My Life is Words
Words and ideas turn on the lights in the brain
I feel wholly inadequate in trying to address a topic on which volumes have been written by people more learned than myself, but still I feel the need to try to make sense of all this.
Let’s first try to understand the debate about racism in the United States and any disagreement or misunderstanding over the term — systemic.
We need to agree on the definition of systemic. It is most commonly used in horticulture to describe a problem with a diseased plant; “A systemic drug, disease, or poison reaches and has an effect on the whole of a body or a plant and not just one part of it.”
The word comes from Late Latin systema "an arrangement, system," from Greek systema "organized whole, a whole compounded of parts," from stem of synistanai "to place together, organize, form in order," Hey, now you can speak some Latin. 😄
I imagine you get the idea. It means that if the rose bush in your garden has a systemic disease, that sucker is riddled throughout with the disease. Simply cutting off one branch that may look worse than the others will not get rid of the disease; you will most likely have to attack the problem it at the roots so that the cure is taken up by the entire plant.
Another observation — when we say the word racism, it invariably conjures up the image of a Black person in the minds of most white Americans. We know there are other people of color, Latinos, East Indians, and many people from the Middle East, but the “really black” people are from Africa in the minds of many in our society. This is due, in part, to the incessant coverage of everything Black in the news media and other forms of journalism.
Let’s look at the roots of our democracy and the growth of our nation as it relates to our modern day problem.
Jefferson, we’re taught in school, is the one who insisted on the words about equality in our Declaration of Independence. His first draft of the document states: “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;…”
The phrase was later changed, by consensus, to; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The meaning is arguably the same, meaning these rights cannot be screwed with or taken away or abridged in any way.
We are taught that Jefferson supported abolition, and he did, but with a caveat. Jefferson actually wanted the black people, once freed, to be repatriated to Africa from whence they came. He wanted them the hell out of the country; in retrospect, a form of white supremacy - wanting to keep America white. From The Atlantic, this excerpt from piece on Jefferson's writings:
"In theory Jefferson's "solution" to slavery consisted in "colonization": the deportation of all the freed blacks from the United States, preferably back to Africa. Cohen: The entire body of Jefferson's writings shows that he never seriously considered the possibility of any form of racial coexistence on the basis of equality and that, from at least 1778 until his death, he saw colonization as the only alternative to slavery.
Late in his life, however, Jefferson began to admit the impracticability of this colonial solution, at least in its widest sense, while reiterating his faith in an attenuated form of it. Cohen writes;
In 1824 Jefferson argued that there were a million and a half slaves in the nation and that no one conceived it to be "practicable for us, or expedient for them" to send all the blacks away at once. He then went on to calculate:
Their estimated value as property, in the first place, (for actual property has been lawfully vested in that form, and who can lawfully take it from the possessors?) at an average of two hundred dollars each … would amount to six hundred millions of dollars which must be paid or lost by somebody. To this add the cost of their transportation by land and sea to Mesurado [the west coast of Liberia], a year's provision of food and clothes, implements of husbandry and of their trades, which will amount to three hundred millions more … and it is impossible to look at the question a second time."
In other words, Jefferson saw the slaves as property and he appears to be trying to find a way around the economic impact of freeing slaves resulting from sending them all back as opposed to be torn by the inhumanity of the whole slavery thing. Not unlike today, the almighty dollar tends to rule the minds of those at the helm of government as opposed to simply doing the right thing and contending with the economic fallout.
John Adams, another of the prominent founders of our nation, while not owning slaves himself and generally in disagreement with slavery, as President, wrote this in response to the receipt of a pamphlet from abolitionists;
“There are many other Evils in our Country which are growing, (whereas the practice of slavery is fast diminishing,)* and threaten to bring Punishment on our Land, more immediately than the oppression of the blacks. That Sacred regard to Truth in which you and I were educated, and which is certainly taught and enjoined from on high, Seems to be vanishing from among Us. A general Relaxation of Education and Government. A general Debauchery as well as dissipation, produced by pestilential philosophical Principles of Epicurus infinitely more than by Shews and theatrical Entertainment. These are in my opinion more serious and threatening Evils, than even the slavery of the Blacks, hateful as that is.
I might even add that I have been informed, that the condition, of the common Sort of White People in some of the Southern states particularly Virginia, is more oppressed, degraded and miserable than that of the Negroes.
These Vices and these Miseries deserve the serious and compassionate Consideration of Friends** as well as the Slave Trade and the degraded State of the blacks.”
* Adams was mistaken about the state of slavery; it was in fact increasing in popularity and was on the increase, not in decline.
