Pride, Courage … and Justice

L.A.’s African American Firefighter Museum

Over the last few years, I have become a connoisseur of small museums. Instead of taking on a broad swath of subject matter, they appear to be restricted to a small, concentrated area. When they succeed, one finds that you have been led to confront larger issues than you originally anticipated. So it is with the African American Firefighter Museum at 14th Street and Central Avenue in downtown Los Angeles.

I expected to hear stories of pride and courage as firefighters sacrifice to save lives and property, but I came away with a sobering consciousness of American racism. For many years, black firefighters were restricted to two engine companies in the African American neighborhoods south of Downtown L.A., one of which, shown above, has been converted into a museum. Finally, in the 1950s, the LAFD was to be integrated. Consequently, existing black firefighters were distributed among hitherto white only engine companies.

Displays on the Second Floor of the Museum

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times commemorating the opening of the museum:

Only those who were there would remember.

The way Wallace DeCuir entered the station and greeted his colleagues every morning, knowing they would ignore him.

The way Reynaldo Lopez kept his cool, even after a “Whites Only” sign was hung from the kitchen door.

The day someone smeared feces on Earnest Roberts’ pillow, and the other men watched.

And laughed.

The year was 1955. LAFD Fire Chief John H. Alderson said that the segregation policy was being implemented on schedule, but that it would take five years or more to “take” in all the fire stations. In the meantime, he did nothing to enforce the agency’s integration policy and was finally forced to take an early retirement.

Exhibits like this reminded me of the way things were in the 1950s, which we whites considered to be some sort of Golden Age. Yes, but not for everybody.

I sat for a couple of hours looking at a scrapbook of news stories from the 1950s of what black firefighters had to endure in order to work side by side with their white colleagues. In the end, I was appalled that the men who are charged with saving our lives and property have to endure as a result of the racism of their colleagues.

Los Angeles has four museums dedicated to firefighters. So far I have visited three of them, and one of them, this one, taught me some sobering lessons.

This Is Indeed Poway

Why the Synagogue Shooting Happened There

The mayor of Poway, California, Steve Vaus by name, went on the air to say that the synagogue shooting on the last day of Passover was not representative of Poway. “This is not Poway,” he said. I beg to differ from him.

My own personal experience of Poway was a negative one. When I worked for Urban Decision Systems in the 1990s, we had to let our secretary go: She was getting too old. Her family had her move to Poway, and I went to visit her there. My impression of the town north of San Diego was that it was a sterile racially homogeneous suburban upper class slum. I hated the place and could hardly wait to leave. And that was over twenty years ago!

Now this type of place is a natural for a racist, bigoted shooter. It is easy to develop a hatred for Jews or Muslims or immigrants or African-Americans—if everyone around you is lily white and drinks the same Kool Aid as you do. They’re all in the same bubble.

I’ve read an interesting article in The New Yorker about what the Chinese are doing to keep dissidents from embarrassing the government at inopportune times:

While Presidemt Xi Jinping played host to African dignitaries in the Great Hall of the People, the police played host to [dissident Zha Jianguo] at various scenic spots in the province of Hubei, about a thousand kilometers away. A number of other Beijing activists and civil-rights lawyers … were treated to similar trips….

This practice is known as bei lüyou, “to be touristed.”

I begin to think the Chinese have the right idea. White racists should “be touristed” for several weeks at a time, perhaps to South Africa or Honduras or Afghanistan or even Israel. The idea is that no white person should be so ensconced in his bubble that he does not understand how people who are different need not be conceived of as being threatening.

On my vacations, I have visited a number of what our Presidente would call “shithole countries.” I have come to admire the Latin-American peoples to the south of us. They have been excellent hosts during my travels and more knowledgeable about us than we typically are of them.

 

LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ

We’ll Have To See About Adding More Colored Stripes

What do minority groups (of any stripe) do to get back at people who give them a hard time? Very simple. They keep changing the officially approved name by which they are to be referred. Needless to say, that doesn’t make for open communication—especially as one is always uncertain if one is using the right term of address. For instance: Negro, Black, African-American. Or: Indian, Amerind, Native American.

For sexual preference, there are any number of mostly pejorative terms. What is Fred Astaire’s The Gay Divorcee really about? Can an American teenager see that film without wincing at its title?

That wince is now a feature of American life. It even extends to Latin America. I once wrote a blog mentioning Peruvian Indians. The next morning, I noticed a comment that the moniker I used is now considered racist and I should call them campesinos. What? Does that mean that all Peruvian farmers are descended from native peoples? That can’t be true, as I know there are Peruvians of Japanese extraction, many of whom are profitably engaged in agriculture. And where do all the Chinese vegetables at Peruvian chifas (Chinese restaurants) come from if not from Chinese farmers living in Peru?

The most ridiculous politically correct minority name by far is LGBTQ. The Q (for Queer) was added later. Why? Who likes the idea of being referred to as a Queer? That’s a term from the bad old days, no?

I predict that sexual minorities will not be successfully integrated into our culture until all these politically correct terms are trashed. Whatever dignity is gained from the term is lost by the unwillingness of the majority culture to engage on that level. And what about that flag with all the colors? It’s like the American flag in the old days when they added not only a new star but a new stripe every time a state joined the union. And besides, how many other colors can we add?

 

 

 

It’s Gone Way Beyond Taco Bowls

Sculpted Mariachi Band in Albuquerque’s Old Town

Whose America is it? Does it belong to those Scots-Irish who have lived in these United States for generations, or does it belong to the people who meet a different profile? There is no disputing the fact that our demographics are changing. And that seems to be causing a lot of pain among those who appear to be “left behind.”

