An Undead and Omnipresent Past: a Selection of Southern-History-and-Culture-Briefs

A Mélange of Briefs of ‘Dixie’ & Culture & History

 

In a life of texts, so many different stories have come and gone that the variety can only lead to a swirl of half-remembered recognition and hopeful affirmation: that wasn’t so bad now, was it?  In the scheme of things, my inclination has always been to ‘go deep.’

Not only do my proclivities cause me to want really to grapple with a story and explain what the fuck happened and why, in something like thorough fashion, but I also basically insist that—lacking readers willing to go in-depth and writers willing to provide such probing narratives—understanding will remain a credulous fantasy under the most favorable circumstances.  My critics, bless their hearts, have long caviled, “You couldn’t write anything coherent and useful and short if you tried.”

This has always been wrong, but only when I’ve gotten paid or discerned other opportunities in scribbling briefs have I been able to justify the greater effort and more paltry results that attend keeping things diminutive.  Examiner is an exploitative trap, in my humble opinion, but, as is so often the case, I gave the site the benefit of the doubt for a month or so.

The end result was that I created fifteen or twenty four-hundred-word historical notes that in some way touched on my location at that time in Atlanta.  Voila!  Here are eight of those items; the others will follow in due time.

These little essays deal with issues of culture and media and color and more.  They are gems.  Anyone who would like to come to grips with the world that we inhabit—a place in which the conundrums of the South play an outsized role—might easily make a poorer choice than to examine these pieces from the Examiner.

In any case, they proffer something akin to ideation and insight and argument.  I recommend them without reservation: that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

 

An Initial Sally

Immigrant ‘Invaders’ in the Days of Our Great, Great Grandparents

 Reposted from Examiner.com

Trail of Tears sign Georgia Bar Journal cover
Trail of Tears sign Georgia Bar Journal cover

These days, along I-20 from Atlanta to Birmingham, State Troopers seek out ‘illegal immigrants,’ trying to catch and eject them from ‘America.’ Eighteen decades ago, along substantially the same route, the leaders of Georgia—who had recently inaugurated the country’s first ‘Gold Rush’ in Dahlonega–and Alabama—who were readying river valley properties for slaves to work–were preparing to throw out local native inhabitants so that the conquering European immigrants could do whatever they liked. Those who like ironic history will love today’s story.rect3336In mid October in Alabama, the local Choctaw Indians were finishing preparations for the first Indian Removals, approved by the U.S. Congress in May, 1830.Nitikechi, the Choctaw leader, was to call the forced relocation “a trail of tears and death.”rect3336Famed French commentator de-Tocqueville wrote his mother about this situation. “Americans of the United States,,,, reasonable and unprejudiced, and great philanthropists to boot, have taken it into their heads, as did the Spaniards, that God had given them the new world and its inhabitants in full ownership.” He described “an air of ruin and destruction” as the U.S., ‘reasonable’ in its processes, carried out this “final and irrevocable” eviction of Alabama’s rightful owners, including a 110 year old woman, starving to death, surrounded by grandchildren. “To leave one’s country at that age to seek one’s fortune in a foreign land, what misery!”rect3336In Georgia, meanwhile, across the Northern reaches of present day metro-Atlanta and stretching into other jurisdictions, authorities were preparing to dismantleCherokee settlements. The Legislature, having made communicating with Cherokees a crime, was planning to divvy up these properties among eager Whites when missionary Samuel Worcester, whom the gendarmes had chased into Tennessee the previous Summer, returned to bury his deceased daughter.
rect3336Catching Worcester in Gwinnett County again, these ‘police’ arrested him and brought him to trial in September, 1831. He was en route to Milledgeville in mid-October, where a judge had sentenced him to spend “four years at hard labor” for the offense of talking to the legal owners of Georgia.rect3336This travesty of justice resulted in one of America’s most famous Supreme Court cases, Worcester v. Georgia, that both ordered the preacher freed and demanded that the Peach State respect Indian property. President Andrew Jackson defied the High Court, however, and led his crew of U.S. immigrants on their merry way, throwing out the original inhabitants from throughout the South.rect3336

A More Contemporary, & Mediated, Moment

Every Day in History Is Important and Interesting–‘Hippy’ Media in Atlanta

Reposted from Examiner.com

"Great Speckled Bird" Banner http://www.greatspeckledbird.org/history.html
“Great Speckled Bird” Banner http://www.greatspeckledbird.org/history.html

Thirty four years ago this month in Atlanta, a young alternative media Phoenix breathed its last. The Great Speckled Bird (GSB) was just shy of nine years old. It distributed over four hundred editions, becoming weekly within six months of opening, chronicling an unexpected ‘New South’—a Dixie that promoted parity for women, legal drugs, free love, racial equality, peaceful foreign relations, gay rights, and a 100% “PARTY!” attitude that guaranteed loyalty among its core audiences.rect3336Many mottoes fit this ‘freak flag’ of ‘60’s-era ‘Peachtree’ cultural rebellion. But the publication’s clearly emerge from this poster, prominent in GSB’s wandering office. “If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be and what would I do?”rect3336That partying and naughtiness would appeal to teens and footloose adults would amaze no one. But the paper grew out of a 1967 antiwar newsletterpublished at Emory. GSB’s army of volunteers and occasional paid employees often ‘crashed’ in common quarters with SCLC and SDS staff; MLK’s chauffer, recruited from Oberlin, supposedly ‘tripped the light fantastic’ with GSB aficionados. This coterie of comrades believed in parties and purpose.rect3336Such transcendental rebelliousness could hardly enthrall Georgia’s political powers. “Hassles” beset GSB from the outset. Threats of litigation for ‘obscenity’ were common; the Post Office vowed to impede shipment; police and other ‘toughs’ harassed the street-level sales force on which the paper depended.rect3336Worst of all were the intimations of physical abuse. A firebombing in 1972 culminated this atmosphere of tension and intimidation. Despite evidence suggesting involvement of identifiable sources, the police never filed charges against anyone.rect3336Nevertheless, GSB persisted. This was during a time, as well, when infamous FBI “COINTELPRO” efforts infiltrated and subverted radical efforts, leading them astray and destroying them. Again, however, GSB weathered these storms, along with other progressive media icons, like Radio Free Georgia.rect3336So why did GSB expire in October, 1976? Students everywhere should study this question, if they hope either to understand how the past creates the present, or to bring about a future different from the present.rect3336Manufacturing Consent, a classic investigation of media and power, would be a good place to begin such investigation. Also, students could look into the vast written record, and create new oral histories, about this fascinating media phenom that died just over three decades ago.rect3336

