Racism

“America’s Flag is not Mine”

or

“Warm memories, sick heart”

Terry  McMillan’s  article  published in the   Times   May  1st
touched a lot of chords latent in my heart.

I  have  long shared his anger over the  politically  correct
Pledge  of Allegiance,  etc.  I choke when I see car dealers  and
others using the American flag as an advertising gimmick. I choke
when I  receive conservative propaganda with the American flag on
the front masthead.  I even choke when the U.S. post office keeps
issuing American flag stamps.

I  choke when my fellow Americans force me to be  politically
correct in supporting “my country,  right or wrong”.

Who  insist that I cannot just call myself an  American,  but
must go through some old European mumbo-jumbo. Which is correctly
impossible,  because one of my paternal forebears, the Rev. Jacob
Heindrieg Meyer, arrived in Pennsylvania from Switzerland in 1737,
and generations have been intermarrying for 255 years.

Who  insist that all the wars that the U.S.  has ever  fought
were “just” wars,  and to  suggest otherwise is both  unpatriotic
and disloyal to our war veterans!!!

A  great many of whom never got near the firing lines,  and I
had several torpedoes fired at my ship. (They missed.)

I choke when I express concern over what our ancestors did—
and  are doing—to the American Indian,  and find that I am  ob-
viously not being “politically correct”.

I  long to return to India,  sit under a coconut palm on  the
Malabar coast in shorts and bare feet eating rice and curry off a
banana  leaf,  and  tell America to go to hell with  its  racism,
injustices, corruption, materialism, media trash and half-truths,
poverty pockets, apathy, ignorant people, etc., etc., etc.

Born  in India of American parents,  I can opt for British or
India citizenship.

I long to live again among civilized people.

And I am not alone.

My  sister,  having  just retired last year from 40 years  of
service in Japan as a protestant missionary,  wrote me April 17th
as follows:

“Bit by bit we’re learning about life in the U.S.  Mostly  we
need  to  keep our cool…stop comparing to Japan…accept a  new
way  of  life.  It’s  distressing to see our country  in  such  a
mess…the  place  we  nostalgically  thought  of  as  great  and
wonderful,  a utopia for all.  We’re finding instead the problems
are humonguous, and solutions don’t seem to be available.”

An India friend tells me that the New York freight forwarders
are  busy  shipping  household goods to India,  as  some  of  the
brightest and best India Americans are returning to India because
they don’t want their children growing up in America.

I  realize that my vision is clouded by having lived  solely,
by choice, in the Middle Atlantic states.

However,  I have traveled widely throughout the states,  and
talked  with  too many fellow travelers to not realize  that  the
sins of the east coast are not endemic but are states-wide.

My  first recollection of inceptive patriotism was  a  little
tug  of the heart when,  as a 10 year old boy on a passenger ship
from  Liverpool to Bombay,  my brand new topee with a  brand  new
enameled  American flag pinned on front blew off and into the Red
Sea.  This emotion lasted about 5 seconds, about the time it took
for the topee to hit the water.

My  next recollection comes six years later, in  July,  1944,
when I boarded the naval grey troop transport, the U.S.S. General
A.E.  Anderson, in  Bombay with the American flag flying  bravely
from the stern,  on its maiden voyage from New York to San  Diego
via North Africa, getting ready for service in the Pacific.

My  first experience with racism occured in my senior year at
college,  when  Muhlenberg had recruited black Elmo Jackson  from
Allentown,  Pa.  to play football and he refused to go along with
freshman regs.

As student council vice president,  I chatted with him  about
it,  and adviced him to “go along” for his own sake, and found he
had a sullen “chip on his shoulder”.

15 years later I found out why. Seeing him moping the floor at
the GAC building in Allentown at 9 in the evening, we chatted for
the second time.

He  told  me  he had become homesick for  Allentown  and  his
family,  and this was the only job he—a top football player and
graduate of a top liberal arts college—could find in town (’62)

Needless  to say,  I felt heartsick,  my “patriotism” took  a
steep nosedive, and in spite of years of activism against racism,
racism in America continues to make me sick to my stomach.

But back to graduation in ’48, with the summer of ’48 finding
me in an outwardly idyllic New York City, revelling late at night
on the subways, ferries, sidewalks, parks and Harlem night clubs,
though with the caveat—for the first time in my life in  India,
the Middle East, Europe and the states— that certain areas were
“dangerous”.

Civil rights activism and laws were beginning to stir,  and I
got  accustomed to being denied food service on the Wilmington—
Washington axis if I was in the company of non-whites.

I learnt that native-born blacks accepted this as their fate,
whereas Africa and West Indian blacks and Asians would not toler-
ate this nonsense and totally ignored the attempted rebuff.

Enter Wayne Simpson.  I had advertised for a roommate in  the
Times ,  and  I received a call from Conn.  The voice began “I  am
black” and I replied “So what else is new?”

So  fortyish Simpson moved in with a 22 year old on East 48th
St., and talked the black experience for 3 years. We became life-
long friends.

He  said  he  was the first black to live on  the  east  side
(’50), that his name came from his family’s slave owner at emanci-
pation time. He worn a skullcap for 2 days before going out because
kinky hair was not “acceptable”,  entertained streams of male and
female  friends,  and occasionally we visited his friends in  the
fine brownstones of Harlem and hit the bars on 125th St.

When I asked him about rundown neighborhoods, his explanation
was  that because blacks generally had only entry-level jobs,  in
order  for  them to scrap together the down payment on  a  house,
severally families had to pool their resources, and then everyone
moved in and each worked two or more jobs to cover the  mortgage,
taxes and expenses.  They had no time to maintain the house. Made
sense to me.

Time goes on, and in ’65 I own the usual middle class home in
the usual suburban town of Windsor,  Conn.  (just north of  Hart-
ford).  I  am  aware  that there is a black neighborhood  in  the
eastern part of town.

I accept a job back in Pennsylvania, put a “For Sale” sign on
the front lawn, and within a week received a frantic call from my
wife that a nice black couple had come to look at the house,  the
neighbors  were  berserk and in tears over fear of  falling  real
estate values.  Our next-door neighbor,  from Scranton,  Pa. came
over  to  assure her that they would be happy  to  have  a  black
neighbor.

All  turned out “well” for Hope Circle? The couple never came
back, and we gave the house to a realtor.

And  I have always hated myself for making such an  impromptu
decision over the long distance telephone.

Back in Allentown, Pa. I called upon the pastor of one of the
black churches in the “black neighborhood”, to see what I could do
about race relations in town.

He totally shocked me when he asked, in all seriousness, if I
thought  blacks would be “allowed” to go shopping in the downtown
business district. You know my response.

We had always had multi-racial people in our  home—exchange
students, friends from overseas, newly made friends.

We  were pleased and proud when our daughter Ruth went to her
Senior Prom in ’77 with a oriental boy,  again pleased and  proud
of  her—and  Allentown— when she brought a black  boy  friend
Greg back from Georgetown University for an Easter week-end,  and
everywhere we went in town we were treated as just “persons”.

Now  one  of my homes is in Princeton,  N.J.,  in  the  black
neighborhood (I hope no one calls it a ghetto, though I have some
doubts).

I  have  no  doubts but that my black neighbors do  not  feel
welcome in town,  that “the man” controls their lives,  that they
suffer job discrimination.

And they still seem to placidly accept it.

I want to scream—and I do—just do it!  Go for  it!  Doors
have been opened! Doors are open!

Get those jobs! Get that education! Hold your head high! Live
a normal life!

Just do it!

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