Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Can we just be "Americans"?

As I have written about before, I read and engage in a large number of politically active blogs and bulletin boards.  Over the last few days things have heated up surrounding the ignorant comments made by the owner of the Los Angles Clippers Donald Sterling.  If you have had your head in the sand Mr. Sterling, an eighty-year old, married billionaire with a long legal history of discriminating against blacks and Latinos when it comes to housing was captured on tape telling his girlfriend who is reported to be Mexican and black, that he does not want black people at Clippers home games, among other things.

Mr. Sterling, IMO, is a case study in hypocrisy by what has become known as the civil rights community in 2014.  He has given generously to causes supported by the black community in the past and was awarded the Los Angles NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 thanks to his very large contributions.  The 2009 award was presented while Mr. Sterling was fighting allegations in court that he and his company had discriminated against blacks and Latinos who were attempting to gain housing in Los Angles.  He is a "high profile" guy and although the lawsuit was well know the LA Chapter of the NAACP presented him with the award.  Not long after that 2009 award Mr. Sterling settled the case for 2.765 million dollars.  I am willing to give the NAACP a pass on the 2009 award under the auspice that like others going through court he is innocent until a preponderance of the evidence shows otherwise. 

However the hypocrisy really comes to a head when you understand that although he settled this 2009 case it wasn't the only one brought against him.  Mr. Sterling was even sued by former coach and NBA legend Elgin Baylor for wrongful termination and discrimination.  It seems that Mr. Sterling has a "sterling" history of being bigoted and there were news articles and court filings that showed this.  Yet, in 2014 the NAACP Los Angles Chapter was prepared to once again award him with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" all because the color that overshadows bigotry is apparently "green".  With the publication of the conversations between Mr. Sterling's and his amore, Ms. V. Stiviano aka Vanessa Maria Perez and Monica Gallegos, the new "Lifetime Achievement Award" was taken off the table by the NAACP.  I guess that is good on them for taking a stance but should an organization with the esteemed history of the NAACP should never have allowed an award to be considered in 2014 given the history of Mr. Sterling.  (On a side note,  just how many "Lifetime Achievement" awards can one earn or in this case apparently purchase?  A simple disclosure, I have in the past donated money to and volunteered with the NAACP).    

To me what we have is an eighty-year old bigot who dismissed the affections of his wife of fifty years in favor of a thirty-one year old self confessed Mexican-black woman who according to media reports, confesses to having more than 100 hours of tape that will not make Mr. Sterling look good to the public.  Simply put, what a tangled web of confusion, infidelity, bigotry and ignorance we have before us.  How can Mr. Sterling feel the way he so very obviously does yet find Ms. Stiviano appealing?  How can Ms. Stiviano know the thoughts and feelings of Mr. Sterling and yet still subject herself to his affections?  What could possibly be on those alleged 100's of hours of tape that would make either Mr. Sterling or Ms. Stiviano look anymore ignorant than they already do?  Why on earth would either of them engage with the other knowing the thoughts and feelings they both seem to harbor?  Well, the answers are simple; just like the leaders of the NAACP the one hue that overcomes bigotry, infidelity and ignorance for Mr. Sterling and Ms. Stiviano is "green". 

But as I oftentimes do, I digress, from the real "issue" I want to write about.  During my travels around political blogs in the last few days I had the change to engage with another poster whom I have "known" (if you really can "know" someone on a bulletin board) from her postings for sometime.  She is a very educated and often times highly moderate woman.  We share much in common in terms of our desire to see America become a "better" place for all citizens however we approach things from a very different background.  She is a black woman from New Jersey and well, I am not.  During the course of our exchanges she posted: 