These quotes are not meant to denigrate the work that either of these men who helped to bring about our great, if still flawed nation or the reputations of anyone of the people of that time; they were a product of their era and their generation; they only knew what they were taught at home and in their places of worship.
We have to look at this in the context of that time. These were generally reasonable people of some faith and having been raised to believe that white people were superior to other races would likely be reticent to accept that there was true equality of the races no matter the words in our Declaration. But, it does demonstrate that 250 years ago, the seeds of racism had long been planted. Given that virtually every person of power, wealth, and influence was indeed a white man, those beliefs were not only embedded in our history but were being taught to the next generation of children as being normal and almost certainly part of God's plan.
Fast forward to the mid-1800s and we are embroiled in a great debate about a number of tangential issues revolving around the main issue of slavery that would lead to a bloody civll war. The basic problem for all this commotion was the South’s resistance to end slavery. None of the original founders was still alive by the time of the Civil War, but their sons and daughters who had been instilled, perhaps brainwashed or indoctrinated with the philosophies of their white parents were very much alive and depending on their individual indoctrination, came down on one side or the other of slavery.
In the 1800s, the term racism didn't exist. There were plenty of debates about slavery, but it didn't seem to the people e fo that time to be a debate about racism. According to the second edition (1989) of the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known usage of the word “racism” in English occurred in a 1936 book by the American “fascist,” Lawrence Dennis, The Coming American Fascism.
Keep in mind, also, that the U.S. at this point was not as populated as it is today and that nearly half of the states (not counting territories) favored secession and retaining slavery and that significant numbers of people in the rest of the Union states agreed with the South or at least thought the Federal government should butt out. Our, that is the white-Anglos, deeply embedded belief in the inferiority of Blacks and other people of color, and the fear of granting them freedom was very real. While some people were against slavery, I suspect that many did not consider Black people to be their equal.
During reconstruction following the Civil War, the U.S. passed several laws regarding the issue of slavery in an effort to right the wrongs done to the African people brought here against their will. There was the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14th Amendment that gave Blacks citizenship, and the 15th Amendment granting them the right to vote. Somewhat like a presidents Executive Order, these acts had little bearing on what life was like for Negros in America.
By the end of Reconstruction in the mid 1870s, violent white supremacists came to power via paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts and the White League and imposed Jim Crow laws which deprived African-Americans of voting rights by instituting systemic and discriminatory policies of unequal racial segregation.
Let’s progress another 50 years or so to the early 20th century. Almost everything in our society was dominated by white men; our government, industry, unions, the military, politicians, and teachers. These were the people who were informing the general populace on the issues of race and segregation which remained rampant across the nation.
The new century saw a hardening of institutionalized racism and legal discrimination against citizens of African descent in the United States. Although they were technically able to vote, poll taxes, pervasive acts of terrorism such as lynchings (often perpetrated by hate groups such as the reborn Ku Klux Klan, founded in the Reconstruction South), and discriminatory laws such as grandfather clauses kept black Americans (and many Poor Whites) disenfranchised particularly in the South. The discrimination was extended to state legislation which "allocated vastly unequal financial support" for black and white schools. In addition to this, county officials sometimes redistributed resources which were earmarked for blacks to white schools, further undermining educational opportunities.
Racism, which had been viewed as a problem which primarily existed in the Southern states, burst onto the nation's consciousness following the Great Migration, the relocation of millions of African Americans from their roots in the rural Southern states to the industrial centers of the North and West between 1910 and 1970, particularly in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City (Harlem), Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, and Denver.
Southern migrants were often treated in accordance with pre-existing racial stratification. The rapid influx of blacks into the North and West disturbed the racial balance within cities, exacerbating hostility between both black and white residents in the two regions. Stereotypic schemas of Southern blacks were used to attribute issues in urban areas, such as crime and disease, to the presence of African-Americans. Overall, African-Americans in most Northern and Western cities experienced systemic discrimination in a plethora of aspects of life.
Throughout this period, racial tensions exploded, most violently in Chicago, and lynchings—mob-directed hangings, usually racially motivated—increased dramatically in the 1920s. Urban riots—whites attacking blacks—became a northern and western problem. Many whites defended their space with violence, intimidation, or legal tactics toward African Americans, while many other whites migrated to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions, a process known as white flight.
Many of the people we’re talking about in the early 20th century were either your parents or grandparents, depending on your age.
The Jim Crow Laws were state and local laws which were enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and enforced between 1876 and 1965. They mandated "separate but equal" status for blacks. State-sponsored school segregation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. One of the first federal court cases which challenged segregation in schools was Mendez v. Westminster in 1946.
