I'm a little surprised at some of the remarks from supposedly educated people about how the African-American community perceives things compared to other members of society. With much of this centering on what is or is not racist commentary or behavior, an unfair playing of "the race card" whenever things go badly or they don't like certain comments. Well, as a white person with I hope a bit more empathy and understanding than some of my supposed "betters," let me try to remind some who seem to need reminding.
Much is made of the African-American family structure, or more to the apparent lack of that very thing. History will show that many were ripped from their families and brought here as slaves.
As slaves, they were sold and traded, as were their children - obviously not a good situation for developing a sound tradition of family. That happened some 150 years ago, but then realistically that's only a few generations. Any professional would tell you that it just might take longer than that to put away the impact of such a life. Certainly, it might take a while for any African-American to trust almost any white.
Much is made of how the race reacts to the police, law or the entire criminal justice system. Well, if your ancestors and more immediate family, grandparents as well as your parents, were subjected to the institutionalized discrimination and brutality as your average African-American for most of the decades since the end of the Civil War, why wouldn't you assume racism or discrimination before anything else in many situations, if not most of them? I mean, where were the prosecutions of those lynching blacks in the South? And that was happening through the '20s and '30s at least, if not longer. Certainly not ancient history by any means. People who had parents or neighbors lynched could still be alive today. If so, you think maybe it might be reasonable that they've passed those things on to their children?
I'm surprised that any educated white person would expect your average black person to trust the police when it was the police turning dogs and fire hoses on their parents and other immediate family members in the 1960s while they were trying to gain the right to vote, to sit anywhere on a bus, to eat in any restaurant or swim in a public pool. African-Americans, by the way, are incarcerated and arrested at 10 times the rate of whites for the exact same crimes. Why would anyone expect them to trust the police and the entire criminal justice system to treat them fairly? It might have something to do with the suspicion of some in certain recent cases that the police might have been looking the other way on a case or two, until forced onto the public stage.
When society is angered by the reaction of African-Americans to certain situations, it falls back on the notion that all of the trials and tribulations of the community are ancient history, usually the term "hundreds of years ago" is bandied about. I might remind these educated and well-read individuals that the 1960s aren't "hundreds of years ago," are they? And I might also like to point out that it wasn't hundreds of years ago when a white racist murdered Martin Luther King Jr. I might remind them that three civil rights workers were brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964, and never charged with murder, only with civil rights violations in a federal court. The state refused to charge them with anything.
That was only 49 years ago. Prior to that, how about the murder, the brutal murder, of 14-year-old Emmitt Till in 1955, who was beaten, shot and his eyes gouged out for supposedly flirting with a white woman. That would have been 58 years ago for the mathematically challenged.
Nobody was arrested and convicted of that murder either, though everyone, including the local police, knew it was the local Klan. Ah, but still, that doesn't happen anymore, does it? Well, actually, if you can find a murder uglier than the murder of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas in 1998, you're doing well. He was chained to a truck and dragged, alive, behind a pickup truck. I'll spare you most of the gorier details, but at one point his arm was torn off as he hit a culvert. Again, I must point out, not exactly ancient history, 1998, is it?
I must point out the men who did it are on death row, or already executed, but that they were admitted white supremacists so that is proof positive that the KKK and its friends are still around. It would tend to have an impact on how one thinks, especially about legal issues or incidents in the traditional south, wouldn't you think? I don't expect the most ignorant among us to understand, but I'm shocked at how many well educated so-called professional people feel that way. It's hard to understand that sort of ignorance from those who've benefited the most from being white.
A recent gubernatorial election in our own state was impacted when it became public that one candidate, Carl Paladino, had been sending out unsolicited racist emails about President Obama to people. Now, unless one lives in a vacuum, all of us have seen these, hundreds of them. They arose from the moment he became the anointed Democratic nominee, and they have yet to subside. Yet African-Americans are supposed to think we're past all of that racist nonsense? And, of course, the worst offenders are the ones who shout the loudest about black people "playing the race card".
Growing up Italian in Fredonia, I have some experience with discrimination, people we couldn't date, houses we weren't allowed in, and even unfair treatment from a teacher or two. I remember an acquaintance telling me once if I came into his house and his father asked me, to say I was Greek.
Finally I was just told to go home when the rest of the "white kids" went into his house to play. I had experiences when I had long hair that were similar, places I couldn't go, places I wasn't wanted, remarks made, jobs turned away from, extra stops by the police. But I was still basically white, and could always cut my hair. Blacks will never be white, no matter what they do, and can't change their color like I could cut my hair, now can they? I wouldn't compare my experiences to 1 percent of what a black has experienced in this country. Yet supposedly educated people think they should just "get over it," that any issues with the modern black community are their own doing. I say to that, "Maybe not so much". Maybe, just maybe, a continuing history does impact on the black reaction to life in the United States being a bit different than that of whites.
When the people who teach our children don't have even this much compassion or knowledge of the African-American experience in this country, why would we be surprised at the rampant and obvious racism involved in 2013 politics? Why would we be surprised that the political party wanting "the good old days" is the worst offender?
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org