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Number of posts: 64,917
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IN so many ways, I was a direct beneficiary of the civil rights movement. In 1968, I was living in D.C. and witness to the upheaval that the shooting of Martin Luther King produced in our middle-class neighborhood. D.C. was a smoldering mess of brick right after Dr. King was killed. It was chaos for everyone. Blacks there seemed to suffer the most from the violence. It was a fearful time for a young kid like me, although black myself. Knives, not guns, were the weapons of choice. Really tough times. Lots of robbery. Mostly blacks were the victims as well as the perpetrators.
I remember in that same period, a kid strutting down our street singing 'I'm black and I'm proud' at the top of his lungs. I was pretty young and naive, and I imagined he was saying, 'I'm black and I'm brown'. I thought to myself, Yeah, that's me. Black and brown.
My parents certainly knew the importance of civil rights, as their own livelihood and their own expectations of comity and acceptance were challenged by my African-American mother's pale skin - which was often mistaken for that of a Caucasian individual - and her marriage to my dark-skinned father. Their own work experience was advantaged by the new civil rights initiatives which were opening the workplace for blacks and providing opportunities which often were in the very civil rights field that they were counting on to lift them out of the oppression that their earlier lives had endured during segregation, Jim Crow, and the like.
Mom worked in the personnel division at Raritan Arsenal overseeing and managing a fresh population of light-skinned blacks who had managed to find higher employment in the clerical field.
Dad had taken on civil service positions ever since his stint in the Army in New Guinea where he was given a field promotion with the expectation that he would keep his all-black unit in line and still be accommodating of the expectations of the segregating majority. He went on to achieve a position in the federal government in the newly created Equal Opportunity Commission which was to facilitate the influx of the new generation of blacks into the federal workplace who were advantaged by the Civil Rights Act that had just passed. He moved up the ladder and retired some 30 years later in the position of Deputy Director of Civil Rights in his division of HEW.
Our progress was a progression in which the negative forces we were pushing back to allow us room and opportunity to grow and prosper fell steadily away as our generation grew and staked our claim to our newly-protected citizenship. In many ways, the struggle was glaring, but, to those who observed our progression out of the era of Jim Crow and other resistance and indifference, it was all opportunity with the worst behind us. Slights and other aggravating remnants of the earlier racism began to fall out of public fashion (at least up north, in the region which was our nation's capital).
My father moved us to the suburbs very shortly after the riots and looting and I was propelled into a world which was green, open, and almost pristine in comparison to the broken glass and the suffering facade of our once-quiet and serene community.
The folks who I met had the same sunny, polite manner that masked any resentment or discomfort they may have felt in the presence of this brown person in the middle of the sea of light skin. It was a culture shock for me. It was likely one, as well, for the kids and adults who mostly welcomed me into their community. I say 'mostly welcomed' because most of the folks were unfailingly polite. There was no visible tinge of overt racism in their embrace of me that summer when we arrived. There was also no visible expression of the upheaval that had characterized my former community - and many parts of the nation, as well.
I remember getting lost riding my new bike around the neighborhood in the first week in my new home. I had never been lost and I was in some sort of strange wilderness, in this pristine community and I had no recognizable bearing. After an hour or so of an exhausting effort to weave my way out of the maze of freshly-blacktopped streets, I broke down and just went up to the first house I had the nerve to approach and rang the bell. An older white lady came out and was just as sweet as she could be. She put aside what she was doing, loaded up my bike in the trunk of her car, and drove me directly to my house. Now, I didn't know exactly where I lived; I didn't even know the house number or the street address . . .but, somehow, this rescuing angel did. Turned out, her daughter, (Mrs. S) lived directly across from my new home. She knew exactly where this recent aberration to her community belonged.
That incident characterized the majority of my life as a black kid in an overwhelmingly white community. It represented the best of humanity; but, it also represented its hidden face, as well. We had gotten this property by the skin of my parent's wallets. Turns out that our welcome into this community wasn't preceded by a carpet of rose-petals from the residents.
Mrs. Green next door, before she died, told my mother that most of the neighborhood had been, literally, in the middle of the street, up in arms over the prospect of a black family moving in. The alleged ringleader of it all, according to Mrs, Green, had been, none other than our neighbor directly across the street; the daughter of this exceedingly kind lady who had scooped up this young transplant and deposited me at the door of my new home.
Go figure. My father came to regard these folks across the street as his best friends in the neighborhood over the years we lived there; yet, they had actually instigated against our arrival in the past. Who knew where their true affinity for their black neighbors lay?
Did it matter? We'll never know, I suppose.
