Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Let's Talk Race Relations

There's been a lot of talk of recent about race relations. Most it has come from the perspective of primarily the black community complaining about the decline in police and community relations as the number of violent incidents involving black youths and police officers increase (though related incidents such as protests, rioting, and looting are downplayed or ignored). There is also a lot of chatter about the Oscars and the fact that for the second year in a row, all of the nominees are white. Therefore, as a result, many entertainers---the majority of which are black but not all---intend to boycott the event, while there's anticipated to be several outbursts when the TV event airs live on February 28th. Other issues have been raised which has been given a racial twist; perhaps too many for the space I have, but hopefully we can at least touch on a few.

A discussion about race has often been seen as akin to skipping through a cow field. Despite the scenery, odds are pretty good that you're going to step on something and at the very least, there's going to a stink by the time you're done. As I stated above, much of the talk has originated from members of the black community while very little has come from whites, which gives the impression that whites either don't care or are supposed to just not say anything. So, with that in mind (along with the cow field analogy), let's take are shoes off and go for a stroll.

I grew up in the deep South during the 1960's while the Civil Rights movement raged all around me. I was interested in the movement,
though a bit puzzled too. When I was in the 6th Grade, I had a older black teacher---Mrs. Knight. I don't know much about her except that she seriously hated Republicans (more on that shortly). Where we lived was mostly a low income military oriented neighborhood; most everyone was either in the military or recently retired from it. Just a mile or so away was an area of town called "Sweetwater" which was predominately black and poor; dirt poor. My neighborhood and Sweetwater shared a common 7-11 Convenient store, so it wasn't uncommon to see blacks and whites standing in line together to buy lunchmeats, bread, chips or Icees. I also had several friends who happened to be black. In fact, most of my friends were poor---black and white, along with some middle class kids. Some were Irish or Italian Catholics, Protestants, Asian, Native American and even Hispanic (there were very few Hispanics there at the time). We all had fun, talked, played. and did the usual stuff kids do.

Throughout school in fact I had classmates who were a mixed lot. No one cared. No one refused to sit by or play with or talk to any of the other kids because of it. There was never any discrimination when we went to lunch or the restroom. Nothing. The only difference any of us noticed was that some got off at different bus stops or walked a little further than others. Now, Mrs. Knights was a bit different. I don't think it was that she didn't like white children. I just think she hated Republicans. Strange isn't it? We had a 5th/6th grade "Presidential Election". I wanted to be "Robert F Kennedy". I had been following his campaign and I just plain liked him. I remember staying up that fateful night in June and watching live as he gave his last speech in the Ambassador Ballroom before exiting to what would be his death. I had previously watched as he announced the death of Martin Luther King just a month before and all the subsequent riots just as I watched the murders at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard and the Chicago police riots during the Democrat Convention as well as the Weathermen, sit-ins, Anti-Vietnam War protests, SLA and Patty Hearst (little did I know then, but I would later serve on the security detail in her wedding) as the '60's morphed into the '70's. It was exciting and dangerous times and I was totally engrossed in all of it.

Anyway, with RFK assassinated, I was technically "out" of the race. However, when we later got around to the general election, I noticed no one had chosen Richard Nixon, so I did. Well, that didn't sit well with Mrs. Knight. She loudly proclaimed---repeatedly---that she wasn't going to have a "Republican in my classroom" (which naturally sealed the deal for me). Well, a lot happened and let's just say that Mrs. Knight was "invited" not to return the following year and I "won" the election. Throughout my life, I've had friends of all races, religions, ethnic groups and sexual orientation. It really never made any difference to me. I've always found that there's good and bad in every group. When I was in college, I took courses in diversity training and employment law. I spent, as part of my work career, being a employee representative. I would sometimes catch employers saying or doing something which I thought wasn't right, and I never hesitated in saying or doing something about it. Obviously, I didn't endear myself to management very often. I even served on public boards which represented predominantly black and/or poor residents as well as seniors, women and the handicapped. I always thought everyone was entitled to a fair and honest chance---until you prove me wrong.

I served on a two police related projects. One was police and community relations committee which arose from some incidents similar to Ferguson and Cleveland. The other was a police advisory board and a special merit review board. In both instances, I would hear first hand---without the media spin---about situations police officers, EMS or the fire department would engage in every day. Frankly, I don't know how they do it. I'd sit and listen as they recounted encounters---occasionally with terrible outcomes---and watched their expressions as they relived each moment; searching in their mind's eye at the same time whether there was something they could have done differently. I think I can safely say that none of these officers started out at the beginning of their shift with the thought that someone would be harmed by the time it was over.

I don't know what really happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, in that park in Cleveland or any of the other places. I've read the stories. I watched on TV. I saw the raw video footage (when available). I read the testimonies. Often, there is far more to what happened than what the media tells us (and remember the media is about ratings because ratings drive revenue and the media tends to report from a particular political perspective). Do I agree with the outcomes? Most of the time, yes, after I sorted through the available evidence, but on occasion, no I don't. One some occasions, the verdict is just wrong. I don't know if it's a cover-up, just an ill informed jury or review board with an agenda. But I can say this---when a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. When you're asked for information, you provide it without any lip. You don't act aggressively or start waving your arms around or acting like you're going to run. You keep your hands where the officer can see them. I've often heard that some parents---especially black and Hispanic---teach their children not to trust or respect the police.
Well, that's a good way to get your children into trouble down the road, if not worse. If you think you were treated badly, report them (get their name and/or badge number). Better yet, hire a lawyer. Yeah, you might lose, but at least you won't be in the morgue. On a related matter, I think it's a pretty stupid idea that if you feel the need to protest, to loot or burn down local businesses (not to mention cutting fire hoses or throwing rocks, bottles or Molotov cocktails at cops, EMS or the fire department). What's even stupider is expecting taxpayers to clean it up or prohibit businesses from not moving out, making the situation worse than it was before. Just plain ole stupid.