Culture, Sport, Color, & Crashing Gates of Prohibited Contact

History Is Important and Interesting: An Atlanta ‘Sweet Science’ Moment

Reposted from Examiner.com

jack Johnson's Wives and Women Friends PBS Teacher's Guide
jack Johnson’s Wives and Women Friends PBS Teacher’s Guide

From his Atlanta compound, Evander Holyfield testifies to profound religious faith. Similar spiritual intensity erupts during training sessions, legendary in their ferocity. This focused fury surges most obviously in the boxing ring, where he has out-thought, out-trained, and out-boxed opponents.rect3336Twenty years ago, this scientist of the boxing ring pummeled “Buster” Brown into submission in Nevada during two and a half brief rounds. In the decades since, Holyfield banked $150 million, went through a bitter divorce, and lost his 109 room Peachtree City mansion to foreclosure.rect3336The “sweet science” pits highly honed hitting experts against each other, in an ancient fighting-art that emerged in its ‘modern’ form in 1681, when a British Duke showcased his butler’s battling his butcher. More than any other, this ‘sport,’ in which working class ‘blokes’ wail away at each other for prizes, illustrates both the spectacle and the social conflict, or competition, that the society surrounding boxing promotes.rect3336This process is a huge business, in which people pay either $50 to watch African Americans annihilate each other on television, or $5,000 to watch the same event ‘ringside.’ For many decades now too, almost all ‘heavyweight’ title bouts have matched one big Black man against another.rect3336This was not always so, however. For decades, the front lines of ‘racist’ conflict paralleled boxing. The play and movie, “The Great White Hope,” and the documentary film and history, Unforgivable Blackness, for example, accurately portray the travails of “flash-n***er” Jack Johnson, whom both government and business hounded after he started whipping White men, marrying White women, and generally carrying on like a free agent in ‘Jim Crow’ America.rect3336Joyce Carol Oates, legendary chronicler of boxing’s glorious contradictions, notes in her book review that “ostensibly passionate socialist” Jack London decried the beating that Johnson delivered to his outclassed opponent in 1908. “London was disturbed not so much by the new champion’s victory as by the evident glee with which he had imposed his will upon the hapless white man: ‘A golden smile tells the story, and that golden smile was Johnson’s.’”rect3336A crushing right cross twenty years ago sent one big Black fighter to the mat. The story of that Vegas contest, the tale of the ‘sport’ that put two giants there as antagonists, the surrounding threads of faith and money and social history invite students to examine a character like Evander Holyfield deeply enough to understand themselves better.

 

Grassroots Engagement & the Necessity of Political Rebellion

Every Day in History Is Important, Interesting: Don West & Highlander Center

Reposted from Examiner.com

Young Don West on a Motorcycle Northern Illinois University, Book Cover
Young Don West on a Motorcycle Northern Illinois University, Book Cover

Seventy-eight years ago, Don West, Myles Horton, and James Dombrowski had just embarked on the odyssey of the Highlander Folk School(HFS), which has played a key behind-the-scenes role in supporting civil rights, labor rights, women’s rights, and environmental justice in the South since 1932. Of course, students now almost never hear about HFS, even though it still operates in a Smoky Mountain, New Market, Tennessee home.rect3336
Least heralded of HFS’s founding trio, Don West’s North Georgia youth included lessons in Radical Republican anti-bigotry at his grandfather’s knee. He attended Berry College in Rome, a wild collegiate saga involving Ford family money and all manner of radical Reds.rect3336
When West fulminated a mass rally against the campus screening of “Birth of a Nation,” which included false and bigoted depiction of African American rapine as justification for the KKK, Berry expelled him. He went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he led a protest “against campus paternalism,” which also culminated in his expulsion, though his fellow students succeeded in gaining his reinstatement. Upon graduating, he enrolled at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School in 1929. rect3336
James J. Lorence writes about this period of matriculation. “As a student West visited Danish folk schools inspired by N.F.S. Grundtvig, who advocated curricula based on tradition and cultural heritage.” Because this visionary Dane “believed in the wisdom of the ordinary people above the educated and elite, and thought that it was the ordinary people who were capable of enlightenment,” the schools that he facilitated, like HFS, have fostered social transformation toward justice, equity, inclusion, and democracy.rect3336
West identified with this when he encountered this North European model, in the process also solidifying his intention to work with Myles Horton. West only remained on board at HFS for a year, however.rect3336
He came back to Georgia, where he promoted locally-based and student-centered education in Hall County during WWII. Later, teaching at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, he faced constant denunciation for his ‘communist sympathies’ from the Atlanta Constitution’s famous editor, Ralph McGill. rect3336
These attacks drove him from Georgia, but he and his wife eventually founded the Appalachian South Folklife Center in Pipestem, West Virginia. It still carries on West’s work, validating community values and encouraging a critical view of the way society works. Though students may never have heard of Don West, just such fascinating characters are readily accessible, proffering invaluable lessons about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Rebellion’s Seeds & the Possible Growth of Social Transformation

Every Day in History Is Interesting & Important: ‘Loving Your Enemies’

Reposting from Examiner.com

MLK Red-Baiting Billboard Highlander Center
MLK Red-Baiting Billboard Highlander Center

Fifty-three years ago, MLK was sick; he went to Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist to preach anyway. He felt a critical need to deliver his November, 1957 message. Most commentators on this famous sermon focus on King’s ‘love-your-enemies’ prescription. But MLK’s purpose in preaching-while-sick was more pointed than moral generality. His was a profoundly political hallelujah.

He contended that Americans failed to honor democracy. “(W)e have often taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. …(W)e have often … trampled over individuals and races with the iron feet of oppression. … (T)hrough our Western powers we have perpetuated colonialism and imperialism.”

One of the ‘enemies’ that he warned against hating here was Russia. One source for such insistence was the Highlander Center, where Rosa Parks studied just before she made her historic 12/1/1955 decision to break an unjust law and go to prison in Montgomery.