The blame - if you can call it that - is embedded in the fabric of this nation, and all nations that were built on the slave trade. Let's call it as we see it, people.
There will never come a time (at least in the foreseeable future) when white folks, in general, will feel comfortable with complete racial equality. As Sterling says, and as most of them believe, there is nothing wrong with the pecking order…and they are fine with us being here as long as they remain on top of that pecking order.
If Americans looked - honestly, HONESTLY - at the current Presidential Administration, and honestly ask themselves if the venom directed at this president would have been the same had he not been a Black man…the answer would be simple. No. And before you speak about "well, Blacks are racist, too!", remember this: anyone can be bigoted, but only those who hold the power to discriminate against those of a different race, who hold a lower socioeconomic place in that same society or organization, can be "racist". Racism is a verb, while a bigot is a noun.
Her post got me to thinking about how much of our history as a nation is not just overlooked but apparently forgotten or never learned by far too many.  I then spent time thinking of a reply and would like to share that here with the understanding that, IMO, what is good about America is more powerful than what is bad about America if only we would see those things instead of seeing only what separates us.  My reply was: 
With all due respect, I believe you misunderstand and either willfully or unknowingly misrepresent the American people and the society we live in.

America is not perfect and like every other society will never be. However less than 100 years after the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of independence and the Constitution an American President along with a willing Congress signed the Emancipation Proclamation thereby ending slavery. They understood then and most people understand today the evil of slavery needed to be eradicated.  It was by the deeds of those leaders along with a great loss of life that America confronted and ended the tragedy of slavery on our shores. 

America, was not alone when it came to benefiting from slavery.  America did willingly confront this evil unlike many places. Have you spent anytime learning of the Arab-Islamic slave trade in West Africa which held tens of thousands not just in slavery but ensured the wholesale genocide of Africans who were taken to Arab countries as slaves only to be starved and left to die and then replaced by another slave sold by fellow Africans to the waiting and wanting businessmen from that region. The mere fact that hundreds of thousands of documented cases of West Africans sold into the Arab-Islamic slave trade were taken from Africa to Arab countries and the lack of presence of Africans just twenty years post the ending of the slave trade in East Africa demonstrates the true impact of such inhumane and genocidal actions.

Understand, this isn't a comparative analysis or an attempt to diminish Americas horrible actions of engaging in slavery but it is to say that unlike most societies that did engage in slavery America has by words and deeds acknowledged the horrible actions of the past.  Please make no mistake about the fact that many more societies than America engaged in this despicable trade then and some still do.  In reality slavery was an accepted part of the East African culture for longer than slavery existed in America.  America has worked to atone for those actions and not a single country involved in the slave trade, either by selling or purchasing slaves, has took such drastic actions as asking citizens to take up arms, fight and kill one another in a Civil War in order to gain the freedom for those held in slavery.  America did.

America is not perfect. America is a wonderful experiment that is working toward the goal of a  democratic republic that represents all of the citizens by a vote of the people. No westernized country has elected a minority member of that society as President like America has on two occasions. No westernized country has elected as many minority representatives to Congress (parliament or whatever the government body is named).  No westernized country has elected as many minority mayors, governors and state representatives as we the people have. No westernized country has appointed as many minorities to executive positions of power within our government or to as many judicial seats of power as has America. We are not perfect but unlike most countries were are working to become better and in general each year we have grown more understanding and accepting of one another. We are not perfect and while it may not occur in my lifetime, I believe it will occur if we focus not on what divides us culturally or socially but by what unites as humans and more importantly as Americans. 

