was killed, stopped in the work yet to be completed. I recall my father, a blue collar union man sitting in front of our old RCA black and white television, with the grainy picture and rabbit-eared antennas, the same television where we watched the NASA space launches, I Dream of Jeannie and the Vietnam War nightly on the news. This was some time before the nation lost Reverend King. My father, who doesn’t recall this moment, was sitting in his blue work pants, dirty white socks and a dirt-streaked white tee shirt, pitched back in his black easy chair with a cold beer in his hand.
“Now there is a great man,” he commented.
In my young life, it is the first recollection of any black man being mentioned in our small rented old farmhouse on Plainfield road in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield. It may have happened before, I just don’t recall. The world and race were very different places and issues back then. But it was the sincerity of that comment, and the image of that man on the tiny blue-tinged screen that resonated with me.
Fast forward to the Our Town radio show yesterday on WCPT. The host of the show, Mike Sanders, is a black guy who grew up in the projects, served in the Marines, lived in a trailer park with predominately white Heavy Metal-head friends, worked as a bouncer in a biker bar and now works in the mostly white realm of talk radio. He has followed a journey through life I can’t imagine. Both of our journeys have carried us to a place where we both feel comfortable being abundantly and brutally honest about those journeys, and more importantly race. That we come to this place in time with shared perspectives on race is a blessing.
As a note, I don’t feel guilty about being white, nor am I in anyway offended or feel assaulted personally when openly and honestly discussing issues of race. I don’t see a competition, threat or enchroachment into white culture. I only want a peaceful world, and when I see injustice I feel duty-bound to confront it. This truly is not a black and white issue. At the core it is an injustice issue. and that is where I begin.
Yesterday, in the after-show discussions, we broke from the gun topic into race issues, which is in many ways fundamental to the ongoing debate and problems with guns in America. We’ve all heard the Right, and some on the Left offer lately that America has no place talking about gun control because of a few incidents by some “crazy” white people. Instead they suddenly are concerned about violence in the black community. How this society comes to the overall debate of violence in the black community is indicative of the ambient racism in the nation as a whole. And if not blatant racism, than surely a criminal neglect of an entire community of people.
I am not an apologist for either the black community nor white guilt. There was, during the after show, a healthy exploration of so-called white guilt, which I believe is a factor. What I believe is a greater factor in race relations, however, is not so much white guilt as white denial, simply because for most of us in the white community, race issues can feel like something of a personal attack. We retreat to defensiveness. Who, after all, wants to admit or accept that they are racist?
Am I calling all white people racist? That is another article, and a narrative in my Bosnian War memoir, Everything For Love http://www.amazon.com/Everything-for-Love-ebook/dp/B007SJNL9I But here is the deal, we have to accept in the white community the weight of having had the majority say and opinion throughout the history of this nation, and that the weight of white influence in this nation most certainly outweighs minority influence, opinion and perspective, by definition. All of that comes with privilege, and again, privilege is by definition a measure of disparity and inequality.
By that definition, at least from my small-town, working-class white perspective, the fact that there is fundamental disparity between the two communities. The overwhelming attitude by that dominant white culture has been to ignore the black community, contain the dysfunction we contributed greatly to making, or encouraging this Ayn-Randian sort of survival of the fittest. That effort was to extoll the “good” blacks who could struggle from that community.
None of those has done any service to the words of Reverend King about judging a man on character rather than skin color. But alas, in the white community, we also twist those simple words to fit our narrative and perpetuate the current system. But King’s meaning was simple. His words were a challenge not for blacks to forget they’re black and whites to pretend black people aren’t black. It was a challenge to the dominant community about whether it wanted to corrected the mistakes of the past and build a better community in which race is celebrated and appreciated for the gifts and perspectives all races bring to the greater challenges to the nation and humanity.
Certainly there is white guilt, but more prevelant, I believe, is a lack of honesty and self-evaluation that recognizes the conversation about race in this country is not an attack but an acceptance that the society is broken. Racism and issues of race disparity are stumbling blocks to the truest and finest course of the nation. Yet, we are still trapped in issues of race, and taking the reality that lingering racism personally instead of fixing the damned problem. Easier said than done, admittedly, but the issue won’t go away.
So when do we at last roll up our sleeves and start fixing the problem? We had that opportunity back in 1968, but we killed that chance. So now, how do we remember Doctor King? How do we celebrate his legacy. As Mike remarked on the show with a laugh, but no small amount of sarcasm, “I can get a new mattress on sale starting today all over the country!”
Catch 900poundgorilla’s WC Turck and Brian Murray each Sunday 8-9am only on Our Town with Mike Sanders, at Chicago’s Progressive Talk, WCPT AM and FM, and streaming online. Friend us on Facebook at Revolution and Beer. And if you have a cause to champion, please let us know as we work to become the grassroots support network for Chicago Activists and community organizers
Catch the beer of the week review with 900poundgorilla’s WC Turck and Brian Murray each Sunday 8-9am only on Our Town, at Chicago’s Progressive Talk, WCPT AM and FM, and streaming online. Friend us on Facebook at Revolution and Beer. And find all of the great beers we review each week at Louis Glunz Beer Inc., http://www.glunzbeers.com