with lead shot poured into an opened skull and then measuring the amount of lead he could pour in. Based on this, he divided Homo sapiens into five races: Whites, Mongolians, Southeast Asians, Native Americans, and Blacks.  His observations were fatally flawed.  His sample size was grossly erroneous.  His White sample had a skull from a large Irish man that skewed his calculations, making Whites smarter than they really are. 

Now that we have the human genome mapped it is obvious that there is no such thing as a pure race.  We are all mixtures of many strands of D.N.A.  Before we knew about Deoxy Ribose Nucleic Acid, a German pathologist, Rudolph Virchow, studied 6 million children and came to the conclusion that there is no Aryan race, something that led to his books being burned by the Nazis.  The most common racial metric is skin color, which is the most arbitrary of traits.  When our ancestors migrated out of Africa to colder climates with less sunshine, the genes that determined skin color changed. It is an adaptive trait that can be mapped on the world map. Areas that get more U.V. light have darker populations.

Dark skin is more protective for U.V. radiation,  but lighter skin allows for more Vitamine D to be manufactured in our body. Adaptive traits were selected to be picked, and according to Charles Darwin’s discoveries to pass on only traits that improved survival or made for more sexual attraction in the individual.  To use traits to separate humanity, that have been acquired from the environment, is not at all scientific.  If you can pick up a characteristic (whiteness) from not enough U.V. light on your skin, it is not a legitimate trait to define race.  Brazilians are genetically a greater melting pot than the U.S. some Brazilians classify as white, but their D.N.A. has more African black genes that some U.S. blacks have.  The concept of the human race becomes increasingly complicated, with science being unable to help.  If race does not exist, racism has no basis to exist either.

Dr. Ben Carson, current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who in his prior life practiced neurosurgery,  was the first, and so far, the only surgeon who successfully separated conjoined twins joined at the head.  He has opened many skulls and looked at the brain of whites, blacks, yellows, and red-skinned people.  His observation was that  all their brains looked alike.  It is the brain that is the important part, if you don’t know that already. Over 99% of our D.N.A. matches! The other fraction of less than 1% is so varied that classifying humans into meaningful racial groups is not possible, and furthermore, to base it all on skin color is sophomoric.  So why do we keep picking on a scab that  was almost healed?  Because we have done it for 11,000 years.  It is as if certain subgroups of people don’t want it to heal.  Do we need to stop talking about it just as Morgan Freeman keeps telling us to “stop making it a bigger issue than it should be”?

Morgan Freeman

In the last 150 years, since the end of the Civil War, we have made great strides, and we continue to do so.  My theory is that as time goes on, Homo sapiens will all become shades of brown, and then there will be no discernable difference so we wouldn’t be able to discriminate on that basis.

There still are people that believe in race and that one is better than another, but now it seems to be the dominant issue with the politicos, and the activists. B.L.M., as currently organized by self-proclaimed Marxists, divides us.  Taking down memorials certainly is not a friendly gesture that helps to unify us; politicians divide us for their own selfish gains.  Even my friends believe that name-calling, such as traitor, liar, and other pejoratives, are useful to help us understand racism in the past. Still, these are not precisely current or useful in attempting to be inclusive or uniting and besides show considerable malice. It appears that they need and want to relive the Civil War that Ulysses S. Grant won over 150 years ago. Do we have to dredge up the Civil War to find bonafide racism? If events from that long ago still affect you, perhaps professional counseling would help you get over your preoccupation with racism and retribution for past wrongs? 

The recent race riots appeared to be manufactured from a poorly chosen trigger waiting for a cause. This trigger was a black criminal high on Fentanyl and Methamphetamine that was murdered by a police officer. George Floyd and Derek Chauvin had a prior relationship in that they had worked together as security guards and already had an adversary relationship then. Race may or may not have played a role.  The police officer, if not racially motivated, was clearly a murderer for whatever reason and has to be treated as such.  There are bad cops, and this was one of them, but as initially quoted by Aesop, “One swallow does not a summer make.”