Let’s move to the second half of the 20th century. By the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. Membership in the NAACP increased in states across the U.S. A 1955 lynching that sparked public outrage about injustice was that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago; Till was killed for allegedly having wolf-whistled at a white woman; assuming it really happened, some saw that as a capital crime punishable by death.
In June 1963, civil rights activist and NAACP member Medgar Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens' Council. In his trials for murder De La Beckwith evaded conviction via all-white juries (both trials ended with hung juries).
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point during the Civil Rights Era. On Sunday, September 15, 1963 with a stack of dynamite hidden on an outside staircase, Ku Klux Klansmen destroyed one side of the Birmingham church. The bomb exploded in proximity to twenty-six children who were preparing for choir practice in the basement assembly room. The explosion killed four black girls, Carole Robertson (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Denise McNair (11) and Addie Mae Collins (14).
Many U.S. states banned interracial marriage. In 1967, Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as white and people classified as "colored" (persons of non-white ancestry). In the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967, the Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the U.S.
Please note that this was 1967, not ancient history; this was just over fifty years ago that some states were trying to outlaw intermarriages. This is recent history and we were still batshit crazy about black and white mixing together. This could have been your parents or your grandparents promoting anti-marriage propaganda.
As the civil rights movement and the dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s deepened existing racial tensions in much of the Southern U.S, a Republican Party electoral strategy – the Southern strategy – was enacted in order to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans, a practice that continues today.
Republican politicians such as presidential candidate Richard Nixon and Senator Barry Goldwater developed strategies that successfully contributed to the political realignment of many white, conservative voters in the South who had traditionally supported the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party. In 1971, angered by African delegates at the UN siding against the U.S. in a vote, then Governor of California Ronald Reagan stated in a phone call to president Nixon, "To see those... monkeys from those African countries - damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”.
This is the 1970s and white people are still denigrating people of color with terms like monkey, spear chucker, jungle bunny, spic, greaser, and a long list of terms intended to diminish the person of color.The perception that the Republican Party had served as the "vehicle of white supremacy in the South", particularly post 1964, made it difficult for the Party to win back the support of black voters in the South in later years and it remains their Achilles heel today.
From 1981 to 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture discriminated against tens of thousands of black American farmers, denying loans that were provided to white farmers in similar circumstances. The discrimination was the subject of the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit brought by members of the National Black Farmers Association, which resulted in two settlement agreements of $1.06 billion in 1999 and of $1.25 billion in 2009. This was going on into the late 1990s; if you are 25 or 30 years old, this is part of your history, not something in a history book.
The problems persist today; Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Central Park Five, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the list goes on. White women calling 911 because a Black man is in Central Park - he turns out to be a bird watcher. White suburbanites seeing a black person in their neighborhood and calling the cops with no justification other than "they are Black".
This timeline should show you that racism is not new, but has existed in the U.S. and around the world for a very long time - thus, we call it systemic.
I know this has been long, but it is important for us as a nation and as individuals to understand that discrimination is deeply embedded in our society, or culture, and in the psyche of many white people in this country. I hope that you can see the pervasiveness of racism throughout our history. We have been taught by parents, political leaders, religious leaders, and just friends and adults in our lives to distrust and fear people of color and especially Black people.
It will take a thoughtful and long-term program to turn this around. And, as I heard someone talking today on the radio, this isn’t something you make happen by force; you can't legislate an open mind, acceptance, and love. You have to find a way to reach inside people and show them the value in their becoming a better person and that it is their civil obligation to make our world a better place. They, and their children and grandchildren will live in a better world for the decisions they make today.
There was a time when we, the white we, rejected the Irish, Italian, the Greeks, East Europeans, and Asians of all stripes. Today, we admire these groups for both their contributions to our country and the world, and welcome them into our families via intermarriage. It was easier because they generally looked like us - they simply had accents. It was a little harder with Asians, but we have, by and large, moved past that barrier.
Exactly how you craft that message about people of color so it reaches a maximum number of people, I don’t quite know, but it’s the only real answer. Certainly, we as individuals can make a huge contribution to this change by teaching our children to accept everyone and only judge people by their behavior. We can either work to change the opinions of our friends, or we unfriend them; isolate them and maybe that will bring them around. Beyond that, I’ll have to depend on the experts to devise ways of changing our society and nation for the better.
Because I know I have a tendency to prattle on, and I know some people (perhaps most) won't want to read this to the end of what I suspect will become a somewhat lengthy post, I'm going to do the summary up front in the hope of imparting my message to those who, like me, are skimmers and/or impatient.
