Monday, January 16, 2006

Taking Stock of a Dream

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I had written another post last week, and was planning to post it today – but that will be delayed for a day because of a National Holiday. Martin L. King, Jr. Day is today, and I spend some time every MLK day to take stock of race relations – now I am not sure that is what this day is for, but that's what I use it for.

Side note: my place of work does not give MLK day off. We get St. Patrick's Day off. When I first found out about this, I thought it was subtle racism. St. Patrick's Day is an Irish holiday, and why would that be "more important" than MLK day. Well, the only reason we get St. Patrick's Day off, it turns out, is that the company is positioned downtown, and it is very difficult to conduct business on this day – Savannah has the second-largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the nation. Yeah, our dinky little city out-performs Chicago!

My memories are generally after the Nixon administration (and the courts) started righting many wrongs – yeah, Nixon was a slime-ball but his administration did several things to implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Johnson signed into office. For example, in response to Nixon's Department of Labor hearings that exposed continued widespread racial discrimination, Nixon developed the concept of using "goals and timetables" to measure the progress federal construction companies were making in increasing the number of minorities on their payrolls. In 1970, Nixon extended the use of goals and timetables to all federal contractors, and in 1974, Nixon declared that affirmative action programs should also include women.

End of the history lesson. I have heard more than once that "sports are the great equalizer," meaning that there are no inequalities in sports. Well, this was not always the case – a la Jackie Robinson making history in the 1940s. He was not the first black baseball player, but he was the first black baseball player in a long time that played in the major leagues (AL or NL). Okay, I am swimming over my head when I talk about sports, but there was a Negro League who had fine athletes. Jackie Robinson was not the most gifted athlete in the Negro League (from what I recall from a PBS special), but he was an athlete that the front office of the Brooklyn Dodgers thought could make the transition to the Major Leagues. Not because of skill, mind you (he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962), but because he could take the abuse on and off the field.

My father is a sports fan – football, baseball, basketball. Now, I remember casually watching several playoff games for the NBA – sorry if the nomenclature is off. And the two teams that I remember most are the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers. My dad (and I since I was a daddy's girl) routed for LA. But I remember many of those games, and it looked like LA's team was almost all black, and Boston's team was almost all white. My father was not necessarily an enlightened liberal at the time – he just thought Boston's recruitment practices were racist. Most teams have a mixture of black and white players, and Boston's starting five were usually white. At least that's the way I remember it. It was not stated in the news (as I recall), but it seemed that was the case.

Personally, I would have routed for another team (if one had been good). I don't really like routing for California teams – they have great weather, glamour, most of their inhabitants are attractive, etc. I just think they should not have it all.

Fast forward to the last couple of years. Barry Bonds said he did not want to play in Boston because of the racist fans. He was crucified in the media "because of his racist remarks." Now, I really don't know about the fans in Boston. I have never been there; never knew anyone from there. But those Boston Celtic teams sort of made me think about it.

When I was a little girl, racism was blatant. I recall several incidents. Now racism is much more subtle. When I was a teenager, I remember listening politely to a neighbor of ours tells a story about when her little girl first saw a black child – and she thought it was a monkey. What a horrible thing for them to laugh about – it seems degrading to me. And this person is from "the north," where she said racism does not exist.

It is hard for me to comment on racism because "I am white." I feel less than competent to discuss the issue. But I have discussed the issue throughout my lifetime with close friends who happened to be black. And I get their prospective. Since we have similar ideas on a number of issues, I make the assumption that were I black and have endured the discrimination that they have endured, I may feel similarly. Lots of assumptions, but it is the best that I can do.

I have some friends who will avoid a state entirely just because of racial issues. Today – not twenty years ago, but today. Several people, and some don't know the others, and they all avoid the same state. Strange I know, but I would guess that many reading this would be able to guess the state.

I had a conversation with an elderly black man when I was in school. We talked about lots of things (we both thought Larry Bird was overrated because of his race, by the way). He said that race relations would continue to improve as "old codgers" like him would start to die off. That was the only way – for people like his grand daughter, and my future son or daughter – those not tainted with racism of the past – started to grow up. I believe that people can change – but as I get older, I can see his point, people don't normally change. Like the neighbor who thought it was cute that her daughter mistook some baby for a monkey. I have seen a lot of "first baby pictures" and I think most babies for the first day or two of their lives look more like space aliens. Spindly fingers, elongated heads, buggy eyes – space aliens. But I would not tell my girlfriends or sisters-in-law that because it would be rude.

I remember when the MLK holiday was new – some people (racists, perhaps, I don't know – hard to look into the heart of another) would comment about Dr. King's deficiencies. How he plagiarized when in school, etc. Funny thing is that for Presidents Day, we don't do the same (for the most part – let's exclude more recent presidents) of our presidents, especially our founding fathers.
Okay, this post has been a bit disjointed. I would just ask you to take a moment and wonder how we are doing as a nation – are we better off as far as equal treatment goes?

Tomorrow's post will be more of the normal Leesa.


Girl Next Door said...

I belive that prejudice ( not just racism ) is still alive and well. All sides propogate it. We learn prejudice.

I do think we want to be around people like us. I lived near a women's university a few years ago. They decided to go coed. It really upset a lot of the students that men would be accepted. It angered me that women, who had been the victims of prejudice for years, wanted to act that way and not let men into their school. Isn't this the same concept of not letting blacks into white schools or not letting women into all men's schools?

In my opinion there is no need to have parades or march or shake our fist. What we need to do is what you do and take stock of who we are as individuals and make the choice to love people despite their skin color or what's between their legs.


Bruce said...