In fact, on Labor Day, 1957, MLK delivered an important speech to celebrate Highlander Folk School’s(HFS) founding. There, a supposed ‘freelance photographer,’ Ed Friend, spied on events for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Georgia’s White-Supremacist governor, Marvin Griffin.

One thorough annalist has pointed out, “Th(is) attack upon HFS was part of a larger effort to discredit and demonize anyone connected to the civil rights movement — in particular to … prominent national civil rights organizations.“

Photographer-spy Friend’s pictures showed-up in bigoted, ‘patriotic’ mass-mailings, calling King Communist. The ‘grain-of-truth’ in this assertion was the support that socialists had long offered civil-rights. Red-baiting campaigns-against-King soon went national, with billboards plastered around the South, bearing the caption, “MLK at Communist Training School.”

Lifelong social-justice-proponent, Anne Braden, sent MLK a 1959 letter cautioning him that Ed Friend had just testified in hearings to close HFS. Friend lied, “The greatest objection I had was that one… Negro preacher… there said that white people should be murdered to force the Federal Government to support integration…–that was Martin Luther King.“

MLK addressed this moronic assertion when he sermonized in Atlanta, closing by noting the historical tendency for some to be oppressors and some oppressed. He continued that neither violent uprising nor passive acquiescence was appropriate response to tyranny.

However, “there is another way. … to organize mass non-violent resistance based on the principle of love. …(T)his is the only way as … . we look out across the years and across the generations… .Love is the only way.”

Another Witness for Equality & Proponent of Justice

Every Day in History Is Interesting and Important: Arson Against Honesty

Reposted from Examiner.com

Lillian Smith in the 1960's University of Georgia Libraries
Lillian Smith in the 1960’s University of Georgia Libraries

Fifty-five years ago, at her Georgia Mountain domicile North of Atlanta, Lillian Smith returned home to discover that two youngsters had torched her house. These miscreants, far from acting at random, were punishing the brilliant Ms. Smith, who had lived among them for almost forty years.

Her ‘crime’ was simple: she communicated graphic evidence of bigotry and hatred that ruled much White Southern life. She refused to allow such detestation to overcome her humanity; in literary output, speech, and relationships, she articulated humankind’s oneness, writing MLK in 1956, “My warmest greetings to you…your congregation and… your people who are my people, too; for we are all one big human family. I pray that we shall soon in the South begin to act like one.”

Her life-story—helping parents operate a mountain-inn; running a Clayton girl’s camp and school; publishing daring denunciations of White supremacy long before such stances were fashionable, yields dozens of heroic narratives. People now most remember her books—novels like Strange Fruit–about a White man’s love affair with a Black woman–that Boston banned but that made her financially independent; psychological-autobiographical meanderings like Killers of the Dream, containing direct experiences and observations of hateful prejudice and its twisted contortion of human potential.

After the attack on her home, she began what she considered her most important statement explicating bigotry’s destruction of life and hope. One Hourreveals a deeply-layered, rich Southern slice of life, in which scornful presumption and unstoppable chauvinism induce violent tragedy. Interestingly, the plot revolves around false accusations of child molestation against a scientist, whose work undermines the superstitions to which people often cling in spite of such belief’s toxicity.

Smith’s life-work–persistent effort to foster social justice and clear psycho-social understanding–have made her a posthumous hero. Georgia Women of Achievement has, because she combined brilliance and courage, made Smith one of sixty-six inductees. Moreover, some literary or scholarly savant who advocates social equality and decries xenophobia’s insidious desolation, annually receives the Lillian Smith award, one of the highest human rights honors in existence.

Students, meanwhile, can, with Lillian Smith’s bright light, illuminate themselves and their world, a world where, as she noted with pathos in Killers of the Dream, quite often, “The human heart dares not stay away too long from that which hurt it most. There is a return journey to anguish that few of us are released from making.”

 

Fiction’s Truths in Service to Transformative Justice

Maya Angelou’s Literature As Historical Evidence

Reposted from Examiner.com

Ms. Angelou as a young writer University of Arkansas Libraries
Ms. Angelou as a young writer University of Arkansas Libraries

I can assure readers–in 1990, I was clueless that Evander Holyfield was bashing ‘Buster’ Brown’s face. Holyfield’s Atlanta presence, and his philanthropic reputation, I knew, but the fight scene discomfited me.
However, my son a week from birth, Thomas Raabe’s bibliophilism was familiar, quandaries of “choosing between eating and reading.” I kept a journal, religiously. My 10/26/1990 entry mentions a trek to Peachtree’s Oxford books, now disappeared in the relentless trend toward monopoly.rect3336Delighted, I found the new Paris Review, where Maya Angelou proffered an interview profound and subtle about texts, language, history, and courage. This dialog entered the historical record just as she was completing the dramatic portion of a musical collaboration, “King,” about Atlanta’s martyr to justice and peace. Also unbeknownst to me, her poetry volume, I Shall Not Be Moved, had just come off the presses.rect3336Such congruencies—interviews, plays, chapbooks—are mere historical blips; however, such conjunctions present opportunities for topical reflections.rect3336In her long P.R. talk with George Plimpton, for example, ingenious Maya asked readers to consider important ideas. She indicated that Thomas Wolfe erred in asserting that one “can’t go home again,” suggesting instead that no one truly leaves ‘home’ behind, childhood’s legacy sun’s inescapable shadow. rect3336She recalled her first Arkansas return, coproducing TV with Bill Moyers. Despite their joint “clout,” as soon as they departed her native village’s security, she insisted that they stop, so that she could switch vehicles and ride with the other Black folk. Remembered ‘country’ warnings, “dragons, fears, the grotesques of childhood always must be confronted at childhood’s door. Any other place is esoteric and has nothing to do with the great fear that is laid upon one as a child.”rect3336She mentions Nathaniel Hawthorne’s point: “’Easy reading is damn hard writing,’” while acknowledging her own autobiographical brutalization—the extrajudicial execution of her rapist, when she was seven, made her a “’volunteer mute.’…I thought my speech had killed him.”rect3336“Following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass”—a truthful first person narrative—she seeks out the tangible intersection of tragedy and possibility in the combination of opposition and commonality that all people share. Listeners must hear:rect3336

Momma, is Master going to sell you…tomorrow?
Yes.
Unless you keep walking more
and talking less.
…Unless you match my heart and words,
saying with me,
I shall not be moved.