Summary: We are what we learn, plus a sprinkling of genetic matter. Life is, or it should be a continuous journey of learning. If you close your eyes and cover your ears at, say, the age of fifteen, or at any age, you will stop taking in the information that will help you grow and learn from experiences; you will be frozen in time. As Terry Coleman, a fine Irish gent I worked with at Boeing responded one when I asked him about a new supervisor who was joining our department, responded, "He has been here 25 years; he learned everything he knows in his first two years and has been repeating the same shit over and over for 23 years."
We only get one shot at life and we shouldn't waste it with our eyes and ears closed to new ideas and experiences. I think we have an obligation to learn and change as we grow. We should leave life a more informed person than when we started and with any luck at all, we will have added to the cumulation of knowledge and passed it on to our children and others. That is literally the definition of evolution.
My Journey To The Left
I wasn't born a liberal; I wasn't born anything other than a small pink collection of cells with the DNA of my parents and ancestors. The rest of my life, now approaching 78 years, has been a journey of learning about myself and about the other humans with whom I share this planet. That, I believe is a universal truth for us all. In my opinion, we aren't going anywhere after this. We will leave behind our ideas, our prejudices, and our love of life, art, music, and everything else that defines us, and with time, assuming we don't become famous, that will simply meld with all the other ideas and become the new normal.
I've documented my early life in a number of places so I won't go over the finite details here except where I think it might relate to my point that I am what I have learned. I have no memories of my mother and father as a child, save one visit from my father on my 4th birthday. I was living with my grandmother, his mother. As I recall the visit, I must have known who my father was because I remember being happy to see him; that would be the last time I saw or heard from him, ever. My mother was unknown to me at all; I had no memories of her and so, in my mind at least, I first met her when I was about thirteen. At fifteen I went to live with her and my stepfather, George Wagner, a great guy and a STBF (Short term best friend).
I lived with my parents as an infant; I know I did because my older brothers told me some interesting stories. Soon, however, perhaps around one year of age and presumably because my parents separated, I was off to my Aunt Bert's house, my father's sister, and shortly after that off to live with my grandmother, Minnie, until just before my fifth birthday.
Whether I was learning anything during this period, I have no idea; my memories are mostly limited to my grandmother and brothers and events and activities with them as opposed to any sort of philosophical, religious, or political indoctrination. I'm persuaded that I was learning to accept change; a lesson that would be useful later in life.
My grandmother was not well; I learned this later. She suffered from diabetes and at around age 70 simply could not raise children, that would be me and my two older brothers. It appears there was no other family to rely on so she ended up placing all three of us in a boys' home in Omaha, Nebraska; my brothers first, then me. Thus, I feel my life story, my journey really began at age five; the rest was a serious of incidents.
The Masonic Home for Boys is now called simply The Omaha Home for Boys. If one has to be raised in an institution, you would be hard-pressed to find a better one. Later in life, I've come to think of that experience, which lasted ten years until I was fifteen, as what I imagine being sent to a military school or some sort of boarding school must be like. Life, while lacking some of the more personal touches of growing up in a family and learning to love, but provided a solid foundation of rules and life lessons that would prove useful later in life.
Please do not go aww, or feel sorry for me. Yes, my life was certainly atypical, but the adventures I had at the Home could never be duplicated in a family environment. While I saw my life as rather inflexible and constraining as most young people do, I was never abused in the common context of abuse. Again, there were situations that I've described in other writings about life in the Home that were difficult, but it was a fun and exciting childhood.
Back to learning. I don't know, and will never know if I was born with an appetite to learn, or if it was imparted in me during my time at the Home. The boys at the Home were divided by age; roughly something like this: age 5 to 10 in the Buck Building, age 11 to 13 in the Scott Building, age 12 to 14 in the Neff Building, age 13 to 15 in the Smith Building, and ages 16 to 18 in the Anderson Building. It's been a lot of years, but that's the general idea; we were divided by age groups with about 16 boys in each building and a total capacity of about 80 boys.
Life at the Home revolved around a number of things; schedule, tradition, religion, and doing chores. It was as WASPish an environment as can be imagined. There were no boys of color when I went there in 1947, and none when I left in 1956. There were no people of color on the staff. The area in and around the Home was, to my knowledge, completely white. That has all changed tremendously (sorry for the Trumpian superlative) and I would encourage you to check out the Omaha Home for Boys if you're curious. It's now full of boys and girls and kids of all colors.