Great post, Leesa. I grew up at a time when race relations were at a fever pitch, and it wasn't until my senior year in high school that schools here in Virginia were fully integrated. If you've seen "Remember the Titans", you get a good glimpse into what it was like. I was brought up to not judge a person on the color of their skin, and it always pissed me off when I heard people utter racist statememts. King was a man of peace, a man of vision, and he should always be remembered as such.

Mike said...

I would say that things are better now then say 40 years ago...or longer. But there is still a long way to go.

kathi said...

People are people. Not just with black and whites, but with all nationalities and gender. God made us different and he made us to love one another. Is it wrong to notice someone's color, race, nationality? I don't think so, or God would have made us all clones of one another. But we're to learn from, respect and love one another.
Thanks for such a sweet, honest and thought provoking post, leesa.

Leesa said...

GND: I go back and forth about prejudice. Personally, I believe that prejudice (based on race), but discrimination (acting out on the prejudice is worse (illegal, not just immoral). I have nothing against parades - sometimes it reminds us of those who have come before us.

bruce: love Remember the Titans. King was an extraordinary man.

mike: yeah, I agree with you.

kathi: I am wondering after 9-11, if we don't see racism of other races (violence in Mosques, for instance).

Video X said...

i dont get today off either. and as for st. patrick...sadly enough, he was de-sainted...damn them. that's an interesting day enough in beer?? WTF! i'm irish and i've never drank a green beer in my life.

difficult topic in my opinion.

Bruce said...

Leesa, per your statement about post 9/11, Edge makes a similar statement towards the end of his post today. It definitely gives one cause to think..

JD's Rose said...

Black, white... freekin' purple. I do not give a rat's bottom. Don't even get me started...

Prata said...

Well..funny this should come up. I have some pretty good acquaintances. And they are pretty nice folk I suppose, but today they made an odd comment to me that kind of made me blink. And that conversation went something like this:

"Oh today is MLK day, I don't go to work. My blackness demands it." (this was a joke on my part)

"Oh please, get over yourself." (very snarly)

"I was just kiddin' wtf, breathe." (rather displeased)

"Oh just don't get me started on this day."

"err...right. I gotta jet later."

Just made me wonder. See, people everywhere say America is a melting pot. We're all getting along better.

No, we're really not. We're mostly getting along in a subversive manner. I have a few acquaintance that actually fear darker skinned blacks. What I mean is, they are fine with people of my complexion..but much darker and they get extremely nervous. What part of the game is that?

Not to mention, having attended a catholic high school for 3 years. The minority population (entire school of 1000 kids) was 4%. So then, how many times in the course of my 3 year stint in this school was I actually called a nigger? Can anyone guess? 6 times. Now, that may seem like not all that many considering 1k kids, but that's just those that thought they could get away with it or those that were more open about their hostility for in this case "blacks" I'm only a portion black so imagine that. This of course resulted in fights boys _and_ girls. Of course not being able to fight girls I had vietnamese female friends of mine do it for me. The guys however were fought on the spot.

In my 25 years of life I've been called nigger, chink, gook (I don't even look vietnamese), spic, and several other names more times than I care to count. So how do you counter act that? I've not come up with a way, because having lived being beaten up...denied access to certain things...made to do more to be equal amongst others (including sports)..being kind doesn't help. No, it really doesn't. MLK was successful because society was at a pivotal stage. The great populace was simply too angry and riled up to continue the way it was. Now apparently we're supposed to be better off. I'm not experiencing that. Not in totality. I am a buddhist, now if only I could learn to be a pacifist. Le sigh.

Goddess said...

Leesa, that old man was right. You can not tell people that after 30 plus years of living thinking a certain way, that all of the sudden, it is "wrong". Of course, it was wrong, is wrong, but you can not get people to change their thoughts in one moment.
Every generation makes it better, on both sides. Technology and better communication makes it better. Education makes it better. It is never going to be all the way gone, but one day, perhaps in 3 generations, they arent even going to "see" color. (Of course they will see it, but they wont "see" it)
I took my children to the zoo last year, and we were at the monkey exhibit. It had a thing about Darwins Theory, and my daughter decided that we were from monkeys. One of my best friends from high school is black, and we went to see him that evening, after the zoo trip. She tells him, "Did you know you came from a monkey?" He looked at me questioningly, then she said, "We all did. The Zoo Says so. " Then he started to laugh. But for a brief minute, I could see his brain going into ten thousand different directions.

Leesa said...

VX: difficult topic - not many responses.

bruce: thanks for the Edge URL - I have never read him before.

kylz: yeah, I understand that you don't give a rat's bottom. I was struck by something Oprah said many years ago; blacks deal with race issues every day. Not sure if that is true, but if it is, I think it would weigh on me.

prata: thanks for posting your response.

goddess: thanks for your story. Every generation makes it better - I hope so. I have seen some Muslim bashing lately; people cheering when Mosques are burned. Causes me to shudder.

Ddot the King said...

Great Post Leesa and I remember thinking the same thing about the Celtics.

Leesa said...

Nice to hear from you, ddot. I am glad that I am not alone concerning the Celtics.

By the way, my favorite player was Moses Malone. I am not a basketball fan, but he was so dominating. I remember seeing him (several times) get three rebounds on one possession, finally making a basket. Not art, but fun watching against the Celtics (yes, Boston won the series, 4-2).

It is easy to like Jordan - but I like finding athletes that were less honored.

Edtime Stories said...

Interesting post. I think that racism is becoming more underground but still there. I lived in small town Georgia for a while and I would see and hear things behind the doors and something different in public. However there was little difference in Boston it just was more sophisticated.
I think where we are is continuing to grow in understanding diversity. What I think has to happen is that we need to go beyond race and include all those things that make us different from each other. But while diversity is the spice of life it will always make us sneeze.