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Monday, November 14, 2011


             constantin brancusi, endless column

Reading in Howard Zinn's PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. Every page I'm thinking how curious it is that the events and people he wrote about were the ones I paid attention to, from around 1960 when I started paying attention to the world that is the context of the world of my immediate experience. The world out there beyond my experience becomes over the years a mythology in my head. The same parts in somebody else's head are arranged differently. We of this place, time and culture carry the mythology of history as it happens daily in our heads as "reality."
Like Zinn, I've paid more attention to the fate of the American people in possibly the most racist country in the world, where, passing the buck, they point at the South and say that's where the racism is. It's everywhere in America, even in the desert. Racism is part of the mythology we all know, but each of us differently. White people tend not to think about racism in their love for denial, and pretend to care by reacting in horror to the word nigger. Of course, what the reaction really means is: Look at me! I'm PC! It has nothing whatsoever to do with black people.

I have to say Thank You to the spirit of Howard Zinn for writing this parallel to the history of the dates of our wars and names of our generals. It is indeed a history of the people, demonstrations, protests, prison riots, people killed and beaten by police on a regular basis along the way of our history from the beginning. The Indians, who laugh at being called Native Americans, narrowly escaped complete genocide thanks entirely to liberals in places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia, the big cities back east, outraged by the news of eyewitness reporters writing about the Indian wars. like the news reporting of Vietnam started making some people tired of seeing villages burned and simple farming people (gooks) slaughtered in a war to keep our economy going, government contractors, big money, good-paying jobs in the war industry, rapid advancement and pay among the officers. Zinn's history is the people at home in America, the model democracy, struggling for basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution, of all places.

We have an entire middle class seeped in political correctness adoring the Native Americans for their beautiful culture and their long suffering. At the same time, everywhere in the country near a reservation or a place with an Indian community, the Indians are held in the eyes of the white middle class even lower than black people, the same in spirit as the Aboriginal people of Australia, the "natives" of 50,000 years, give or take however many. White people don't have a bit of use for any other race, and that's the bottom line. It's one of the perks that go with the privilege of whiteness. The percentage of exceptions is so low and so disregarded that we have a lot of white people who are exceptions to the rule of racial arrogance and keep it to themselves. I've seen the futility of resistance to the behemoth and have retreated into living what I believe. Instead of trying to make other people think like I think, when I see Ricky Bryant, a black man, I shake his hand and we talk. When I see Harry Taylor, a white man, I shake his hand and we talk.

In the early 60s I got involved in a couple of "demonstrations" about racism, when I was 19 and 20. Then Stokely Carmichael told white people to stay out of it; it's their own struggle and can only be real on their own terms. It made sense to me. I'd even thought of it, but only in a mind that flew here and there like a chickadee. I was glad to hear him say it, because it told me he was serious. I stepped aside from involvement and have watched the gradual changes, seen how slow social change really is, even when it's fast. Over time my sense of urgency, wanting change NOW, settled down to satisfaction that the change in a given direction has been set in motion, time (sequence of events) will take it through the stair step process to completion when what Martin Luther King called his dream will be how it is. It's a universal good dream. Looking at the state of racism, not only in this country, but all others all the way around the globe, I can't imagine it ever changing. Yet I do see change, I see a big change.

Where racism itself is concerned, I've seen it go from above ground to underground. The laws changed, inhibiting overt racism, which before, was approved, so it became something you didn't talk about and certain words you didn't say in front of certain people. Let the black people tell you about underground racism over the last 30+ years since the killing of King with at least a nod from J Edgar Hoover the Remover. There are plenty of books written, probably documentary films on the matter of corporate racism under the table where money changes hands. Laws is about as close as it looks like we're going to get for awhile. Real prison reform isn't going to happen any time soon. Convicting black people to prison for being black is so commonplace it can be called the system with meaning. My part, on the mountain, is seeing it and paying attention to it, being aware of it. I can't do anything beyond my own world about it, and I'm not a missionary for any cause, as far as I know, democracy maybe. In my world, I regard people I see or meet of another race the same as anyone white, as far as I know. I see individual people, have since birth.

In a section of Kansas City, Kansas, called Argentine, where once had been a silver mine, and where then was a big railroad yard, a big one, I grew up in the white section. There was a Mexican section and a couple of black sections. As a white kid I didn't walk in either of those neighborhoods, same as kids from the Mexican or black neighborhoods stayed out of white neighborhoods. I would sometimes take a shortcut to the movie theater through the black section or the Mexican section when I felt brave enough. They looked like people to me. I couldn't see what was wrong with them. I never had a problem. Sometimes black kids would take a shortcut through a white neighborhood and that was ok. This is circa 1950. I had to walk by a black bar with a few old men sitting outside it in wooden chairs. We'd speak as I passed, became acquainted with a few from seeing them nearly every time I walked to the movie theater. An old man without teeth, whose mind was "not right," would rub his hands together and say, "Mush mush. Mush mush." I rubbed my hands and said, "Mush mush." He'd laugh. I'd laugh. It was our "hello." I always see him when my mind goes back to that time. The days of Amos and Andy. I see it a happy association between a black grandpa and a white kid. No problem between us, except the world we live in.


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