What is now a Middle School, Monroe, is where I went to school. It was then a Grade School and was about a mile away, although it felt like ten miles on a freezing, snowing day walking to school and back, I enjoyed school a lot and was a good student. The school was also lily white in those days. I have no recollection of any students of color in the ten years I went there (they made it a Middle School when I was in the 8th grade, so I stayed on for the 9th)
The good news is, while I had no exposure to people of color or ethnicity, I was also not surrounded by or bombarded by racial animus The staff at the home, to my knowledge or recollection, never said one word about race, nor did teachers at school. My diversification education, as distorted as it was, came from television. Rochester on the Jack Benny Show, Willie Best (a variety of shows and roles), Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, better known by the stage name Stepin Fetchit, and Nat King Cole. They were all images on a screen as opposed to real people.
My first five years at the Home were under the tutelage of Mrs. Mable Stoft. She was a stern little woman with, at times, some strange ideas about raising boys. Still, much of who I am today probably stems from her influence on me; others will have to judge whether that is good or bad.
As I mentioned, this area of Omaha was very white. We boys went to public schools and the church of our choice in the nearby neighborhood of Benson. The churches were, to my knowledge, all Christian. There may have been a Synagogue somewhere, but not that I was aware of. There was a clutch of Protestant churches, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Baptist, and maybe one Catholic church that I avoided like the plague; I did visit most of the other Christians houses of worship over time.
Mrs. Stoft was a solid and stoic Christian woman and she made a point to having us study and read from the Bible daily, along with other educational pursuits, reading, English, and math; she was supplementing what we were learning in school. We typically spent an hour or so reading and in recitation between coming home from school and going to dinner. As I mentioned, it was definitely a WASPy childhood.
Whether I had a talent for memorization, or she helped develop that in me through reading and recitation, I don't know, but I became a bit of a minor star in that regard. I memorized a number of Bible verses as well as the Gettysburg Address and was called on to recite these at special events for the Home which usually involved trying to raise money from donors. I think I became a bit of a hot dog whenever I had a chance to speak in front of an audience; I seemed to enjoy being on stage.
What I did have as a child, or again perhaps was developed in me, was the thirst for knowledge. I enjoyed reading, and had good comprehension and retention of what I had read. Mrs. Stoft also "forced" us to watch certain shows on television. These include artists like Lawrence Welk, Kate Smith, Ed Sullivan, Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle, and Nat King Cole. I think Mrs. Stoft wanted to develop an appreciation of music in us, as long as it was semi-religious. I left before rock and roll blew up; I can only imagine her angst over that. We also got to watch cowboy shows like, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, and The Cisco Kid.
I watched Nat King Cole with fascination. Mrs. Stoft, to her credit, never said a word about him being Black or anything else that I recall, but she obviously liked his music. I knew I was listening to something special, but I couldn't stop looking at the face of this Black guy. No one had said a word to me about people of color, so I just stared in wonderment The same thing happened with the Cisco Kid & Poncho. They were two of my favorite...cowboys?
Cisco Kid was played by Duncan Renaldo, and Poncho by Leo Carrillo. Cisco Kid was a swashbuckling Mexican dressed like a Mariachi. Leo Carrillo was actually born in Los Angeles and his character dress more like a Mexican cowboy, or Vaquero. I knew nothing about Mexicans, Mexico, or Mariachis, but I loved these two guys. The funny thing is that Renaldo was born in Romania and to my knowledge didn't have a drop of Mexican or Spanish blood in him. Carrillo, at least, came from a long line of original Californians and was of Spanish and Italian heritage. The Cisco Kid visited the home once when I was probably ten, and it was a highlight of my life then.
My point in sharing this part of my life is that I had no preconceived ideas about who any of these people were. No one had instilled in me any preconceptions, dislikes, or stereotypes for people of color. Naturally, most of the Black actors on TV and in movies were playing the stereotypical Black person so I probably assumed that was what they were like. What I enjoyed was the humor I saw in their characters without associating it with anything bad.
My life went on at the Home for another five years after I was out from under Stoft's wing, but again, with no overt racist talk or with me meeting people of color. There were a few boys who had arrived at the Home at an older age than me, say twelve-years-old, or so, who did use racial slurs, but it had no meaning to me at the time. One of the terms would stick with me and to this day I tell the story about my naïveté when I left the Home; we'll get to that in a moment.
I mentioned earlier that my mother came into my life when I was about thirteen. She and my stepfather came for a visit. I spent a series of weekends with them at their apartment in downtown Omaha, and a little before my fifteenth birthday, they plucked me out of the Home and I went to live with them.