Does it impact my own thinking and attitude toward that community, as I look back? Absolutely. You see, life growing up in that atmosphere of outward tolerance, was much different from what most folks would regard as acceptability and acceptance.
I remember Bill Clinton once correcting someone who suggested that we need to 'tolerate' our differences. We should 'celebrate' them instead, he had said. I was certainly tolerated in this community, but I had a difficult time gaining acceptance. I participated in most of the activities of the others, but I never really seemed to have the same social experience as the rest of my peers and friends. There were actually quite a number of parents of these kids who would not allow me to come into their homes; and the suburbs was all about the indoors. I got edged out of many of the events which should have been the hallmark of my youth. I didn't really get a grip on the camaraderie others seemed to revel in. It was a period of transformation of views. It was a period of misunderstanding of the, mostly contrived, differences between us. Folks were wary and cliquish. Things like finding a cub scout troop whose mentors would welcome you into their home for meetings. Things like being invited to parties or finding room in a group for the special trips they took to ski or to the beach. This was hard for a kid.
Thing is, though, most of the racism and discrimination was well undercover. Reasons and justifications needn't be openly discussed to deny a kid access to those elements of society that folks wanted to restrict for themselves. You just turn your back. Or, you just decide, as a group, to exclude. That characterized most of the problems I had as a result of the color of my skin. No open hollering racial epithets at me when I walked down the street, like the folks in Cumberland, Md. did when I visited there in 1979. No outright discrimination like I experienced as an adult looking for work and in the actual workplace. Just indifference and exclusion. Coded racism, undercover.
I did have one small period where I was under direct and open assault for the color of my skin. In my overwhelmingly white-populated junior high school, there was a fellow and a few of his friends who thought it would be funny to follow me around the hallways calling me 'Jigaboo' and 'King Coon'. The open use of obviously derogatory insults like the N-word would have been out of the question in that community at that time.
For folks not familiar with these epithets, they are terms used at the worst periods in our nation's history to belittle blacks. I knew of them, because my father had used those terms, 'coon' and 'jigaboo', in a derogatory manner, to cynically describe someone he knew.
This taunting from my classmates continued for weeks, with other students emboldened to jump in with their own taunts. I'd keep my head down and hurry to class. One day, I had had enough and I saw the ringleader standing beside the gym. I didn't wait for the taunts. I just opened-up and hit him square on the jaw. I fell and cracked my elbow in the process which swelled like a balloon.
Upshot of it all, the fellow was surprised beyond his belief that I would strike back in such an arbitrary manner; as were all of his friends standing around. I wasn't a large or menacing kid, but I'd made enough of an impact by striking back in that fashion that I never had so much of a hint of taunting or confrontation based on my race from anyone there again. In fact, the fellow I had hit came to me in private, shook my hand and apologized. He said he really didn't know what he was doing or why. I never forgot that.
Much of the racism we experience in this 'modern' age -- so far from the overt and institutionalized expressions of our nation's racist and discriminatory past -- isn't overt or obvious; especially to those who haven't been at the receiving end of it all. That reality requires a special kind of vigilance among us which isn't readily understood or identified with by folks who don't see the perniciousness in small, seemingly benign and marginal slights and insults which once were so openly accepted and encouraged against our black population.
In many ways, I see the need to move past the reflexive defensiveness which often deepens the controversies or draws unwanted attention to something which is, perhaps, better left unremarked on. There has been remarkable progress past the old civil rights battles for acceptance and acceptability among our peers which is a product of an enlightened generation determined to put all of that behind us.
Yet, I can't countenance having our discourse go all the way back to the place where folks were comfortable and secure that their slurs and their stereotypical insults wouldn't be met with forceful condemnation by society as a whole, and met by individuals determined to elevate our interactions above these opportunistic appeals to those things we sometimes use to divide or alienate.
There seems to be a revival of that racism and bigotry which is being encouraged by the cynical politics practiced by the present batch of republican candidates. That attitude is certainly trickling down to folks in our communities who are encouraged by these pols to identify their own opposition to this presidency with these racist and bigoted appeals which have root in our nation's tragic past.
In many ways, President Obama has refrained from directly confronting the rhetoric; choosing instead to direct the conversations to something more substantive than those things folks use to divide and conquer. That's likely the most productive course, but, it involves biting back those things which we feel we need to defend against (if only to define ourselves outside of the insults and stereotypes offered in these sly attacks on our humanity).
