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Race Relations: Getting Better or Worse?

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Race Relations is a Hard Topic to Write About.

  • If you minimize the issue, you are the problem.

  • If you draw attention to the issue, you're a race hustler.

  • If you stay silent, you are complicit.

  • If you proclaim you are not racist, you are in denial.

Given The Above, Why Bother Writing About It?

Because it's important. "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." (Matthew 5: 9) All of us should desire good race relations.

Sadly, Race Relations Seem to be Deteriorating.

Recent polling done during Black History Month shows a plurality of Americans believe race relations in the country are getting worse.

What Do We Learn From the Gay Rights Struggle?

I recall back when I was in practice in Anchorage, years ago, they were promoting a Gay Rights Initiative for a vote of the people. It had already been voted down a couple years earlier, and now they wanted another vote. I know Gay Rights and Race Relations are 2 different issues, but I learned something that might be transferable.

I have always had time to talk to my patients about the things that are important to them, even if it isn't necessarily the reason for the appointment. And so it was that this Gay Rights campaign was in full swing, and I was near the end of an office visit with a gay patient. He said:

"Why do they need to bring this up again? We're all getting along fine. We can get jobs anywhere we want, landlords rent to us. We don't need government fixing something that isn't broke."

So here was this gay guy, in the trenches, living the gay life. He didn't see himself as a beneficiary of this proposed ordinance.

So Who Was Benefiting?

As I watched the issue over the ensuing weeks, many politicians and wannabes, were getting lots of positive media attention for their support of this bill. They were banking votes for future elections. They were doing their best to convince the Gays that they were really helping them. It became very clear in my mind who was benefiting from this Gay Rights campaign.

Who Benefits From Bad Race relations?

And the thing about race relations is, it gets better and worse, based on what people say, without any change in the facts. So who benefits from continually attributing problems to racism, when more plausible explanations may exist?

There is No Doubt That Racism Was

Prevalent and Problematic in the Past.

I may have been shielded from much of this in my youth during the 60s and early 70s in Anchorage. In my Junior high school we had 3 black students. I knew them all, and one was quite popular. One was a trouble maker and hung out with other trouble maker friends. One was fat, female and socially backwards and had only a few friends, typical of fat and socially backwards kids at the time. I did not see that racism had any impact on these 3 African Americans. Was it different at that time, in other states like California, Texas or Missouri? I don't know.

We did have a number of Eskimos and Indians at our school with varying backgrounds. Some had lived in Anchorage their entire life, and a few were obviously very new to city life, having just recently moved in from the villages. Some were loners, some had friends, some hung out with the popular kids. I did not see racism impacting their relationships. The ones fresh in from the villages, that didn't wear cool clothes, and didn't fit in, had the same social success as kids from Arkansas or some other flyover state that didn't fit in with the locals. Race didn't seem to be the issue, at least not to my observation.

Obviously racism existed in this country, but most of it was previous to my memory. School integration began after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation in schools in 1954, the year I was born. I never saw a "Whites Only" sign for a restroom or drinking fountain, but I understand they did exist up until the early 60s, in some locations. Thanks to Rosa Parks, segregation on public buses ended when I was 2 years old in 1956 after a Supreme Court ruling declared it unconstitutional in Browder v. Gayle.

As a teenager, I read the book, "Black Like Me" which is still considered a remarkable document. This book, published in 1961 tells the story of a white gentleman who artificially colored his skin dark, shaved his head and traveled around the south. He wanted to find out, first hand, what it was like to be black. His book tells of his experiences, and being treated very poorly, and of the remarkable change for the better in his treatment when he resumed his normal skin color. I found his story very compelling, but it talked about conditions and situations that I just did not experience or witness in the late 60s and early 70s growing up in Anchorage.

I suppose the closest I came to actually seeing discrimination was in 1963 when we lived in New Jersey. We lived in an OK neighborhood, nothing fancy, but not a slum either. A back family moved in and they had 2 boys close to my age. We immediately became friends and were in and out of each others homes frequently. At some point somebody put up a bunch of flyers in the neighborhood calling for a neighborhood meeting. My parents were upset about the flyers and I asked about it. I was just 8 years old and my parents explained that some people didn't think black people should live in white neighborhoods and the meeting was to discuss a strategy to get rid of this family. It was very clear to me that my parents didn't approve of this meeting.

As I have reflected on this over the years I have realized several things.

  1. Holding the meeting was legal at the time, because it was previous to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made such discrimination in housing and segregation illegal. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a wonderful accomplishment that we still benefit from today.

  2. Even though housing discrimination was legal, obviously some people were not concerned with the color of their skin, and were willing to do business with everybody, extending respect to all. I would like to believe that such people have always been the majority.