That was initially a strange turn of events, and probably a strain on me. I had spent the last ten years, perhaps my most formative years, living in dormitories with upwards of eighty other boys and being shepherded by women who seemed to us to be ancient. I was thrust into this new home environment that was very quiet and since my two brothers, who I barely knew, were off to the Navy and other adventures, I didn't have a lot of companionship.
One thing that my early life had taught me was to adjust to the situation I found myself in, and I was pretty good at that. I tended to listen and observe the environment I was in and the people around me and adjusted, to at least survive if not thrive where I was at. That is what I did now living in a family environment, even if it was somewhat atypical.
We initially lived not far from the Home in my stepfather's parents home. That setup lasted only a few months. Shortly after I moved there, his mother died, and a fairly short time after that his father died. I guess the house, such as it was, must have been sold and what money there was divided between my stepfather and his sister. Our next move was to South Omaha.
I had often referred to South Omaha (SO) as 'Little Chicago'. That was due in part to it being one of two major stockyard operations in the country, the other being in Chicago. It also attracted a great many people looking to work in the packing houses. People from Eastern Europe (post war immigrants), and Blacks, Mexicans, and Native Americans as well as white people were all drawn to the area for good paying jobs.
Thus, my education in the world of color began.
I met people of every race, color, and religion you could imagine. Now, to be sure, I heard more than my share of racist talk in the Federal Housing Projects where we lived. Many, if not most of these folks had grown up in SO. There had been race riots, and discrimination between Black and white and Hispanic. There had been issue between white people, between native born white people and immigrants from Europe. There were old issue that came from Europe with the immigrants and those didn't just fall away because they were now in America.
But, since all that racist nonsense had not been instilled in me as a small child, at fifteen, I had developed a brain that could take in opinions and other information and form my own ideas; I hadn't been programmed to discriminate. In the interest of being real, it wasn't like I fell right in with all these diverse cultures. They were strange to me, and sometimes uncomfortable or I simply didn't understand their food, music, or banter, but no one had told me it was "bad". I made my own decisions.
I found myself rejecting the "hate speech," not because I was being coached, but simply because it was who I was. I wasn't exactly a pacifist. Growing up at the Home with upwards of eighty other boys, you have to know there was a lot of testosterone in the air. I could take it outside with the best of them if need be, but I also learned the art of negotiation and that was my preferred approach. I made and rejected friendship based on my assessment of someone as a person, not on color or nationality or any of that.
I mentioned having learned a term at the Home from one of the boys - I don't remember a name — who had obviously been schooled in racist talk. The term was 'Jungle Bunny'. I might have been around twelve when I first hear that, and I had no clue what it meant. I've told people I actually had a mental image of a human-sized rabbit hopping along the trails in the jungle. Everyone laughed when the term was used, but I guess I was seeing a very different image than the others.
Boom! I'm in SO now. I'd made friends with another boy in the Projects, Tom Devaney. We were riding a bus to the SO shopping district one day and grab-assing on the bus the way teenage boys will. The bus was probably half full, and seventy percent of that group was Black. As Tom and I kind of wrestled around, I called him a Jungle Bunny. He froze and his already pale Irish tone went even whiter. I pulled back and noticed that everyone on the bus had turned to look at us; I had no idea why.
Tom hissed at me, "Don't say that you dumb shit!" And what did I do? "What? Jungle Bunny?" I said it nice and loud and again perhaps twenty Black faces turned in my direction. Tom pulled the cord to get off and grabbed me and hauled me off the bus. He then explained what the term mean. I didn't have a clue; that's how naive my little white upbringing had been. Needless to say, other than telling this story on myself, that term has never passed my lips again.
Over the years, I continued to learn. In the Marines, I squared off with more than one good old boy from down south over racist stuff, and I did take it outside with one of them. If a couple of guys hadn't stepped in between us, he would have cleaned my clock; he was fast. It became obvious to me that racism is learned and once learned, it is damned hard to erase.
One more anecdote and I'll move on. After the Marines, and marriage, and a couple of little pink things of my own, my first wife and I moved to San Diego with our children in 1966. Being form the Midwest we were bowlers. I used to bowl on a league for the company I worked for at the time and I would go right from work to get in a little practice before our league started at 6 pm. After practice I'd grab a bite to eat the cafe in the bowling alley. I used to sit at a horseshoe shaped counter and pound down a cheeseburger and fries.