I would like to recount my experience with Strom Thurmond, possibly one of the most racist politicians of past generations.  He has made a remarkable change over his long career from being a racist, like pretty much all white people of his era, into an individual who at the close of his life accepted that he fathered a mixed-race daughter, possibly the most demonstrative example of ridding himself of racism.  At his other children’s request, her name was added to his tombstone inscription. Essie Mae Thurmond, the bi-racial first child of Strom Thurmond,  had a better way to encourage racial unity. Strom took responsibility for her and funded her education.    She had achieved a master’s degree in education, authored a book that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and believe it or not, applied for membership into the United Daughters of the Confederacy through the ancestors of Strom, who fought for the Confederate army, a distinctly better way to foster racial peace and unity. The Southern Poverty Law Group forgot to mention that factoid. Essie Mae showed character and a genuine understanding of healing racial divide by a few logarithmic measures more than spraypainting memorials of Abraham Lincoln or pulling down statues of Robert E. Lee.  Her father slowly changed his views on race also. Strom Thurmon was the first Senator to have a black man on his working interactive senatorial staff.  Thurmond was instrumental in making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a Federal Holiday as well as supporting the nomination of the second black Supreme Court Justice in 1991, a 180 ̊ reversal from his opposition to the first black Supreme Court justice 24 years before.  He gradually evolved out of racism, just as much of our culture has.

I see Strom Thurmond as the classic example of how we all can grow with time and wisdom, something I wish we could all (black, white, yellow, and red) acquire by drinking from that cup. I am sure that some of you are not satisfied that he didn’t drink enough from the cup of wisdom, but from a dyed in the wool racist to endorse a black supreme court justice,  was a major turn around that many in this world have not yet achieved. The activists that claim to endorse anti-racist principles, but their actions show them to still be just the opposite, violent racists that even kill. They could learn a few things from him. It is people like Strom Thurmon that have turned around the racist mindset that still keeps millions in chains. It is people like him that have transformed this nation. There is no nation on earth that has less discrimination, less racism, more opportunities, and financial advantages, than any other. We are the freest nation in the world! If that is not true, all those immigrants that are streaming to the USA, even risking their lives to do so, are apparently mistaken. Stated another way, “Why does everyone want to come here?” We build walls to keep them out, while other countries (like the Marxists- think Berlin wall) build walls to keep them in. Does that give you a clue?

I have enormous respect for people that can change their fundamental beliefs and go in the opposite direction, which shows their ability to grow in wisdom and character. I hold a unique personal bond with Strom Thurmond that I would like to share if you have the fortitude to read on.  In 1970 I joined the USAF at the height of the Vietnam War, not by choice I might add.  I was stationed in the Azores, Portugal, a very plush assignment if you consider that I had just received the news that my best friend was killed in Vietnam. I am told he was the only physician killed in that conflict. We were always paired during internship on every service to which we were assigned because of the alphabetic association of our last names at U.S.C. Medical Center in Los Angeles.

I was a newlywed when I arrived in Portugal.  My wife was to join me as soon as I got assigned to based approved housing.  The months dragged on, and instead of advancing on the housing list, I went backward.  I failed to realize the Sergeant in charge of the list needed some help in the form of greenbacks to remember my name.  Furthermore, I was a purist then, and I would not tolerate bribery.  I missed my wife, her smile, her laugh, her intellect, her conversation, and a lot more.  The Obstetrician on base and I had the same problem.  We were not allowed to rent “off base housing” that had not cleared the base housing inspection, which was a very slow process. An unfortunate event occurred that slowed that process even more.  A young N.C.O. (Non-Commissioned Officer) who had little chance of even getting on the housing list, had brought his bride to the Azores and rented “non approved off base housing.”  On a cold night, they turned on the heater that was defective and leaked carbon monoxide.  They both were found dead the next morning.   Now things really got slow.

The Obstetrician and I decided we would simply bring our wives over on civilian transportation without any help from the U.S. government.  It was less than a month later when my wife landed on the only landing strip on Tercera, the military airstrip. 