I don't know if you will read this or even if you do if it will make an impact however let me share with you who I am and why I feel nothing but pride, hope and admiration for America. I am a 46 year old male whose family was considered "non-white European" by the US Census until 1930. Many of my forefathers did not come to America until after the Civil War had ended. I was raised in a moderately diverse community where my father was the First Sergeant for an Army National Guard Company for over 20 years. When I was in high school I dated girls without consideration of the ethnicity they were born but instead because I found them appealing. After HS I went into the Military and served predominantly with black soldiers in North Carolina, Texas and Alaska. I never considered the ethnicity of my fellow soldiers and I don't believe they considered mine. We were friends. Of course we spoke of race relations but never assumed anything about one another. While I was in the military Pres. Clinton brought up "don't ask, don't tell" and we all chuckled. Not because we thought it was silly (although we did) but because we already knew the soldiers in our Battalion that were gay. They did the job they were asked and in nobody cared as long as they were competent. In truth, my roommate in North Carolina was a gay man and not once did I find him anything but a good soldier and friend.  In fact, Scott and I were friends and my girlfriend at the time (Page) spent many nights at a gay bar (Nemo's) with him and his boyfriend.  Scott was also from Michigan and on several occasions we rode together back to Michigan for leave.  He never seemed bothered by my heterosexual nature and I was not then or now concerned that he was homosexual.  He was and I assume still is, a good guy and a very good soldier.  After the military I attended college and found myself, like most people in college, in an international environment and frankly never thought about it. We were all students. No better, no worse, just poor ramen eating college students. When I married for the first time (yes, that is a nod to the fact that I can't wait to marry Ms. Laura . . :-). . ) it was to a black woman and neither I nor my family and friends found her ethnicity an issue. We had three wonderful children together and while we are divorced today nothing in my heart or those of my family finds resentment in her because of her ethnicity.  I am a former social worker and substance abuse therapist who has worked with nearly every ethnicity known to man and have found in general people are people. We all want the best for our children. We all want the same measures of success; money in the bank, bills paid, home, car, retirement and good health.

Like you I understand that racism exist and I believe it should be exposed whenever and wherever it is found. I don't however believe that America is unwilling or unable to overcome the historical and systemic issues of race. I believe we have been working toward that goal everyday since Jan 1, 1863 when Pres. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. I believe we have made strides with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment. I believe we have made progress not only in our political leadership but in our social leadership by who is and is not held up as examples in education, entertainment, athletics, and religion. We, America, are not perfect but then again we have done what most other westernized countries have not done. We have thrown our dirty laundry in the street for everyone to see and have asked, "how can we be better".

While you opine the racism of "white people" and conclude that sure minorities can be bigoted but in your opinion lack the power do be "racist" you seem to forget that those racist "white people" elected Pres. Obama and have accepted AG Holder, Justice Sotomayor, Sec. Rice, and Sec. Condolizza Rice just to name a few and those do not even touch upon the myriad of minority Cabinet Level and Judicial Appointments we have seen from Pres. Obama, Pres. Bush (43), Pres. Bush (41), Pres. Clinton, Pres. Nixon, Pres. Carter, Pres. Ford and Pres. Reagan just in my lifetime. I have not mentioned the number of minority representatives elected to lead large cities in America and would remind you that the County just north of where I grew up (Wayne County, MI) is the seat of what was called the "Arsenal of Democracy" (Detroit) during World War II.  In my lifetime I have not witnessed a single caucasian elected to City Council or the Mayors office in Detroit until the 2014 write-in election of Mike Duggan as Mayor.  Yet, you see that somehow minorities in America lack any real power.  I imagine that is an easy to do if you ignore Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Savannah, Memphis, New Orleans and Montgomery.  Still those are only cities largely influence by and controlled by black leaders with no mention of the communities around America inundated by and influenced by a strong Asian community or even the Somalian communities that have grown in the last twenty-years in the Midwest.  America is far from perfect but she is trying and doing so with far more commitment than most countries.    

America is further along than you give her credit for and the majority of Americans not only know this but behave as such in daily actions. We are not perfect but we are working towards a more perfect union. Instead of being entrenched in the cultural and social differences why not become immersed in the commonality that we all share as husbands, wife's, fathers, daughters, sons, grandparents and as Americans. We will become more stabilized, accepting and welcoming if we understand we are human first instead of being first designated by our ethnicity. Such exclusionary  ideals forgets the need for acceptance as an America and demands recognition of a phenotype before one can simply say, "hey, you're my fellow American, good to know you". Not all of us are there but at 46 I can tell you all of those I surround myself are and we would be much better off if everyone did the same. Allow racism to die the despicable death it deserves by withering on the vine as we recognize what unites us instead of what makes us different.

At the end of the day I find myself growing tired of defending this great nation and because of my military experience I know that whatever is wrong with America is far less than what is right about her.  I feel nothing but hope for my country and for all Americans and yet I know that not all of us feel that way.  I believe that if we would stop for a moment and recognize the commonality we share and once again commit ourselves to the social contract of being good citizens we would see a United States of America as it was once and I believe should be again.  But that's just me.