Poking a stick & taking some hits from a big ugly bear
Expanded from the 11-21-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Every so often, it's a good idea to poke a long stick into the forbidden cave to see if the big, ugly bear is still there.
Right here, two weeks ago, I did just that. The critter's still stinking up the place.
"The day Rev. Jesse Jackson was black like me" told of my morning as guest news director at a Reno radio station. I was ordered to stop airing interviews with the civil rights leader because of wholesale telephone objections from what the station manager termed a "white bread audience."
Listener backlash came solely because the interviewee was black, the very definition of bigotry and prejudice. Much of the response came in the form of ignoring the issue at hand and just black-bashing in the grand tradition of Lush Rambo and KKKOH Radio.
"You've been victimized by the self important Jackson who was seen as an opportunist by the real friends of M.L. King Jr. during his lifetime," stated a letter last week from Incline Village.
The column did not discuss whether or not Rev. Jackson is a self-promoter.
"My mother lived near where Dr. Thomas Sewell (sic) grew up" the writer continued. "Family, not color, made the difference between success and failure of both black and white people."
Alas and alack, this country has made a national pastime out of destroying black families. Look at our prison population, the bitter fruit of police racial profiling as probable cause for arrest mixed with the acid of economic deprivation.
Thomas Sowell, like Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., and U. S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas have found that they can prosper by serving as a thin veneer of tolerance over the altar of institutionalized racism.
"The grand failure of the Great Society programs destroyed black families profering (sic) welfare checks over coordinated family struggle," Mr. Incline continued.
President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program did not fail. It just didn't go far enough because of the fiscal problems caused by the Vietnam War. The GS and the civil rights movement did uplift the black middle class and allow it to break apartheid in many communities. One lamentable and unintended result was that much of that middle class left the ghettos for the suburbs, cutting the political and economic vitality of urban areas and making life worse for those who remain.
After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Johnson looked at the electoral map and said "I may be the last Democratic president you'll see this century."
LBJ proved correct. Since Johnson, we haven't had Democrats in the White House, we've had Dixiecrats. Jimmy Carter began many of the corporate panderings and meanderings Ronald Reagan continued. Bill Clinton is proof that corporate America has successfully moved the parameters of our political debate to include everything from the near right to far right. Centrists and liberals need not apply.
George Carlin put it best: "The rich make most of the money for none of the work, most of which is done by the middle class. The poor exist to scare the shit out of the middle class to keep them showing up for those jobs."
As long as the lower classes are fighting each other, the upper class can continue to shovel money into steamer trunks. One percent of the population now owns more than 40% of the assets of the country. Continuing down this path means more people like Timothy McVeigh are going to start shooting.
A lack of hope brought rebellion in Chiapas and Oklahoma City. Sooner or later, failure to spread the wealth means pass the pain.
The roots of racism grow in greedy lust for power. Some people just need to step on others. My cousin Nancy in California wrote "my grandmother used to tell me about how they were treated because they were Italians. The same as the minority or black community has been treated. Separate buses for school."
About 1990, some guy wrote a book called "The End of History." The catchy, apocalyptic title spawned a bunch of copycats. Right-wing think tank front man Dinesh D'Souza's "The End of Racism" became a work beloved of conservatives.
Who's kidding whom?
"Yellow (to maintain the black/white thing) kids outperform whites. Ever ask yourself why? Try family structure and self sacrifice," Mr. Incline continued.
Sowell has beaten that drum for decades, serving his masters well. But just pointing to another ethnic group doesn't remove the stark reality that in this country, millions of blacks start at the bottom and remain there.
Unfortunately, it remains very easy to dredge up the ancient myth that poverty is your own damned fault. Black students do as well as white students once they get into college, but entrance exams, for some as yet inexplicable reason, are tougher on blacks and other minorities. Some students are giving up and migrating toward a rebirth of apartheid, saying they prefer all-black colleges so they don't have to put up with the insults endured every day because of dark skin.
Just about all of this can be traced to the lingering legacy of slavery. Historian Barbara Fields said "if some citizens live in houses and some live on the streets, then the Civil War is still being fought and, regrettably, it can still be lost."
The only rationalization for exploitation lies in reducing serfs to the status of animals needing care and feeding by enlightened betters. Those myths, ingrained in our society for 500 years, linger and fester.
Slavery only officially ended in this country a little over a century ago. It thrives in the sweatshops of our inner cities, the sharecropper farms of the deep south, the maquiladora factories at the U.S.-Mexico border and in many other places around the world where people make cheap goods pumping our bloated lifestyle.
This country has a serious commercial interest in racism, so it lurks near its nurturers, covered up by the white sheets of polite code words. Sometimes, the ugly creature escapes into the open.
Last Sunday, "60 Minutes" re-ran a segment on the massacre of more than 300 black people in Tulsa, Okla., On June 1, 1921. Survivor George Monroe, who was five at the time, said "racism has eased a bit," and only a bit since.
The death toll in Tulsa doubled that of the McVeigh bombing, but was covered up and ignored for most of the century since.
Raise any issue touching our hangups with skin color and people start responding according to their pet prejudices.
A Sparks woman wrote "I am wondering why the blacks are SO insistent on re-naming (U.S.) Highway 395 'Martin Luther Hwy'? Who the hell knows where that is? When you give directions to someone, you mention 80 or 395, because if you mentioned Martin Luther King Hwy, they'd think you were out of your mind! Besides, there are more hispanics than blacks here in Reno and Sparks, but they don't make so much noise about getting promoted as the blacks, who I think are too militant! Give them an inch, and they'll take a mile! I don't care what your color or race is, what's important is what kind of person you are, and if you do your job and do it well, you'll get your just desserts. So there!"
I never wrote about the MLK Highway, but I'm glad it served to let the bear out of the dark cave of another narrow mind.
On the bright side, Sparks promoted a black employee for the first time in city history earlier this month. And, after a long hiatus, northern Nevada television now has one reporter of African-American descent. Jodee Kenney started at KOLO TV-8 last week. I was wrong about another. Weekend weathercaster Chip Washington does his KRXI TV-11 program from Oakland, Calif.
Finally came the shortest and most troubling comment of all: "Who gives a shit?????"
A lot of work remains. Come loaded for bear.
Be well. Raise hell.
© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past three years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 11/21/99.
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