History’s portal is ubiquitous; our attention and subsequent survival are choices.

Fighting Fascism With the Love of the Lovings

All History Is Important and Interesting: Color and Sexuality in America’s Past

Reposted from Examiner.com

The Lovings, a Loving Couple Getty Images
The Lovings, a Loving Couple Getty Images

For the South, William Faulkner said, “(T)he past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” One hundred thirty nine years ago Clarke County, Alabama proved Faulkner apt for Tony Pace and Mary Cox.

This pair apparently cohabited as loving wife and husband. Unfortunately for them, Alabama and most U.S. States proscribed Black/White marriages, outlawing miscegenation completely.

Thus, they faced charges of “Living Together in a State of Adultery or Fornication.” The penalty, were ‘wrongdoers’ both White or both Black, was a $100 fine or six months in jail; if the accused were differently colored, however, consequences ranged from two up to fifteen years in the penitentiary.

These defendants, upon conviction, received the minimum sentence; both appealed. A sympathetic White barrister took Pace’s appellate case pro bono and argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish continuity of relationship–legally part of the fornication charge. Cox’s lawyer contended that she should be released on a technical point.

Alabama’s high court affirmed both convictions, and John Tompkins paid all fees and undertook to appeal Pace’s imprisonment to the U.S. Supreme Court. He believed, even though recent opinions had retracted much of the Fourteenth Amendment’s proscription of unequal legal treatment, that he could convince Chief Justice Stephen Field and thereby free Tony Pace.

Alas, such was not to be: the Court’s holding unanimously agreed: Pace must complete his sentence. Though 140-years seems relatively distant from hateful attitudes, such misanthropy as Pace v. Alabama remained the law throughout the South until another couple, this time Virginian, faced prison because they dared to marry.

Tell the Court I love my wife,” Richard Loving instructed his lawyer. In 1967, the Supreme Court finally overturned this vestige of vicious color prejudice. Open-minded people cheered the result.

Commonly, such bigoted views seem merely useless ‘mistaken ideas.’ However, historians disagree; harsh, inhuman laws, going against “What Comes Naturally,” serve critical ideological and political ends. Julie Novkov, for example, leaves students with sage words to consider when they examine seemingly ‘mistaken’ past wrongdoing.

“The struggle against miscegenation was… a struggle to establish and maintain whiteness as a(n easily identifiable), separate, and impermeable racial category. … A black man with a white wife, (or vice versa), not only had the potential to produce racially ambiguous children but also undermined white supremacy, and thus whiteness itself, by openly melding black and white into the most fundamental unit of society, the family.”

***

Each of these tiny slices could expand into massive documents.  But, even as ‘chico’ as they are, they proffer readers with a place to start, diligently linked with other materials, about interludes in the life of the South that every literate citizen should comprehend in at least a minimal way.

As above, so below: that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Identity News, Color Blues, & Ethnic Dues

PART TWO-A

17In terms of narrative descriptors, what follows is something akin to Creative Non-Fiction; or fictionalized autobiography and reportage.  Inevitably, everything here is partial and hence, in some pure sense of the word, false.

That partiality results both from fallible memory and the inherent inability to show the real connections among each and every piece depicted, and all the parts of my life that ‘don’t make the cut,’ either because they don’t entail the bogus ‘racial’ category or because they lack whatever mix of macho and oomph that a good vignette ideally would manifest.  In any case, this sort of selectivity biases the sample, so to say.

And that’s just part of the story.  Mediation, scholarship, textualization, and the complex whorls of cultural impact are mostly missing here, despite the fact that all such matters intertwined with experiential materials that I’ve determined to incorporate.  Even to include a teeny, tiny fraction of all such interloping, interconnected, interrelations could make of each and every anecdote here a lengthy, intricate novel or other kind of narration.

Nevertheless, this mixture of memory and mediated meandering does come from the realm of the real.  It all adds up to, if not a portrait of a life—my life—with a certain and consciously chosen coloration, as it were, then at least a few ‘snapshots’ of that existence.

Norman Rockwell - Catch, The
Norman Rockwell – Catch, The

A Childhood Mainly ‘White’

With very few exceptions, folks of European extraction surrounded me in my early years.  In the event, at least one of these exceptional circumstances offers some telling insights, both about my family and ‘living in the U.S.A.,’ as it were.

My parents divorced when I was eight years old, a hideous sundering of what otherwise promised to be the typical admixture of nightmare and fantasy that is the vaunted American “middle class.”  While I won’t go in to precisely how, a possible racial component could characterize this break-up.  We got to stay in the house that sat on a nice street in a White neighborhood of a Columbus suburb, but the ‘wolves were howling’ in my mom’s mind, if not yet right ‘at the door.’

In any case, this eventuality soon enough hurtled my mother and her four chicks—of whom I was the eldest—into a proletarian condition at every turn.  A primary manifestation of that downward drop was in food: less of it was available, and peanut butter and jelly on bread became a mainstay for anywhere from a few days to a week each month, especially since the youthful Spindoctor, in particular, was “a hollow pit” with a “hollow leg” who threatened to “eat (us) out of house and home.”

Though such a development does not on the surface relate to ‘race’ in any but the intellectual or investigative realms, it soon enough brought about a confrontation with color in reality.  My mother’s talents as a wordsmith and secretarial wizard of almost unimaginable speed and accuracy sucked her back into the labor market, leaving the brood at home and in need of care.

A first, youthful caretaker, a just graduated neighborhood high school student at loose ends, did not work out.  Our second “babysitter” was a Black woman, stern and compact but efficient.

In one way or another, she took upon herself the task of making sure that we didn’t too quickly gobble up all the peanut butter and bread, sins of which I was all too likely to be guilty.  The upshot of this inevitable loggerheads was a confrontation between us, during which I scooted around our modest kitchen with a piece of Wonder Bread and a knife laden with buttery brown Skippy’s while our guardian scampered after me with a fly-swatter, generally ineffectual in her attempts to deliver a “good whopping,” like she said that I needed.

