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Saturday, April 21, 2012


      malcolm x

Heard somebody say on the radio awhile ago something about racism, Tavis Smiley and maybe it was Cornel West, would be talking on the subject, how race is impacted in our lives. I didn't hear what they had to say. I'd just heard a half hour radio documentary on Forest Carter, who wrote The Education of Little Tree. Turns out Forest Carter is Asa Carter a klansman, this, that and the other. The book is so popular as a really good read that when the word came out that Forest Carter was actually Asa Carter, nobody cared. A good story is a good story. In this case, it's a superb story. It's a particularly American story. The movie is superb too, only it doesn't have the golden glow about it the book has. It's not because it's a book, but because it was written from the heart and a good story told. Evidently, there is an issue of Asa Carter being Forest Carter, but nobody cares. It has never made any difference to me that the writer of the story wrote from an alter-ego. Too much expectation of the rational in human behavior. It's still among the most wonderful stories I've read. George Sand, the English writer, was a woman her readers believed to be a man. Hot dang.

There is too much emphasis on racism projected onto the South, too much blame heaped on the South for something that ended a century and a half ago. Before that, it wasn't just the South. Slavery was sanctioned by the Bible just like war is. The Bible sez: slavery good. The Bible sez: war good. The Bible sez: kill em all. One of the things I love most about the South is the rest of the country looks down on it. Like in school I found the kids that the cool kids stayed away from, rejected, were the most interesting ones. Like most of my life I've wondered if I might run across a wise man along my way. I didn't need to go to a cave in a Himalayan mountain to find one. I found a wise man in Whitehead NC, a farmer, sawmiller, welder, tractor mechanic, bluegrass banjo picker, quit school after 11th grade. He had no more money or assets than I have, which is the minimum it takes to keep an autonomous existence. The wise man I found lived in poverty in a mountain county with no interest in anything happening outside Whitehead and Pine Swamp. Whitehead is where he was born, lived his life and was buried. Pine Swamp is where his mother's relatives lived. I found a wise man in America in the South. I know he is not the only one and I know wisdom is not solely a Southern phenomenon. This just happens to be the one God chose to lead me to, for the opportunity to serve a Master in his frailty and learn from him.

When I heard the sentence earlier about race impacting our lives, not having time to hear the show, it pushed me into looking in myself at how race has impacted my life. For one thing, in America, the Western world, Christendom, whiteness is a privilege to be born with, like wealth. That's the nature of the world I've always lived in. Not many white people get it, but all black people get it. Race has impacted my life by being a white man with compassion for what my race puts people of other races through. I can't change the apartheid system in America. I went to civil rights marches and rallies until I saw it was not my place. I withdrew even interest, it was not my problem any more, and went to college in a white world in the South. There were plenty of black issues, but white people don't care; the black people can demand and carry on all they want. White people switch the channel if it gets too loud. It seems to me one of the great issues black people have is that white people don't see them unless they sing, dance, talk dirty and play sports.

Race impacts my world mostly by denial. Almost everybody I know is a racist, including myself, and black people are racists too, so we always have awkward encounters. When I say we're racists, I don't mean a flaming cross kind of racist. I mean I've looked within and found it to be so that I have had it preached into me since childhood. The quiet message from my parents was niggers are ok, best left alone. This was the 1940s and 50s. There was the attitude that they were the same as gypsies, would rob you in the blink of an eye. Of course, the black people lived in a culture of poverty where survival was a way of life. The black kids I knew in childhood were poor, really poor, beat down by the drunk with serious self-esteem issues that lived with their mama in a shack of a house with half a dozen brothers and sisters. Among white people it was taken for granted that's how niggers lived. I felt the compassion early in childhood, pre school, knowing Dorothy Hopkins and her mother, who lived down the hill behind where I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, Argentine, close to the football stadium on Lawrence dr. 2312. The house is gone and a newer house is in its place. Black people live there now. I never understood why I wasn't supposed to like black people when the kids I knew were good people. They were afraid of white people and I felt sorry for them having to be afraid of me because I'm white. I didn't want to hurt them in any way. I didn't want to trade places with them either.

Then 1954 came and I went into the 7th grade, new and bigger school. It was the first year the black kids that went to Sumner High by bus from small neighborhoods all over the city had to go to school with the white kids at the school nearest their neighborhood. They were scared. Immediately, they clustered into gangs and became a threat because they were threatened. Iran wants nukes, because they know the American military force leaves colored countries alone that have nukes. Pakistan and N Korea are the privileged ones in the "developing world," no apprehension about the paper tiger attacking them. The black boys gathered into gangs for the very same reason, to protect themselves from the white boys. A black kid in a gang was safe. Not in a gang, he risked harassment from white guys, jocks, relentlessly, like Mexicans now in Sparta. I'm hearing on the radio news for the first time that somebody has actually said it out in the open that half the American population lives in poverty. I've often wondered why I saw that and nobody else did. The media never touch it. Government is all about looking good, not pissing on corpses in the Army, and SS not making an international scandal in Columbia over short-changing whores. Makes us look bad. Abu Graib did too, but that was ok. All of it was ok, just don't take pictures of it and put them on the internet. The way I see it, they needed punishment for stupid. Pissing on a corpse for a YouTube moment I can only see as stupid. It's stupid to do without making a video. Totally stupid to advertise it on the internet. Stupid is as stupid does. It's a natural law, like shit happens.

The race issue has always been a difficult one for me. After 1954 the anger that had been boiling in the black people came to the surface. Before, it was easy to talk with black people. They were always nice and agreeable, what I now know they called "shuckin and jivin." Or something like that. Tap dancing. Many white people and many black people attempted integration, but such social changes don't happen as fast as we want them to. I don't make any effort to be extra nice to black people I know. I feel like the best way I can show a black person respect is to treat him and her as I do white people. No special treatment, and no less respect. I believe that's the goal of the civil rights movement. It's not about whether I feel any racism within or if black people feel racism. We Americans grew up in a racist culture, rallying to our own race, and I don't mean this in absolutes. I'm calling 5% racism the same as 100%. A trace is still racism. I like to think I have never used the privilege of race to my own benefit. I want the black people to have exactly the same privileges white people have. We'll have racism as long as we have ego. Ego is not in any hurry to go away and racism is right there with it. I can't solve all the issues, but I can consciously approach racial issues with do no harm, as in other issues. 

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