One night, just as I'm finishing, I overhear two older guys who were WWii aged and maybe veterans. What I could hear was stuff like "dirty Japs," "yellow bastards" and at one point, the guy doing most of the talking said something like, "If my kid ever married a Jap, I'd disown the little bastard." By this point, I was seething. I looked over, and the guy must have been 70 if he was a day, and I was about 27 or 28, so I figured I probably shouldn't just go over there and knock him off the stool, so I walked over on my way to the alleys and said something like, "If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I can only hope that you come back Japanese." While he was digesting what I'd just said, I walked off to bowl.
Looking back on those first twenty-five or so years, I can now see that I was moving left and rejecting much of what my white, conservative beginnings were teaching me. My natural instincts were to reject racism, hate, and negativity in general. I attribute this to my natural inclination to question what I'm told is "just the way it is," and search for answers that are logical as opposed to the legendary or hypothetical postulations typically given. Since I definitely was not being taught to think for myself at a young age, I attribute this inclination to genetics.
Having once landed in Southern California, I met and became friends with a number of like-minded people. In those days; they were labeled either hippies or communists for challenging the status quo, but I knew that my belief system and politics belonged in the left lane and the much of what I had been taught as a boy was based in a conservative white Christian dogma that didn't work for me.
Over the years and after the late 60s, and events like Viet Nam and the Nixon and Reagan administrative lies and missteps, I moved even further to the left, and today, with the oligarchy of Trump and his band of felons bolstered by an illegitimate pseudo-news network, FOX, trying to dismantle our democracy and destroy our Constitution, I think I've moved even further left. The young man who was labeled a "commie" is one of the strongest defenders of our Constitution against the likes of Trump that you are likely to find.
You might wonder if a discussion of government and governing is philosophy; I believe it is. The Cambridge Dictionary online defines philosophy as:
I sometimes think I'm a little obsessed with topics such as politics and religion, and perhaps I am. I don't wake up to think about things; an event usually triggers it, or a news story, or something I've read. When that happens, my brain begins to whir, and I evolve an idea, opinion, or philosophy.
That brings me to the subject of this post, the philosophy of government. At the simplest level, we have two basic philosophies, progressive or liberal and conservative. Both are dominated by a school of thought that is itself founded in beliefs, values, and principles.
Generally speaking, the liberal philosophy seems to be based on the notion that all people are created equal and thus should be treated equally or as close to that as possible. This philosophy is based on compassion and understanding that humans succeed and fail. That those who fail may be entitled to some special considerations to ensure they do not suffer extreme hardships. Liberalism believes in the rule of law but prefers those laws to focus on creating positive results rather than punitive measures. It tries to be a peaceful philosophy that is opposed to war and embraces the idea that we should be able to communicate with each other and resolve our differences. In summary, liberalism is a philosophy of trust, compassion, and progress toward a better world for everyone.
The conservative philosophy seems to take a harsher view of the world and humans in general. There appears to be an attitude that if you are in dire straights, it likely is because you made bad decisions or did something wrong. This philosophy seems more combative and ready to impose penalties on others. Conservative philosophy tends to want to dictate certain aspects of society, often based on religious principles. The conservative philosophy appears to be less tolerant of discussion and reaching a consensus on those issues about which they feel strongly. The conservative philosophy takes a hard line toward foreign policy. It insists on an active military to back this approach to governing. To summarize conservatism, it is a policy based on distrust and on the idea that strict rules and harsh punishment bring about better results than caring and compassion.
Let me remind you that I stated I'm talking in generalities. Both philosophies are on a bell curve with adherents ranging from liberal to conservative within their philosophical curve. We, humans, are nothing if not diverse in thought and deed as well as our physical and cultural differences.
I count myself among the progress/liberal faction, so let me give you an example of how we might resolve one particular problem in society. I'll use the debate over the minimum wage (MW for brevity), an issue that roils emotions from the local to the federal levels of government. This is a complex issue and one I won't try to cover in excruciating detail, but in a way that I hope demonstrates a progressive approach to problem-solving and government. I'll use the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour as an example since the minimum wage is all over the map at local and state levels.
The argument that we consistently hear from the conservative side when talking about raising the MW is the impact on small businesses, and that is true. I think there is a general agreement on this notion of a liveable wage. In a perfect world, everyone would make a liveable wage, if only we could find an approach. So, how do we alleviate the poverty of those in the MW world while not breaking the back of small business people? Here are a couple of ideas.
The poverty level income for a family of three (two adults and one child) is $21,330 per year at this point. Working a full year is considered 2,020 hours a year, regardless of whether that is one job or two jobs. To reach the poverty level of income, you have to make $10.32/hour. Remember that only brings you up to poverty - that is not a liveable wage. Per the Living Wage calculator, in the state of Washington, and Seattle-King County, that family of three has to make $30.84/hour. The poverty level is $7.91/hour, and our MW stands at $11.50 as I write this. That means our MW is just over 1/3 of what is considered a liveable wage. You can use that calculator to look at any state and county in the country. You will find a broad variation depending on the state of the economy around our nation.