This led to a dismissal at the hands of my mother that evening, a sacking which the woman declared “racist” in every way.  “It’s because I’m colored!” she pronounced with a matter-of-fact mien that combined bitterness and resignation.

My normally articulate and tough-minded mother was at a loss at this accusation, since she had herself beaten me when I uttered a “nigger” that one of my fellow first graders had used two years before, but her celebrity-good-looks-secretarial cohort, Linda Lane, was with her and took over the role of interlocutor in this instance.  “I don’t care if you’re yellow, blue, green, or orange; you’re never going to hit these children again.”

The outcome of this imbroglio was that, at age eight and a half years, I became the de-facto overseer of my two ‘school-age’ siblings for a time, and then of the lot of them when my youngest sister too went off to Kindergarten and thereby came home each afternoon.  Plenty of other little incidents touched on ‘race’ while we lived in Ohio—the Navajo woman next door who had married a Manhattan Project machinist was a trip worth a novel or two—but, as noted, it was mainly a white-bread set of circumstances.

texas-87057_640

A ‘Browner’ Move Back to Texas

Divorce did more than introduce me to a ‘rainbow’ way of thinking in one particular case.  It launched our now five-member family unit, at the glimmering hint of a rationale—my step-grandmother’s brain cancer—back to the Rio Grande foothills of the Lone Star State.  Instead of a handful of occurrences that revolved around color, now thousands of such cases happened each year to all four of the little waifs who had just detrained from Columbus, Ohio’s upscale outskirts.

Each of the small proportion of ‘case materials’ that end up here, were it to occupy its natural page or two or three, would mean that PART TWO of this condensation of a life, would run to a small volume at least.  My response to this potential is twofold; in all of the subsections from here onward, at most one or two, or at the outside three, abridgments will show up ‘in full,’ while the remainder of the incidents will find company in more or less a page with more or less like bits and pieces.

 

ONE ANECDOTE

Texas represented an almost monstrous change for the children in this equation, though my sisters—younger, more resilient, who knows?—eventually did just fine with the transition.  I skirted trouble in half a hundred ways but then settled well enough into the nerd persona which was likely my fate anyhow.

My brother John, however—who both achingly missed our father, whom he had subsequently worshipped, and missed his friends in Ohio—at once hit the skids and discovered his inner entrepreneurial genius.  A novel or TV series lurks in these evolving eventualities, but in the abbreviated form here, the central element is that my very Gringo brother fit seamlessly into the barrios and ghettoes of Central North San Antonio.

He was only six when we arrived in Texas, and his big brother definitely was not his most supportive ally, or even a particularly apt pal, having failed to internalize ‘Grampa’ Hickey’s rule of thumb: to be ready to beat the hell out of anyone outside the clan but to form a seamless wall of solidarity against any threat to the family bloodline.  By the time that he was eight, John—unlike his brother, as naturally social as an ant and hilariously comic, with antics that more than once saved his life—had made friends far and wide around the apartments and rental houses that we occupied, changing domiciles every six months or so, on the near North side of the city, inside the ever-expanding reach of the I-410 ring road.

And he made himself useful, learning a serviceable enough Spanglish to take part in all manner of adventures.  His primary utility, in the event, was as a messenger and delivery boy, in modern parlance a drug-mule and courier.

He was riding his own scooter before he was ten, which he hid from all and sundry in the shed that sat adjacent to a little companero’s homestead nearby.  Much of brother John’s mechanical acuity came to the fore during this period, inasmuch as the conveyance in question was as apt to break down as operate on any given day.

His confreres in his daily rounds consisted of many urchins like himself, almost straight out of Dickens, except they were all Mexican American but for one much larger Black youth who would accompany my brother when he went into ‘certain neighborhoods,’ riding behind John as he zoomed from street to alleyway to sidewalk as if he had been born with an urban motorcross destiny.

His legerdemain as a driver, his derring-do, his ability to elude or jolly up any of the occasional coppers and other adults who took notice of him, occasionally with a passenger aboard, made him soon enough indispensable to what my classmates referred to—like me, without a clue at the time of young John Thomas’ role in the organization—as the ‘San Antonio Cosa Nostra.’  Whatever else was happening in these almost daily rounds, an ounce here or a bag of pills or cash there, only a tiny slice of it is possible to imagine exclusively or even mainly as ‘white privilege’ or ‘color prejudice,’ or, Lord have mercy, racism.

Apparently, once he began to sample some of the product, an inevitable wildness of a burgeoning puberty—in which a very precocious relation to young women of multiple hues, and some females not so young, all of whom found his adorable cuteness and youthful manliness irresistible—led to a situation that upended everything for my younger sibling.  He hijacked a pick-up truck, his careening navigation of which was not nearly so nimble as his perambulations aboard his scooter, and the wreckage that resulted, despite his and his paramour’s attempt at flight, led to arrest, probation, and ultimately—thanks to a definite instance of prejudicial intervention on his behalf by a White case officer who recognized nascent athletic talent and intelligence in this young gringo boy—football, another mixed-‘race’ mélange that might provide additional chapters, biographical vignettes, and so forth, at a different point in time.

*****

While ‘hermano Juan’ was up to all manner of mischief, his own hermano, and sisters as well, were undergoing their own ‘multicultural’ initiations to a different, Texas-sized, slice of the American pie.  Brother Jimbo’s first such contextualization concerned food, go figure.  He became an absolute aficionado of cheap and plentiful “all-you-can-eat” smorgasbords at the plethora of Mexican restaurants that graced South Texas environs.  His mom, frequently on first-name basis with the universally Hispanic proprietors, would often boom out, a hearty chuckle punctuating her commentary, that “they always say a ‘Hail Mary’ when they see you come in the door.”