Here’s a little summary from National Public Radio of what is happening to the racial composition of the U.S. as of 2017:

  • The Asian population grew by 3.0 percent to 21.4 million.
  • People who identified as being of two or more races grew by 3.0 percent to 8.5 million.
  • The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population grew by 2.1 percent to 1.5 million.
  • The Hispanic population (including all races) grew by 2.0 percent to 57.5 million.
  • The American Indian and Alaska Native population grew by 1.4 percent to 6.7 million.
  • The black or African-American population grew by 1.2 percent to 46.8 million.
  • The white population grew by 0.5 percent to 256.0 million.
  • The non-Hispanic white alone population grew by 5,000 people, remaining at 198.0 million.

Just take a quick look at that last item again. The non-Hispanic white population has grown by only 5,000 to 198,000,000. That represents a 0.25% growth rate. We casually tend to treat Hispanics as a separate race. According to the Bureau of the Census, Hispanics can classify themselves as White, Black (Cubans for example), Asian (some Filipinos for example), and American Indian (some Navajo for example). Now compare that measly 0.25% growth rate to all the other growth rates in the above table.

“I Love Hispanics” Says the President-Elect While Praising His Taco Bowl (?!) from the Trump Tower Grill

While our Presidente claims to love Hispanics, he probably only loves Devin Nunes and a handful of other of his supporters who happen to be Hispanic. All the rest of them are rapists or worse. Doesn’t he know that he represents what once was a strapping majority and is on its way to becoming a minority? That’s already happened to Los Angeles. What is Herr Trumpf going to do? Deport Asians, Blacks, and—Heaven forfend!—American Indians?

My guess is that there is going to be a reckoning at some point. What is happening to the United States is a throwback to the Know-Nothings of the 1840s who were so violently opposed to Irish immigration. Eventually, the Irish won; and even Trumpf accepts them as sort of, kind of white. The Republicans are holding on to power by the skin of their teeth, and due largely to outrageous gerrymandering.

Does racism have a future in America? I don’t think so. We all have a part to play in carrying on the American Dream.

By the way, what in blue blazes is a taco bowl?

June 16, 2015—Day of Infamy

Mark That Date in Your Book of Infamy

That was the day Donald Trumpf and his wife Melania rode that escalator at Trump Tower to announce his run for the presidency. And that was the day he decided to attack Mexican-Americans and promise to build a “big beautiful wall” for which Mexico would pay:

Donald Trump kicked off his presidential bid more than a year ago with harsh words for Mexico. “They are not our friend, believe me,” he said, before disparaging Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

And with that speech came an injection of open racial hate into American life from a presidential candidate. The hate continued to build until only the hard core of his supporters were exempted from being called “losers.”

Alas, on that day, we all became losers. Big time.

 

Betty, Veronica, and Racism in America

One Can Learn a Lot from These Two Young Women

Both Women Were Equally AttractiveI came back to my apartment early this afternoon while Martine was watching The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963) on TCM starring Glenn Ford, Dina Merrill, and Stella Stevens. The two latter stars are in competition with each other to marry Glenn, who is the father of Eddie (played by Ron Howard), his son from an earlier marriage. It is Stella, the blonde, who wins, while the raven-haired Dina ends up sucking a mop in left field.

The film made me think of the Archie comic books I used to read in my youth. In these comics, the blonde Betty is pitted against the dark-haired Veronica for Archie’s affections and, not coincidentally, ours. I seem to remember that my sympathies were with Betty, and probably intended by the cartoonist to be so. There is something of the Dragon Lady about Veronica.

Both Women Were Equally Attractive

I grew up thinking that blondes were more beautiful. After all, there were Marilyn Monroe, Scarlett Johansson, Dominique Sanda, Brigitte Bardot, Uma Thurman, Grace Kelly, and Catherine Deneuve—not to mention several hundred others. It was only later that I fell for brunettes like Nastassja Kinski and Natalia Tolokonnikova of the Russian rock group Pussy Riot.

But for the longest time, I was in love with golden-haired beauties. I cannot help but wonder whether it was a subtle form of racism implicit in the dichotomy between Betty and Veronica. Thank God, now I think all kinds of women are beautiful, even the green ones shown on the old Star Trek show. Fortunately, I have not become fixated exclusively on the green ones, because else I would be desperately lonely.

Green Women Can Be Nice…

 

“They Stomped the Floor”

Alabama Governor and Presidential Candidate George C. Wallace (1919-1998)

Alabama Governor and Presidential Candidate George C. Wallace (1919-1998)

Politically speaking, I come from a very divided family. My brother and I were Liberal Democrats, my mother was an independent (she loved John B. Anderson in 1980), and my father was a staunch follower of segregationist Alabama Governor George C. Wallace.

Actually Wallace was not always a segregationist. He started out as a circuit judge of the Third Judicial Circuit in Alabama, where he was known for his fairness, irrespective of race. He even called Black attorneys “Mister” rather than patronizingly referring to them by their first names.

When he ran for governor of Alabama in 1958, he was defeated by John Malcolm Patterson, who ran with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, against which Wallace had spoken on occasion. (in fact, the NAACP had supported Wallace.) This loss wrought a change in the candidate: “You know why I lost that governor’s race? … I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.” And he wasn’t.

From this point on, Wallace adopted an wavering segregationist policy. “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”

Alas, my poor father was also anti-integration. As an uneducated factory worker, he was afraid that Southern Blacks were coming to take away his job. So he thought Wallace was the man to stem that tide. Today, he would probably vote for Trump.