As for the Oscars---grow up. Just because all the nominees are white doesn't mean there's some conspiracy going on, especially in uber-liberal Hollywood of all places and not when the President of the Academy for Motion Picture Art and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is both female and black. It sounds to me like a bunch of spoiled kids not getting their way. Perhaps the reason there were no black nominees or black oriented pictures nominated was because no one turned in a performance that any of the randomly chosen Academy members who voted thought was worthy of a nomination. Maybe there weren't any pictures which were of sufficient quality compared to the others which were nominated. Ever think about that? Are we now supposed to have a quota system of nominees based on race and/or gender instead of performance or quality?

Listen, there are the BET Awards and Miss Black America Pageant and I'm willing to bet no white, Asian, or Hispanic was either nominated or won...ever. There is the Hispanic Choice Awards, arts and entertainment awards program for Hispanics, as well as a "Miss Latina" beauty pageant and I'm pretty certain no Asian or non-Hispanic person received an award or even a nomination! By the way, there is also a "Miss Asian American" and a "Miss Native American" beauty pageant too. There is a Black Achievers and a Hispanic Heritage Award programs as well as a Black Heritage Month and a Hispanic Month (sorry Asians and Native Americans, no month for you...yet). In fact, there are television and radio shows and networks as well as movies dedicated to Asians, blacks, and Hispanics only. There are magazines and Internet sites dedicated to practically every group out there. The Grammys are open to every group and every group has won at some point. There is even a special category for primarily a black/urban/Rap genre. There are special categories for Latin music, but not one dedicated for white, Asian, or Native American performers. There are numerous professional or social organizations and associations available for the LGBT community, for Asians and Hispanics, as well as for Native Americans and blacks. There are grants and funds available for practically every group as well. However, there is one overarching exception to all this...whites.

Whites are the only group which are not allowed to be self-represented. In the past, it was argued, that was because whites were a racial majority or that they held key positions, therefore special hiring quotas were put in place, which later applied to women as well because they were a minority. Perhaps that was a good thing since it served notice that individuals could not be kept out because of the race, gender or other factors including sexual orientation or religion. However, it didn't always ensure the best candidate was hired or was awarded the government contract.
Nowadays, of course, whites aren't a majority. They are close to being on par with Hispanics. Within the next 20 years, Hispanics will hold a slight majority. Meanwhile, blacks are now the third largest racial group in the US (behind Hispanics) with Asians closing in. In fact, white males are an official minority while women make up a significant presence in the workplace---47%---though they still lag behind in certain fields such as science, mathematics, and engineering (and women still---despite various laws--- are not paid equal to their male counterparts regardless of race and still lack many of the key leadership positions in business). So, where was the outcry from the Hollywood types for the lack of Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans that weren't nominated? I don't recall seeing any of their faces. Did you?

The point I'm making here is threefold. I couldn't begin to care less if one group has its own awards or radio and television networks. It doesn't impress me that there is a specific music or movie genre dedicated to a particular group, or even if there are associations and funding aimed to benefit a specific minority. I don't even care if everyone has their own beauty pageant! However, if you're going to allow one (or more) to have them, then you need to allow all to have them. There are events where everyone participates, but there are equivalent events which by their nature discriminates legally, but everyone has been conditioned to say and do nothing. It's almost common to hear whites called "racist" (like the Oscars or political talk shows for example) or there's a disagreement of opinion (sort of like saying "and your momma too". Same goes for "white privilege"). So, let's quit with the double standard when it comes to race and calling people "racist" or claiming "privilege" just because you didn't get your way or someone disagrees with you. We're either all equal or we're all "entitled" equally.

Secondly, you can dislike cops or the legal system all you want, but when you're told not to do or to do something law enforcement (and EMS or the fire department) or a judge, simply do as you're asked and keep quiet unless you're asked for information. Pay attention to what's going on around you. Keep your hands where they are visible and no exaggerated movements. While we're at, if you don't like your prospects, then instead of blaming society or others, try paying attention while you're in school.
I've heard too much about certain minorities harassing, bullying, or beating up fellow minority students because doing well in school is viewed by these losers as "acting white" or "trying to be white" as if failing in life is some commendable achievement to be proud of. Get a good education while you can, especially if it's free. If you're out of school and things aren't working out, consider going back and making a change with your life. Remember, you get only one chance at this life. This isn't a dress rehearsal. Education is still the best path to a better and healthier life, and there's no better revenge than living well.

Lastly, there really are no real differences between people except how they present themselves and how they treat others. If you act like a thug or jerk, odds are pretty good that's how people will perceive you and that's how they'll treat you. If you treat people like they're different, there's a pretty good that's how people will start to act. Everyone deserves the same equal chance to prove themselves, be it as a neighbor, employee/employer, or as a friend. It's up to them what they do with that chance.

United States Department of Labor, Women's Bureau

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

Bullying Bruises Grades for Black and Latino Students

A Neutral Look at Police Brutality

The Justice Blog: Police Violence and Race

Who's Boycotting the Oscars So Far

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