HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA

Red Racism, Blue Anger and White Power

We speak English in America, but it’s not British-Oxford English. Our speech is simply American, and the reason we have a different patois is because of a bunch of words on a piece of paper called the Declaration of Independence written in 1776. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has some strange words and arcane ways of speaking. For example, we would urge someone to clean a space by saying, “Red up the room.” It was a bastardization of the old Pennsylvania Dutch, “Make ready the room.”  Then there’s the wonderful Pittsburgh word “gumband,” better known as a rubber band.

I have been accused of saying some stupid things, and my response was always, “Hey, I’m from Pittsburgh,” which was like saying, “Don’t mind me, we are all stupid.” Perhaps that’s not the best foot forward when trying to seem like you aren’t dumb.

In Pittsburgh, Black people, or as my father called anyone of African American roots “colored people,” lived in a neighborhood called “The Hill District.” When the city was young, many Jewish merchants had shops in this section of town. As the neighborhood changed, those of the Jewish faith moved further east to a place called Squirrel Hill. Today, those neighborhoods are remarkably the same as they were when I lived there fifty years ago.

I grew up in a totally white suburban town named Brentwood, and I believe this stunted my understanding about race and America. Once I got to college, I was exposed to a whole new world. In my everyday life I was engaging with African Americans, and it was rewarding. I was never afraid or against anyone of that race, but I was not at all knowledgeable about the “black experience” in America back then. I knew we were different, but I never viewed that as limiting. I thought it was just another life lesson.

One of my good friends in college was a guy named Ron Chavis. I always enjoyed being with him and, incidentally, he was African American. Ron was probably one of my first Black friends and we have been lifelong buddies ever since. One day, I was walking past a bus stop where Ronnie was waiting for the bus. Next to him was an older white woman. We exchanged greetings and then Ron said, “Hey, brother, I want you to meet my mother.” I’m sure I must have looked surprised because I thought he was fooling around, but it was indeed his mother. My small, little 19-year old mind couldn’t comprehend that since Ronnie was a Black man, how could he have a white mother. There was my first confrontation with my own baked in racism that was seeded by ignorance. Another lesson learned.

In the early 60s, a comedian named Lenny Bruce was the first real “shock jock” of the standup stage and his act made us aware that words are just words. His liberal approach to language led to many arrests of the funny man, and his persecution was more than a complex. While he was appealing a four-month sentence for a charge of obscenity, Bruce turned to heroin, a common drug with jazz musicians and actors in that era, and that drug killed him. The charges were eventually dropped. Lenny Bruce confronted many societal norms like sex and religion. One of his favorite lines was, “Every day, people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”  I can’t imagine what Lenny would have done with the Black Lives Matter movement, but I can envision him making fun of it and urging the brothers to get guns and kill the motherfuckers.

As a 4th of July gift of sorts, I got an email that urged me to forward it to ten friends. The opening written by someone I don’t know who was trying to explain how white people are being unjustly accused of racism in America. He included the transcript of the standup routine that Michael Richards did that got him banned from show business. In case you forgot, Richards played Cosmo Kramer for eleven years on Seinfeld. The racist rant “Kramer” tried to pull off was said to be a reaction to people coming late into the venue in 2006. I believe the reason Lenny Bruce “got away with” his language was his clever, intellectual way of writing. In short, Richards is no Lenny Bruce and the old maxim should be applied here, If you go over the edge, it’s got to be really funny!

I understand when people are challenged for their beliefs and undertones of actions and language. I do not like it when an African American in power attempts to put down their workers by accusing them of “white privilege.” Now before you get your underpants in a knot, you should know the meaning of RACISM. It’s prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people based on their membership in a racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

So, the color of your skin or membership in a group doesn’t determine how your words and actions are defined and interpreted by others. If I am antagonistic toward, say, the AMISH, I could be a racist. They are Caucasian, and I am a white man, but in this example, I would be a racist. We must learn what the words mean before we define ourselves. One person can never know what is in someone else’s heart. My mother and father didn’t believe they were racist, but they were. I did not judge their ignorance, but I strived to figure out why they thought and spoke in racist ways. Why did they teach me so much about the Bible and our fabulous democracy, but never instilled a loving attitude toward people of other cultures or ethnic groups? Maybe it was just a reflection of their parents’ beliefs.

I bristle when I hear people going overboard and reacting defensively in racial discussions, especially when the word racism bothers them. I can hear a subtle hint of white privilege in what they are saying but they don’t even realize they have a chip on their shoulder. When a white lady pulled a gun on a Black lady at a restaurant recently, the video revealed she yelled, “White people are not racists.” I laughed and thought, wow, she knows every white person in America?

I’ve lived in the south for half my life and if you asked many of my neighbors over the years, “Which race is smarter, White, Black or Asian?” Lots of these God fearing, church going folk would say, “Asians are smart.” WHY? Why would they say this about Asian Americans but not AFRICAN AMERICANS? It’s not a trick; it’s the ugliness of RACISM.

We should be all working together to cure our abundance of boiling anger and hate. Our country is 244 years old today and I love AMERICA. I love our freedoms and our system of government, even when it’s stained by partisan bullshit and lies. If you give the people the truth, they will do the right thing.

We are different. We don’t look alike, but that is not a weakness, it’s a strength. We are white, African Americans are black and ah, … what color is an Asian? If yellow popped into your head, it is dripping with the RACISM you didn’t even know you have. I am not asking you to agree with me, I am asking you to think about who you are as a person.

American greatness will be judged by what we do next, not continually justifying the sins of our past. For those who have no slaves in their family trees, you will never understand the grievances, fear and anger of those amongst us. They don’t want to look at the confederate monuments and flags. It hurts them.

Excuse my freedom of speech here, but you should fucking know what those colors really stand for in our flag. Historians say, RED symbolizes hardiness and valor (some say blood shed for our freedom), WHITE suggests our purity and innocence (newborns don’t know prejudice) and BLUE represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. And those are the only colors you need to focus on today.

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!

The book that tells it like it is…

Gold, God, Guns & Goofballs: If you only read one chapter of this book, try “Take a Knee for America” and think about our never-ending conflicts between minorities and the police. I’m not asking you to take a stand but having a deep and honest conversation about why some people think the way they do would be productive. This is a book for the moment which seeks to start a conservation about peace. And if you are worried about social media, you really should check out the chapter called “Social Media Menace.”

Get the Kindle Version HERE. Or order your paperback edition HERE.

 

 

One thought on “HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA

  1. Pittsburgh Pat here. I suppose I will overlook your apology that all Pittsburghers are stupid to say nice work, here. I think the rest of the country ought to check its prejudices about Hell with the Lid Off, and visit my city. I think they’d like it. A lot. Happy Forth of July!

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