I am finding it increasingly difficult to fathom the rise in black racism in America. The first cause I ever got involved in was the Civil Rights movement. I grew up in the Deep South during the most volatile years of that movement. Segregated schools, movie houses, restaurants, water fountains, and public facilities on one hand juxtaposed against sit-ins, freedom riders, and protest marches on the other were some of the everyday realities of my youth. I was in 9th grade before the public schools in my community began the desegregation process; a process that Jim Crow politicians and school officials advanced at a snail’s pace. When my junior high school finally began the desegregation process, it was with the admission of one—just one—carefully selected black kid to the student body. This black youth, who turned out to be one of the brightest kids in our school, had to endure the same type of abuse as Jackie Robinson.
Several factors led to my becoming a Civil Rights advocate, albeit a young one. First, the hero of my youth was Atticus Finch, the father in Harper Lee’s groundbreaking novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Second, as I have written about at this site, segregation and the Jim Crow attitudes of the old South separated me from one of my earliest best friends; the child of a maid who worked for a well-off family a couple of streets over from my not-so-well-off neighborhood. He was a black kid my age named Richard. In spite of much adult consternation, Richard and I were inseparable until we reached the age of first grade, at which time we were forcibly separated—permanently as it turned out—by school segregation. Finally, there was the maltreatment of the young black kid who desegregated my junior high school during my 9th grade year.
I now understand that this young man had—like Jackie Robinson—been told he could not fight back. Rather, he was to endure the scorn, ridicule, and abuse heaped on him with stoic-like patience, which he did. I, on the other hand, had taken no such vow and found myself in frequent tussles on his behalf with classmates who had been taught by their parents and peers to hate black people. The new kid in school and I were not friends. He pretty much kept to himself. But I nevertheless found myself defending him when some of the less enlightened of my peers ridiculed, taunted, or otherwise abused him.
Even as a young man, I found the double standard of Jim Crow hard to take. To me it made no sense. I found judging people by the color of their skin to be not just strange, but illogical. After all, few of my fellow students could match the intelligence of the young black kid who broke the color barrier in our school. The color of his skin did not diminish in any way the agility of his mind or the quiet courage he displayed every day in a hostile environment. I can remember wondering why black people had to sit in the balcony of the local theater, could not sit at the soda fountain in the local drug store, and had to drink out of separate water fountains. To my young mind, these things made no sense.
When Dr. King was assassinated during my senior year in high school, I experienced a deep sense of loss followed shortly by a growing anger toward some of my peers who actually celebrated his loss. Even then I knew that Dr. King was no saint. There were aspects of his personal life that were embarrassing to his supporters. However, there was no question that he had carried the Civil Rights movement on his shoulders for many years, and had done so with great courage and self-sacrifice. By the time I graduated from high school, my commitment to Civil Rights was complete. Although my saber rattling on behalf of the movement did not always sit well with classmates, I continued to voice my opinions during debates in college classes where the issue had not yet been shunted aside by Viet Nam War protests—protests I not only refused to join but resented because they drew attention away from civil rights as an issue. In fact, I joined the Marine Corps after completing my second year in college.
With the wisdom of age, I now know that in my younger days the concept of all heat and no light often applied to me. My youthful passion for civil rights led me to erroneously view bigotry as something white people in hoods and robes inflicted on innocent black people. I mistakenly viewed bigotry as an exclusively white offense. That black people could also be racists never occurred to me. Fast forward to the present. As an adult I came to understand that racism is a function of the heart not of race. I now know there are racists in every race; something I understand intellectually but because of my past still struggle with on another level. I must admit that observing some of today’s black leaders exhibiting the same types of racial bigotry formerly associated with the KKK leaves me with a feeling of cognitive dissonance.
Whenever a black person behaves in the same manner as the hooded and robed bigots of my youth, I am still taken aback. I find myself wondering if everything Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders worked for has come to nothing. I often wonder these days how black people whose predecessors sacrificed so much to overcome the scourge of racism could stoop to practicing racism themselves, and not just against other races but against some of the best and brightest of their own race.
Unfortunately, black racism not only exists, it seems to be on the rise. The election of America’s first black president was supposed to bring badly needed racial reconciliation to our nation. It hasn’t. In fact, just the opposite has occurred. There are many examples of this phenomenon that could be cited, but in the interest of brevity I will focus on just one: the racist comments of Alabama State Representative Alvin Holmes. Holmes, a black man, has generated consternation among thinking people of all races with his characterization of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and U.S. Senator Tim Scott as “Uncle Toms.” But Holmes isn’t satisfied to confine his racist remarks to these two convenient targets of the left. In fact, Holmes is a walking encyclopedia of racist remarks.
The loquacious State Senator recently ruffled feathers when he claimed that white people are pro-life only until their daughters get pregnant by black men. Then he offered $100,000 to anyone who could show him that “a bunch of whites” had adopted black babies in Alabama. I tried to follow up on his statement and collect the reward but did not qualify because my long-time friends—a white couple—who have adopted two black babies are not from Alabama. However, in spite of being disqualified on the basis of a technicality I was pleased to see that Senator Holmes as deluged with photographs of mixed race families from Alabama and elsewhere. To further the Senator’s embarrassment, mixed-race families from all over the U.S. converged on the Alabama statehouse and held a rally. In spite of this, Holmes has refused to retract his absurd statement. Holmes is a salient example of how people of less character and moral strength than those who won the battle for Civil Rights have hijacked the movement and turned the dream into a nightmare. Dr. King must be rolling over in his grave.