Our base had a new commanding officer, a two-star General, a hero of the conflict in Vietnam.  The Azores was a kind of reward for him, being an incredibly beautiful place, volcanic, lush and green like Ireland, sort of similar to Hawaii.  The General had his staff from Vietnam with him, including his young female secretary, as well as his wife.  All three showed up at the base medical clinic with a “social disease” that was especially difficult to cure.  Southeast Asia had evolved an especially virulent form of gonorrhea, which required the newest and more powerful antibiotics to eradicate.  The doctors that treated them were young, and not all that mature or ethical.  That group was just about ready to rotate out, and a new group, including me, was to replace them.  The third Saturday in May was Armed Forces day.  A celebration that included displays from every unit on base was held.  The hospital had a presentation, as well.  It was quite simple, a microscope with one slide focused on a field that had the classic Grahm negative diplococcus embedded in a white cell, the General’s white cell.  Just to make sure, the slide had two stars marking it.  A day later, the doctor responsible for this breach of the Hippocratic Oath was off to his next duty station.  Revenge was now prominently in the General’s mind, especially targeting doctors. The new group of arriving doctors would do just fine to teach proper military behavior!

When my wife arrived, her civilian airplane landed at the base airstrip.  It so happened that the General was there to greet some Congressional visitors that came on military aircraft.  My wife was the kind of girl that would turn heads, especially male heads.  This was not missed by the General.  Additionally, she wore a fiery red pants suit, tight everywhere except at the ankles where it flared out in the then stylish bellbottoms.   It was not long after that that I received the order that I was confined to the base and needed to sleep in the BOQ (Bachelor Officers Quarters).  I was under no circumstances to join my wife in the “off base” none approved apartment I had rented.  Fat chance…  I did notice a base police car parked near there with two men sitting in it when I came home, an unmistakable message to me.  But being young and foolish,  I violated the orders! I was soon notified that I would have to stand for a court-martial for the crime of violating orders!

What do you do if you are guilty?  You get a lawyer!  It so happened I had a friend who was one, a Captain in the J.A.G. (Judge Advocate General) office.  His aid was an N.C.O. who was also a friend as we were waterski buddies.  This N.C.O. kept me informed as to how my case was going.  Not so good, I might add.  The verdict was already decided before the official trial…guilty! And the punishment was also… punitive re-assignment to a forward firebase in Vietnam.  All I could think of was my internship friend, who died attempting to rescue his Corpsman just a few months ago. Was this to be my fate also?

Then a miracle happened!  Strom Thurmond was a Southern Senator who was against anything that was pro-integration, including Brown vs. Board of Education.  He hated Lyndon Baines Johnson for all his civil rights legislation to such an extent that Strom changed political parties and became a Republican.  Incidentally, L.B.J., despite his legislative agenda, was quite racist also.  In his private conversations, he relished in using the “N” word as often as he could.  Strom ran for president in 1948 under the Dixiecrat party but lost to Truman.  Dixiecrats were the ones who brought back the Confederate flag and made it the standard flag for all the South, that just now was taken off the State flag of Mississippi.   The Azores, like all military bases, had a Class VI store, a name assigned to liquor stores by the military.  This one had the best prices of any Class VI anywhere in the world.  You could get a bottle of expensive French wine for $1.50, and even the high priced fancy liquours were $3.00 for a big bottle of B&B a fantastic price even then.  My favorite was a Portugues bubbly rosé wine that was in an earthen bottle called Lancers; it cost $0.50.

Every few months, Strom Thurmon came to the Azores to go “Booze” shopping.  He had large parties in Washington, and this was the place to buy alcohol.  He flew in on military aircraft and left with palate upon palate of the expensive stuff.  It so happened that my lawyer, while he was in law school at George Washington University, was a law clerk for Thurmon. Strom, who by that time, was a recovered anti-Semite as my attorney was Jewish.  It was then I met Strom, then a member of the Armed Services Committee, which he later chaired. We presented my case to him on the tarmac of Lajes Air Force Base as he was boarding to fly back to Washington, D.C. Strom listened attentively and took it all in.   The Portuguese government also got involved because the General was interfering with tourism by restricting troops from renting housing on their economy.  The General was recalled the next day, lost a star, and had to retire.  My court-martial was dropped. My reassignment was withdrawn, and I finished my tour in the Azores, perhaps in retrospect, some of the best times of my life.  From then on, the Confederate Flag assumed an entirely new meaning for me. It reminded me and still does of the man that undoubtedly saved my butt and the rest of what was attached to it! Symbols mean different things to different people, depending on their various life experiences.  That is why the meaning of symbols needs to be left to individuals instead of mobs.  If Strom Thurmond’s daughter can forget the scourges of racism, so should we. Morgan Freeman might just be right!