School also introduced color-and-culture issues.  Through one of ‘Grampa’ Fox’s Catholic school board contacts, we all got to attend Longfellow Junior High School, though we weren’t, ‘technically,’ in its arena, a useful dispensation of privilege to the mother of a future nerd because its demographics were less brown and ethnic, and therefore better staffed and funded, and hence ‘intellectual.’  For reasons unknown to the unprepossessing Spindoctor, one Russell White, the school bully and ruffian who was nearing sixteen years as he tried to finish ninth grade for the third time, took a profound dislike to me, threatening, literally, to kill me on the way home the afternoon of our first crossing swords, so to say.  Lucky enough for me, a new friend, a Jewish fellow just arrived from Israel and almost fourteen as an eighth grader because of limited English—and even darker than Russell, whose “half-Black and half-Mexican and half-White” blend gave him the tincture and bone structure of a young Johnny Depp—was by my side when this all happened.  At the 3:30 bell, he took me in hand and led the gang that had undertaken the task of running me to earth a merry chase, the upshot of which was that we survived the afternoon.  Within a month, Avi—trained in Jaifa as a boxer—beat the snot and some of the pulp out of Russell in a gym-class challenge, and no further problems issued from that quarter for an otherwise not-particularly-martial Spindoctor.

Work, too, from bussing tables with variously ethnic coworkers, diving for pie and other uneaten morsels from the high-priced tables at a seafood establishment that one of mom’s Latino friends owned and operated, to all the other ventures that he had till college, contributed to his awareness and understanding of race and culture and related concepts like class, though no one had whispered of this latter notion’s existence yet.  Nothing inculcated this comprehension of skin-tone in conjunction with socioeconomic position like his sojourn at Texas Pharmacal, however.

A newly-minted subsidiary of New Jersey’s Warner-Lambert, pre-Parke Davis takeover or Pfizer merger, the local division executive’s executive secretary was mama Kassy, who made sure her chicklets had an opportunity for paying work each Summer.  In his first interlude there, before tenth-grade’s sophomoric initiation, the Spindoctor learned various valuable lessons: the cushiest summer-work in the plant was delivering the mail, reliably handled by the TP chief’s son.  Jimbo, meanwhile, had the initial assignment to fill in at different places in the firm’s assembly lines, where mainly spry and clever Mexican-American mothers kept pace with the speed-up protocols of the machinery, with occasional accompaniment from African American elders who also had the agility and eye-hand-coordination to let fingers fly through hundreds and hundreds of completed tasks every hour.

Jimbo, on his first day, believed that he had undergone a rite of passage to have stayed sane and focused through the first break, calculating that in two and half hours he had made two dollars sixty-two and a half cents—or about a half a penny each for the roll-on bottles that had whizzed by him so far—while the Spanish speaking women and one Black man who were on the line with him, after seven or more years at their jobs, had garnered three dollars eighty-seven and a half cents in the same period.  His consciousness was developed enough to realize that this relatively small difference in wage scale between a not-quite-sixteen year old rookie, literally first day on the job, and plus-or-minus ten year veterans, seemed somehow unjust.  He also had a developed-enough awareness to note that the beaming mail delivery by the boss’ well-scrubbed, pinkish, basketball-star son was also not in keeping with perfect fairness, as his mind resonated with his mother’s voice, “Yeah, well life’s not fair!”

In the event, when the rub-on deodorant assembly process began to roll once more after the break—not at the start-of-shift moderate rate but at the hyperkinetic pre-fifteen-minute-breather pace—and then got even faster, he expressed his capacity to act the Luddite and put his arm across the line after about ten excruciating minutes, spilling dozens of bottles of creamy chemicals all over the spotless concrete floor.  That was the last he saw of a machine-controlled environment that Summer or the next.  To the order-fulfilling department, or “Shipping & Receiving,” he went, where he worked with one Black and one Hispanic woman and three Black men fitting product into boxes as efficiently as possible, a spatial envisioning capability that came naturally enough to a Spindoctor to allow Summer’s completion with relative aplomb.

 

ANOTHER ANECDOTE

In the chronology of things in Texas, Jimbo’s year-later first semester at Thomas Jefferson High School, roughly one-quarter White, a bit more than a sixth Black, and the rest one variation or other of Hispanic American, was my grooming period for the potential leadership of the campus Reserve Officer’s Training Corps.  In this most modest arm of the military-industrial-complex another year onward, which moved the world along to the Fall of 1969, I had—by merit of grades and extracurricular prowess as an anti-communist orator and debater, and, truth be told, on the basis of very ‘White-bread’ good looks too, which Jimbo was unaware that he possessed—risen to the position of Brigade Sergeant Major, one of only two or three vantage points from which a further rise to Brigade Commander had happened in the past.

Rot-See did not exactly mirror Jefferson’s particular expression of diversity.  Only a couple handfuls of ‘the corps’ was Caucasian, two fingers of which held two of three Sergeant-Major positions, and well under half of the nearly four-hundred-member collection of squads and platoons and companies were Hispanic, one of whom, light-skinned and highly cultured, held the other Sergeant-Major niche.  Most of ROTC, in other words, consisted of not quite half of Thomas Jefferson’s Black population, none of whom held slots that would likely lead to top leadership positions.

One of these ‘capable servants’ of our mutual cause, so to speak, was another Junior, like me, by the name of Clyde McNeal, African American but light-skinned enough to look like a pale cousin of many of his Hispanic ‘fellow travelers,’ a lithe and voluble sergeant at the year’s outset, who drew the spot in the organizational chart that made him my ‘adjutant,’ more or less, his job “to assist the Brigade Sergeant Major in his regular efforts to uphold morale and discipline and advance and improve operation of the entire brigade,” or something similar.  I don’t remember that we accomplished too many special operations worthy of such a designation.

Mainly, Sergeant Mineer would ‘suggest’ something, and Brigade Commander Sibley would agree and tell me to come up with a way to ‘implement it.’  Maybe a couple of service ideas originated from my ever-active bureaucratic brain; definitely the inspiration to provide weekly escort-and-security at football games was my notion.  But I suppose, in the scheme of things, that we wrote military memos and gave pep talks and orchestrated having bodies in position at different events and occasions all during that academic year.

And I did play a role in all that.  Sergeant McNeal, whose typing skills already rivaled my mother’s legendary alacrity, was the designated compositor of all my fancies for doing whatever Cadet-Colonel Sibley directed, or whatever scheme that I dreamed up that Sergeant Mineer didn’t find too “hare-brained.”  In none of this process was I aware that ‘White privilege’ was in indisputable fact responsible for most of my opportunities to ‘show leadership.’  Nor did I concern myself with the fact that one fifth of the White membership of an organization, which as a whole constituted a little over two percent of the entire brigade, added up to two-thirds of the pool of candidates for next year’s lead job, which was, predictably, in the hands of another of the White members that year, in the person of Air-Force-Academy-bound Cadet-Colonel Sibley.

