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Mon Apr 9, 2018, 09:18 PM

 

May I acknowledge a DUer [View all]

with whom I rarely agree?

I'd like to because Effie posted an OP a few days back that to me at least could not more perfectly explain the difference of opinion among those of us in the black community AND the common thread running through it. First, let me just re-post part of what they said:

While my father came from several generations of college-educated blacks, my mother was the first in her family to attend college. And the only reason she was able to attend the school she attended was the fact that a few years prior, a lawsuit was filed forcing the school to desegregate and federal marshals escorted black students into the college.

Thanks to my mother's education and career, the two sides of my family "caught up" to each other and to whites economically. Both of my parents were successful professionals, who could afford an excellent quality of life for themselves and their children. Yet they had to constantly navigate the systemic racism still operating in this country.

For example, although my father was a World War II veteran, they couldn't get a VA loan to buy a house with no money down, loans that were handed out like candy to white families (thereby enabling them to start building nest eggs and develop generational wealth generations before blacks could even think of doing so). When they finally were able to secure a loan, the bank "redlined" them, requiring them to pay higher interest, and realtors "steered" them into a neighborhood that had been "block-busted" by realtors, provoking "white flight" and gentrification and ghettoization. When they stood their ground and, with the help of lawyers and the new Fair Housing Act, they were able to force their way into a white neighborhood, they had to deal with the hostile stares and worse of their neighbors who were sure "those colored people" would drag down their property values - even though my parents were better educated, had better jobs and made more money than anyone on the block. (If you're not familiar with some of these terms and concepts, I urge you to google "redlining," "blockbusting," and "white flight" to get a better sense and context of what I'm talking about.)

As we got older, my parents had to give my brothers "the talk" in hopes that they wouldn't get shot for driving while black. They had to explain to me why I wasn't invited to the sleepover without coming right out and telling me that my friends' parents were afraid the little black girl would steal something from their house. While our white friends could get away with just about anything and everything, speeding around on Friday and Saturday nights, car full of beer and weed and, if they did get stopped, just got a warning like "You'd better go on home, son, before I have to take you there myself and have a little talk with your folks" from their friendly neighborhood police officer, my sisters and brothers had to make sure we didn't do ANYTHING wrong but were still stopped, threatened, made to lie across the hood of the car or down in the street and humiliated and terrified in countless other ways - all because black kids driving in a late model luxury car in an affluent neighborhood (where we happened to LIVE) must be dangerous criminals and the not-so-friendly neighborhood police officer - the same one - felt it his duty to make sure we didn't step out of line.

Even today, my elderly, distinguished father knows that whenever he attends a black tie event, there's a good chance that, at some point during the evening, he will be asked to fill a drink, bus a table, hail a cab or retrieve a car because - you know, a black man in a tuxedo MUST be the help there to serve them. And my beautiful, elegant, accomplished mother is still regularly assumed to be the maid, because a black woman in a nice home couldn't possibly be the lady of the house.


For those of you who are not black, I want to take a moment to point how exceptional these accomplishments were.

First, to come from several generations of college educated and beyond persons of color (dating all the way back to the mid 1800's) is extraordinary. This is not just because it represents generations of monumental effort to overcome overt racism, but also because the number of our forbearers who were able to do so was infinitesimally small. When John Russwurm graduated from Bowdoin College in 1836, he was only the third AA student to graduate from an American college or university. Even after the Civil War and the requirement that any state taking advantage of the land grant program provide for AA education spurred the creation of HBCUs very few offered degrees in any discipline other than divinity until after the turn of the century. The combined educational accomplishments of the author's father, and the previous generation of the poster's family, placed the author in a category unknown to all but a handful of black Americans.

The author's mother's accomplishments are no less unique. The first time US Marshals were used to escort black students into a college was 1963 and the author states that their mother started college a few years after that. If you know about the history of the integration of formerly all-white institutions of higher learning, you will also know that it didn't occur all at once. It wasn't like James Meredith was escorted the University of Mississippi and the next year black students by the dozens were admitted into formerly all-white universities. It was long and it was painful. While it varied, it is likely that the author's mother would have had no more than a dozen people who looked like her in the entire school. What's more, their mother would not have started college until 1965-66. 20 years after her husband returned from WWII. If she was anywhere near her husband's age, she would have been almost 45. Think about that for a second, starting college at age 45, as a black woman, with almost no one who looks like you sitting in class. Like the author's father, she would have been one in a million. Then, to turn around and raise a family with at least three kids? That is absolutely amazing.

I cannot tell you how moved I was when I read this story. It was particularly moving for me because our fathers must be about the same age. My father was going to join the Army when WWII in '42, a couple of years before it ended, when he was 23, but stayed home to help my grandma. He died in '98, when he was 81. When I read Effie say that her dad, who has to be right about 100 years old by now, still gets mistaken for a bus boy, I have to ask myself how stupid some white people have to be. Even as I write this, I am filled with anger. The people she described were unbelievably accomplished people of color and anyone who can't recognize that needs some help.

But that is kind of the point. Effie's family was special in a way no one in my neighborhood could have imagined anyone being. How many African American parents were among the handful of AA whose ancestors were able to graduate from college before Lincoln had even signed the Emancipation Proclamation. How many were able have John Kennedy's and LBJ's U.S. Marshals help make them among the first hundred or so black people allowed into previously all-white universities during the early 60s? How many could find a lawyer to file a lawsuit so they could take advantage of the Fair Housing Act to buy a house in an all-white suburb back then? (Heck, I had a friend who moved into a already slightly integrated neighborhood in Tallahassee with his white wife in 1995 and they pulled down his mailbox so many times that he had to get a P.O. Box.). And, quite honestly, how many black families had two college educated professional parents who had caught up to white families and their kids were driving late model luxury cars on the late 60s?

For people who have accomplished that much and their children, it makes perfect sense that redlining, the lack of availability of investment capital, how white folks stare at them in stores, who white people vote for etc. are the most important civil rights issues of the day. I can't blame them for that. As Effie basically said, they've worked so hard and still they are seen as busboys and maids. That sucks and it is indeed racist as hell. I can understand the frustration when a white politician says economic equality cures racism because it doesn't and the idea it does is a uniquely white idea.

BUT it is just a fact that a majority of AA experience have not had the astounding level of accomplishment Effie described. Yes, many of us have have achieved, but, in 2009, only 45% of us made more than $35K/year and our median household net worth was less than $5700. Most of us suffer that same degradation Effie described her family suffering AND those brothers and sisters are escorted by federal marshal to federal prisons, NOT universities. Michael Brown had not caught up to white people when he was gunned down like a dog and his family watched as a DA who was supposed to be on our side whitewashed the whole thing and a US Senator who was supposed to be on our side wouldn't call him out. Ricky Rector had not caught up to white people when prison guards cut his arms open so they could find a vein to use to execute him during the middle of what many here still claim was a magnificent change for the Democratic Party. Families living in abject poverty who are cut off after 2 years of benefits will NEVER catch up to whites.

Obviously Effie and others are right when they say money doesn't deter racism (well, money in the amounts any of us are willing to really discuss), not even for AA who have achieved what Effie described. On the other hand, when folks start talking about how the Voting Rights Act, or the Fair Housing Act, or even the Civil Rights acts, those marvels of centrist cooperation, can erase the damage far to many of our supposed allies have signed onto, they are no more right than the white politician they have singled out as whipping boy.

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Reply May I acknowledge a DUer [View all]
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