  3. I believe some of the neighbors did get together for their little meeting, but even without the Civil Rights Act of 1964 they weren't successful. The family still hadn't moved as of a year later when we moved to Anchorage. Bigots often fail.

I Had Another Experience in 2016 With My Wife As We Were Driving Through Alabama.

We had attended a graduation in Troy Alabama and now we were headed to a medical conference in Texas. We both enjoy road trips and were excited to see parts of the south that we had never visited before. Our road trip would take us through southern Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and then into Texas.

We found ourself in Mobile Alabama. Mobile has a crime rate of 141 per one thousand residents, making it one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes - from the smallest towns to the very largest cities. One's chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime here is one in 7.

As we explored the city, we ended up in a huge slum. About half of the houses and buildings were boarded up with plywood over doors and windows. Some buildings looked like they had been bombed out, and were half torn down and in disrepair. Some of the boarded up buildings had some of the plywood torn off and were obviously being occupied by squatters. Numerous junked cars littered the streets, alleys and empty lots. People seemed to be living in some of the cars. The amount of litter was staggering.

Many of the yards and empty lots had groups of people, some with fires going, and people smoking and drinking. Other than me and my wife, not a white person was in sight. I slowed down and cruised by slowly to observe, staring intently at the people and got a lot of rude stares, some yells and angry gestures and one guy threw a beer bottle at our car. I felt safe, because we were in a locked car, and I could hit the gas and get out of there pretty fast.

As we were about to head out, we came by an old, very dilapidated hamburger stand. It looked like an old A&W or Dairy Queen, but it only had take out. No dine in. People were standing, lined up at a window where they were taking orders. Those orders were handed out a different window, and there were a few picnic tables you could sit at, and many people looked like they were eating in their cars, or just taking off with their food.

I was hungry, and I really wanted the experience of eating in this ghetto. But, I was concerned about safety, particularly for my wife. A bunch of the locals had yelled at us, and one had thrown a beer bottle at us. Our white color really stuck out. I did not know how safe it would be to get out of the car and go stand in that line. I don't think my caution was related to the color of the local people, but rather to the fact that they were slum dwellers, and I didn't know how slum dwellers behaved.

Ultimately I decided I was gonna do it. I parked the car and told my wife to stay awake, and keep the car doors locked, but be ready to open them quick when I came back.

I went and stood at the end of the line. A few people in line ahead of me glanced at me with surprised looks. One person kind of glared at me, but nobody said anything. I tried to act nonchalant. Right away, another guy walks up and gets in line behind me. He didn't look too dangerous or angry, but I was nervous. As we stood there, I realized I had to strike up a conversation with this guy behind me. I had no idea what to say. As far as I knew we had nothing in common and certainly our life experiences were quite different. Our whole world view would have nothing in common.

How do I strike up a conversation with this guy? Will he respond with anger or hostility? Will he ignore me? Will he be violent? For lack of any better idea I finally turned towards him, looked him in the eye and said:

"Come here often?"

Well that opened a flood gate! The conversation was off and running. Turns out he grew up in this slum. He had recently retired after having worked at a local factory his entire life. Got hired in high school, his first job and never quit. They took good care of him and he did have a pension, not great, but good enough, and he and his wife, who is sitting in his car, come to this old hamburger joint once a week, same day, same time. He married his high school sweet heart, they had kids and now they were grand parents.

We talked of many things: politics, what's wrong with kids these days, and what should be done to improve society. We couldn't have agreed more! We were like 2 peas in a pod. He talked about how much benefit he had received from working as a kid, and how todays kids need to have the benefit of working to earn money. He told me how much it had helped him personally as an adult to be employed, and more than just the paycheck. He talked about how important it is to get people off welfare and back into the productive sector, for their own mental and spiritual health. Our burgers were cold by the time we said goodbye and went to our cars.

Some of the locals had reacted negatively to us as we cruised slowly by, but as I climbed into my car I had the feeling that most of those people would have been pretty similar to the guy I talked to, once we got past the introduction and surprise of what I was doing in their neighborhood.

Most Americans Agree on Most Issues.

Every day working people know the value of family, church, hard work, education, public safety and law and order. Unfortunately, political machines and special interest groups benefit when they can get big groups of people to oppose other groups, and they do everything in their power to make us view each other as enemies.

Don't Believe The Lie!

One of the greatest African American minds of our times, Thomas Sowell, said:

"Racism is not dead, but it is on life support — kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as 'racists'."

The voters of America need to take back control of this country and quit being manipulated by special interest groups that try to dredge up the distant past to get us to fight with each other. Race relations may be getting worse among people that listen to the politicians and special interest groups, but ordinary Americans are getting along just fine.

Take care and BE HEALTHY!

CW Jasper

May 2023

© 2023· Content is Property Created by CW Jasper

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