Back to Seattle. I'm now a small business owner. Let's say I have a pizza restaurant that is also serving sandwiches, salads, soft drinks, and beer and wine. I'm working in the kitchen. I have a dishwasher and a server in the front of the house. Remember, I'm trying to keep this simple without getting down the weeds on the cost of pizza sauce, etc. I open at 11:00 am to catch the lunch crowd, and I stay open until 9 pm. My day crew (dishwasher and server) work the 11 am to 4 pm shift, and the night crew comes on and works until 9 pm. So, I have four employees besides myself, who are each working 5 hours a day, and I'm open six days a week (closed on Sunday). My crew is working a total of 20 hours a day times six days for a total of 120 hours a week, and I'm paying them the current MW of $11.50/hour. That puts my payroll for the week at $1,380/week. But...
If you're in business, you know there are overhead costs and state taxes, etc. I ran a pretend set of numbers for my pizza shop on something call T-Sheets (by QuickBooks) to estimate the labor cost with all the other things rolled in; something call the wrap costs. With the numbers I used for rent, insurance, etc., my cost per employee came to $27.99 per employee, and remember I'm paying them $11.50 per hour.
I said the liveable wage in Seattle was $30.84/hour for a family of three. We'll assume all my employees are married and have one child. When I kick the wages up to that number, my total cost per employee per hour goes up to $48.81/hour. That's an increase of $20/hour, and that is hard to absorb. For my crew of four, my employee cost went from $167,940 per year (that's four people working 1500/hours a year and costing me $27.99/hour) to $292.860 or an increase of $124,920 per year. That's not small change.
Any plan has to look out for the employees (trying to get them to a liveable wage) and the small business owners. It should be possible to do a ramp-up to the liveable wage at a rate that get the employee to the liveable level in a reasonable time, while not breaking the backs of small business. The goal is to build something into the taxes that give the small business owner relief for helping our country bring people out of poverty and up to a liveable wage. There could be tax breaks or subsidies paid to the business to ease their burden.
Yes, this all comes out of taxes, but if we straighten out our tax system instead of letting billion-dollar corporations off tax free, it can be done. This is an example of seeking solutions that work for everyone. It moves us toward being a nation that tries to ensure that the working class doesn't have to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to survive. There would be significant reductions in those services, and that money could be redirected to the small business subsidies. As this all sorts itself out, and it will over time, then these programs can be reduced or dismantled.
These are not simple problems, and there are no simple solutions, but these clowns in DC are pulling down $174,000 a year to find answers. It's time they earned their paycheck. What might the conservative plan look like?
Recently, a very close friend lost her battle with cancer and died; she was 76. Everyone probably knew she would likely lose that battle at her age, but it still comes as a shock when it happens. We console ourselves by saying things like, "Her pain is over" or "She's in a better place" if you subscribe to religious philosophy, but no amount of consoling statements will shorten or ease the sense of loss for any of us and some experts caution against those kinds of remarks.
My wife, Gale, and I have discussed death many times over the years. With 80 years of age squarely in our sites, we know people will be making these comments about us one day. There can be no life without death. We neither fear death nor encourage it to come any sooner than necessary, programmed, or ordained depending on your point of view. Neither of us is "religious." Gale does embrace much of the Buddhist philosophy but is not a practicing Buddhist, whatever that might mean.
Regardless of what you believe about life and death, when there is a loss, it hurts. Losses can come in many ways. Death is the most obvious, but as a child, your best friend might move to another town, or your family is the one that moves, leaving all your friends behind. Your parents get divorced. You can have a breakup with a friend or partner that results in the sense of loss. Friends at work leave or you change jobs and leave friends behind. You can lose a dog, cat, bird, horse, or any number of non-human friends that you loved, and that leaves you miserable with a profound sense of loss. There are no shortages of losses in a person's life.
While talking about loss and grieving, and trying to understand what is happening, it occurred to me that we are not grieving for the person or animal that is gone - they may or may not be aware of anything - but rather we are grieving for ourselves. The pain we are feeling is that we have lost them in our lives.
The grief we feel when there is a loss is relative to the role the person or animal played in our lives. Significant impact, major pain. When they are lost to us, it leaves a larger or smaller void in our hearts, in our minds, and in our so-called souls. Something is missing from our lives, something that was important to us on an emotional level is gone.
I think and write and talk and then do it all over again.