I'm not convinced, though, that enough folks out here are truly familiar with all of the nonsense which has been resurrected from the past in a cute attempt to replicate the divisive attitudes and expressions which characterized a more confrontational age. It's going to take some education from those of us whose life experiences aren't readily available in a google search; rendering our experiences mostly invisible and mostly unbelievable to a new generation. I hope for understanding. I fear, though, we'll be fighting many of the old battles out in the open again. That may well be for the best, in the long run.
In the time being, though, the sly appeals to the racism and toleration of the resurgence of some of the divisive rhetoric and attitudes of the past is a disturbing and disheartening trend which will require vigilance and a determined response.
Posted by bigtree | Tue Jan 31, 2012, 02:22 PM (39 replies)
WILL the republican candidates' appeals to racism spark a resurgence of discriminatory acts? Or, is it a case where their over-the-top rhetoric is generating enough of a resistance among Americans that folks who emulate them are being marginalized and outcast?
I tend to believe it's the former, that these republican candidates' appeals to racism and their attacks on the ethnicity of folks in America is emboldening like-minded individuals to identify their own bias with an apparently legitimized and accepted discriminatory dialog coming from these political leaders.
Although there has certainly been a swift and prominent response to such attacks -- with the speed of our media and the presence of so many enlightened individuals committed to confronting each and every instance they can manage -- there is still a dynamic where these bigoted appeals to racism from the candidates persist as long as these public figures are able to maintain their public positions and platforms.
Certainly, Mr. Gingrich's statements about President Obama being a 'food stamp president' and suggesting poor blacks take restroom jobs to teach them the importance of work -- as well as the comments from Mr. Santorum that he doesn't "want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money” -- are enough for their fellow candidate, Mr. Romney to condemn. Romney, however, was content to echo their attacks with his own dog-whistle about the President wanting an 'entitlement' society.
We're not going to see any significant retreat by these republicans from their cynical appeals to their voters' bigotry, because that would, apparently cost them much of the support they've cultivated with those racist appeals, so far.
In fact, the camps of Romney and Gingrich are doubling down on their divisive appeal this week by turning to bigoted surrogates to toot on their dog-whistles for them. Romney chose the well-known bigot, Jon Voight, to stump with him on the campaign trail this week.
Voight, who once called President Obama a 'false prophet', wasted no time at all in proclaiming from Romney's prepared platform that "President Obama decided to follow his father’s footsteps and take us to socialism.” A lively joke session followed his racist appeal.
Gingrich welcomed the bigoted tongue of Sarah Palin this week as she denounced the candidate's critics as, "nothing short of Stalin-esque."
These republican candidates are stepping up their cultivation of these divisive influences and the types of supporters their bigoted and racist appeals attract in order to win votes and to win an election. That sends a powerful signal to their constituency that theirs is an acceptable standard of discourse which, presumably, should be emulated to effect the defeat of our Democratic president.
That attitude and acceptability resonates among the prejudiced faster than it can be washed away by critics and defenders of more respectful dialogue. It will take years to tamp down the hateful legacy of this election season's divisive appeals. It will take decades to wash it away if any one of these republican candidates manage to achieve the presidency.
Posted by bigtree | Sun Jan 29, 2012, 08:28 AM (1 replies)
President Barack Obama holds two-month-old Emme Bernstein, of Scottsdale, after arriving on Air Force One at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Ariz. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Michael Schennum)
As Obama stepped off the plane, Nikki Bernstein of Scottsdale handed him her baby, Emmy, 2 ½ months old, and he held her.
"I got weak in the knees to be honest,'' Bernstein said when asked how she felt to have the president hold her baby. "It's very overwhelming and exciting to be that close to the president.'''
(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Posted by bigtree | Wed Jan 25, 2012, 10:16 PM (11 replies)
President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, during a phone call from the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, immediately after his State of the Union Address, informing John Buchanan that his daughter Jessica was rescued by U.S. Special Operations Forces in Somalia. (AP Photo/Pete Souza, White House)
Secret hostage rescue played out as Obama spoke
WASHINGTON — The secret was still intact when President Barack Obama, entering the House chamber Tuesday evening to deliver his State of the Union speech, pointed at his Pentagon chief and said, "Good job tonight."
Unknown to a global television audience watching the annual Capitol Hill ritual, a bold U.S. raid was still playing out half a world away with an elite Navy SEAL team's rescue of two hostages in Somalia, one of them an American. It was the same unit that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, two U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Publicly, Obama did not tip his hand during his speech, though microphones picked up his congratulation to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as he entered the House chamber. Obama pointed his index finger to Panetta and said, "Good job tonight. Good job." Panetta smiled broadly.