Truly, I was color-blind.  On the other hand, I was not a bigot, nor did I have a White supremacist bone in my body, unless taking one’s ‘fit’ for a leading role for granted amounted to supremacist thinking.  In retrospect, it was a cultural nexus of color and class and empire and more, which I only reflected on later.

In any case, as November wore on, well beyond the juncture at which the recognition that Jefferson—without my brother’s magic hands yet—would not advance to the football playoffs, I began to receive romantic notes and ‘gifts’ in my box in the Brigade Office, just outside of the ample space that Sergeant-Major Mineer, U.S. Army retired, and First-Sergeant Braxson, also U.S. Army retired, shared with each other while they chewed tobacco and ‘the fat’ together from predawn morning till late afternoon each day.  The receipt of such ‘smoking’ missives was something of a puzzle.

At that time, ROTC was exclusively male.  “Young ladies,” as Sergeant Mineer termed them with a merry glint in his eye, only very rarely came along to visit, perhaps once or twice a day with messages from somewhere else on Jefferson’s fairly spread-out campus.  And these ‘delivery-girls,’ as it were, were universally seniors, and unlikely to have developed a crush on a member of the debate team, a spirited nerd who spent most of his time either with other ‘forensics-program’ sorts or bustling about the armory, “policing the area” or dreaming up new memos or setting up classes for the military-specialty units from our annual regimen of ‘skills-to-imbibe’ that the Department of Defense provided us.

In any case, I kept the first couple of these love-notes to myself.  Their curlicued printing and lively punctuation did set my heart aflutter.  They were much more romantic than graphic, let alone pornographic, but they did express the “ecstasy of embracing you” and other phrases that inevitably turned a sixteen year old’s head, despite the fact that I had a pretty ‘steady’ girlfriend at that juncture, though this would only last through the Christmas holidays, as she proved a ‘fickle pickle’ and began to date elsewhere.

My discretion did not carry the day, however, since my always snoopy co-Sergeant Major, Richard Gamez, saw one of the leering ‘headlines’ one day just prior to Thanksgiving break—“I long for you,” it said—and spread the word that some sort of “wild, jungle-love-thing” was happening in the Brigade office, with a young and blushing Jimbo the object of someone else’s very heated affection and attention.  If anything, after we all returned from stuffing ourselves with turkey, the pace at which items appeared in my mail-slot picked up.

While no concerted effort to nab whoever was responsible for these materials came to the fore, an undeniably fervent interest about the situation permeated the Corps at that point.  Good-natured teasing was in any event rife; reliably ‘White’ as the youthful Spindoctor was, a scarlet flush was practically guaranteed in these instances.

Then, in a to-me absolutely unexpected turn of events, Sergeant Major Weynand espied the delivery of a heartfelt love plea on Pearl Harbor Day, 1969.  The perpetrator, and besotted erstwhile love interest, was none other than Sergeant Clyde McNeal.

The notion of homosexuality was pretty vague to me at that intersection in my life, notwithstanding years-ago frolics with the Whitecotton boys, both satyrs for sure, interludes of prepubescent ‘bonding’ in which brother and step-brothers took part in West Virginia, before we all departed for the Lone Star State.  At this juncture, sixteen and with a healthy fantasy appetite for ‘fun with girls,’ I had a primitive kind of sense that such proclivities in other young men might mean more willing women for me, but nothing definite, certainly nothing religious or moral, had formulated itself in my fevered then-pubescent brain when all of this exploded onto the TJ ROTC scene.  My more or less ho-hum disposition was not the common view, however.

On the contrary, a definitive movement soon arose to crucify cadet McNeal, drum him out of the Corps, and thereby reestablish something unstated, perhaps the sacred masculinity of the entire establishment.  “No Maricon!” was on many of my fellow cadets’ lips.  Nevertheless, basically without giving the matter a second thought, I put my response in writing.  “If he goes, I go.”

My intuitive sense was that this was nobody’s business but Clyde’s really, and possibly mine.  In any case, after my first sally that said in no uncertain terms how I opposed categorically any disciplinary action, young Sergeant Major Jimbo followed up with lengthier and more fully rational memoranda.

The upshot of the entire affair, in the end, came down to a split among the cadets themselves, but a tacit agreement between Sergeant Mineer and the school principal.  In this managed view of matters, Clyde McNeal deserved no punishment, and harassment of any sort would receive the harshest response, including expulsion from Jefferson.

While a now aged Spindoctor can look back on these events with a measure of pride—I naturally stood up for decency, or something similar, this is not the real overall lesson of those years.  That concerns the way that class and color and status and sex and cooperation and conflict and mutuality and self-interest and more all bubbled together in a complex stew that simple categories and explanations simply do not adequately address.

This was no more primarily a matter of oppression of imminent gay sensibility than it was mainly a racial stand-off.  Various tints of the social spectrum were obviously intrinsic to what took place, and how actors in these different social spaces viewed sexuality, or such other aspects of Eros as that, was also critical.  Not only did the whole scene contain such elements, but it also manifested much more besides, of a political-economic, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical cast as well, from which any who care to ponder the case might gain valuable insights.

*****

In fact, such a complicated interplay continued to define the remainder of my time in South Texas as well.  Among the eventualities that made that clear were others in which my experience in ROTC played a part.

Many Friday nights, under the glaring lights and amid the wild cheers and tribal songs of martial contest and glorious victory, in which the all-but-one-brilliant-young-Black-woman cheerleading squad led our chants and bolstered our ‘school spirit,’ I stood at the head of a contingent of ushers and overseers at our home stadium or “on the road,” wherever Jefferson played.  Fight the team across the field, show them Jeff High is hear.  Set the Earth reverberating with the mighty cheer—Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah!

My minions were, almost universally, Black and Hispanic.  Similarly, the quarterback was a young White god whose linemen, his cannon fodder, all sweated blood from brown pores of one cast, and one caste, or another.