Obama had learned shortly before that American aid worker Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted, a Dane, were safely in U.S. military hands. Immediately after the speech, Obama telephoned Buchanan's father from the Capitol to tell him that she was safe and "on her way home," according to the White House.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said that although the two hostages were safe by the time Obama gestured to Panetta, the secretive rescue mission had not yet been completed.
Posted by bigtree | Wed Jan 25, 2012, 01:45 PM (19 replies)
President Barack Obama embraces retiring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., as members of Congress applaud before his State of the Union address. (AP/Saul Loeb)
Posted by bigtree | Wed Jan 25, 2012, 08:00 AM (15 replies)
. . . but Romney making $20 million-plus a year off of 'investment' income is just obscene. I just feel sick when I think about it and reflect on just how hard I work for next to nothing.
I wonder if the workers at the companies Romney's touting as his 'creations' are anywhere as prosperous as he is off of their labor? Of course not. It's disgusting. His taxpayer-enabled excess is an example of the worst of America.
Posted by bigtree | Tue Jan 24, 2012, 01:58 AM (7 replies)
Posted by bigtree | Tue Jan 24, 2012, 12:04 AM (3 replies)
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is finishing the meet-and-greet political event Monday that erupted in a deadly shooting spree a year ago.
Giffords' office says the congresswoman will finish the Congress On Your Corner event. In a private gathering, she will meet with some of the people who were at the Jan. 8, 2011 event in a Safeway parking lot when a gunman killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords.
Those attending will include some of the wounded, others who helped them, and people who subdued the attacker.
Also Monday, Giffords will visit a family assistance center that was set up after she was seriously wounded.
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)
Posted by bigtree | Mon Jan 23, 2012, 09:30 AM (1 replies)
MY company is profiting pretty handily though. My union, UFCW Local27, is keeping tabs on the company with a new website (http://occupygiantandsafeway.org/) as we inch toward the expiration of our contract and the hopeful expectations (and demands) for a new one. Here's their take on the state of the company I've worked at for 29 years, Giant Food:
Jan 19 2012
A fair contract shouldn’t be a thing of the past at Giant
Giant Ahold has a pretty interesting timeline under their Company History section of their website. Have you seen it?
If not, take a look: http://www.giantfood.com/about_us/company/company_history.htm
Various landmarks are noted on this journey through time–as they should be because they are major accomplishments for any company. One example that we found was that in 2002 Giant reached $5 billion in sales. This is an amazing feat and something that makes us very proud! Sadly, we discovered that we weren’t mentioned anywhere on this timeline. In fact, during the last 30 years worth of Giant’s various highlights, we have taken concessions to ensure that the company remains profitable. We’ve sacrificed in a major way but we’re still being left out of the big picture.
We’re facing cuts in our work hours with less full time employment available in the stores. Many of us are working multiple jobs to support our families. The company is clearly profiting yet our store managers tell us that they might not be able to make payroll in the stores for the week. We aren’t complaining about hard work–we just think a fair contract that alleviates the stress we’re under is long overdue. Our fellow union members with 25 years of service or more at Giant regularly tell us that it hasn’t always been this way.
We’ve been there all along. It’s our hard work that has secured the company’s success. It’s our world-class customer service that keeps our customers coming back.
Remember us this negotiation…we haven’t forgotten and neither will our customers.
Giant remains profitable in a down economy
Giant/Ahold workers in Maryland, DC and Northern Virginia are just now learning exactly how important they are to their company, which is headquartered in the Netherlands. Defying world-wide economic problems, their Dutch-owned company continues to boom, thanks to sales and profits generated by its U.S. holdings, which include Giant. Last year in its annual report, Ahold USA reported 29.5 billion euros in sales for 2010. Its three grocery chains in the U.S. accounted for nearly two-thirds of that volume. Royal Ahold International bought Giant Food in 1998. Since then its U.S. operations have been generating half the firms volume and profits.
Thanks for reading . . .
Posted by bigtree | Sat Jan 21, 2012, 02:37 PM (30 replies)
. . . how did you find me?
How did you know I’d be here?
He looks to where I stand
in the radiant silence,
the earth falling away beneath us,
till the silvery gates slide open
to release him. He steps out.
He steps out and I stand still.
‘D’you know where you’re going?’
‘Is this where you wanted to be?’ *
President Barack Obama unexpectedly runs into Michelle on her birthday in the basement of the White House, Jan. 17, 2012 in Washington. (photo/Christopher Morris, TIME)
* excerpt from poem 'The Elevator' by: © 2008, Maura Dooley
From: Life Under Water
Publisher: Bloodaxe, Tarset, 2008
Posted by bigtree | Sat Jan 21, 2012, 11:38 AM (28 replies)