Though I hardly noticed, chauvinism and privilege and color codes touched everything in my high-school life.  My ‘advanced’ classes were either overwhelmingly or exclusively Gringo; the Chemistry teacher, Mr. Gonzalez, was the only instructor of color whom I encountered in three years.

Somehow, through this adolescence in which what most people term ‘race’ played a significant part—a growing-up that emanated from a hyper-patriotic ninth and tenth grade anti-communism that was my basic ideological substrate, a point-of-view that was no more obvious to me than was the beating of my heart or the bellowing of my lungs—I came to embrace a truly staunch critique—both somewhat class-conscious and decidedly anti-‘racist’—of U.S. actions, particularly those which involved militarism or warmongering, and especially ‘adventurous intervention’ in Asia.  Though this sensibility did not manifest itself powerfully till the middle of Junior year, when my very conservative sweetheart and I split asunder, I began to hang out with the drama club crowd, who tended also to be White but who included most of the more or less ‘open’ gay students and a small swath of radicals of color, whose heightened political consciousness was, for San Antonio, way ‘ahead of the curve,’ so to say.

Thus, at the end of February, three days after I’d had the chance to serve as an ‘escort’ for all sorts of bejeweled White ladies at a Convention Center soiree, I sashayed into the armory one Tuesday wearing the black armband of Mobilization for Survival.  An article in the Express-News, without mentioning me by name, noted the “possibility that sedition and insurrection” might be swelling within student ranks, “and even in the venerable Reserve Officers Training Corps, at San Antonio’s very own Thomas Jefferson High School.”

I wondered if I would find myself either forced to commit what we mispronounced as Hari-Kari, or in other ways unable to continue my march toward a commanding position in the Corps.  I acceded to Sergeant Mineer’s bewildered mandate, turning a phrase as nicely as he might utter a curse, that “You sure as hell aren’t wearing that garish garbage over your uniform, Cadet Sergeant Major Hickey.”  To this, I readily agreed, alternately paled and reddened, as our almost Albino-white Brigade Commandant blustered at me in tones as fiery bronze as his blushing facial countenance.

 

A FINAL  TEXAS TALE

Despite Sergeant-Major Jimbo’s unexpected militancy about Vietnam, an aspect of the Junior-year debate topic’s concerning the Southeast Asian conflict—where I uncovered just incontrovertible evidence that the only patriotic element in the U.S. incursion there, amid Gooks and spooks galore, was to proffer profit to big U.S. businesses that could care less about the loss of soldiers, at least half of whom were an ‘of-color’ sacrifice, or the slaughter of civilians who were all ‘ethnics’—I apparently remained the likely recipient of the Colonel’s braid for the next year’s Cadet Commander’s position.  One more interlude presented a possible variation, though.

As 1970’s Spring semester unfolded, Jefferson instituted an, even for-that-period, even in Texas, quite harsh and restrictive dress code.  Though it did not significantly impact me, what with my almost crew-cut short hair and one-to-two days each week in uniform, it nevertheless seriously irritated the emerging Spindoctor’s sensibilities to such an extent that I chose to run for Student Council President.

Furthermore, nascent ‘Black Power’ and ‘La Raza’ feelings were also apparent, even at relatively staid ‘Jeff,’ as the ‘sixties’ were ending and the ‘seventies’ beginning.  My Drama Club friends and acquaintances very blithely inculcated this burgeoning democratic consciousness into an evolving Spindoctor belief system that looked less and less like the template of terror that young Jimbo had promoted theretofore, as an orator, an extemporaneous speaker, and as a talkative student citizen.

My old sweetheart came back.  Sergeants Mineer and Braxson smiled that they “saw no problem in pushing a vote for the Corps” in the Student Council race.  Clyde McNeal was on my ‘campaign committee,’ as was my debate partner at that time Albert, or as he stated the case with a rolling of ‘r’s,’ Alberrto Gutierrez, an almost unbelievably handsome and sweet-talking Mexican American whose family was a substantial proponent of ‘cultural pride,’ both in the community and at school.  We posted our campaign posters, which elicited universal chuckles and good feelings, around the campus: “Give Jefferson a Hickey,” my own slogan our recipe for engagement.  My bridge partner, bound for Stanford and a counsel for conservative or middle-of-the-road ideas, was the campaign manager, who in the end gave in to my developing, extremely democratic, message.

Jefferson had always ‘elected’ a White fellow to lead Student Council prior to that conjunction.  This year’s field reflected that history: eight candidates were Gringos, one was Black, and Vincent Torres was a brilliant Mexican American campaigner.

The first culling of this herd of wannabe politicos left five of us to deliver speeches to the entire student body.  I and three other White males, along with Vince Torres, stepped up to the Rostrum in early May of 1970.

By lot, I spoke last, always my favorite spot.  The only speech out of the ordinary—my three hypothetically closer cousins of the ‘Caucasus’ all emphasized school spirit and good grades and positive attitudes—was Vince Torres, whose talk focused on subtle issues of representation and change.

When I came to the lectern, the hush that came over the crowd and my entry into the orator’s zone that had won me a few prizes made of the next ten minutes—our allotted time to speak—a magical and torrid blur.  I spoke about the presumption of telling young adults how to dress; of the foolishness of preaching democracy without letting soon-to-be citizen practice it; of the heady potential of power to transform our lives and make of Jefferson a “true laboratory of liberty that might shake the foundations of Texas and the world.”

When I finished, a beat or two of silence ensued, before a deluge of cries of acclaim and thunderclaps of applause rose like a tidal wave that roared ashore in that auditorium; basically the entire student body leapt to its feet to shout out approbation.  Completely astonished by this, I looked around at the principal, assistant principals, and guidance counselors who shared the stage with us.

Their faces also registered amazement; as well as an unmistakable nervousness and even a little trepidation.  When the roaring and stomping and cheers did not cease, the principal himself, stern as usual, his face aglow with a sheen of uncharacteristic sweat, stepped to the podium and called for calm, ultimately lowering the cacophony to a murmur of surf that allowed for a dismissal of the captive pupils and an end of the program and the journey to lunch that was next on the agenda.

Vincent Torres and I faced each other in a runoff.  My speech became a basis for his victory, which according to what I heard was the biggest landslide in our school’s history.

Whatever other components of electoral maneuvering or behind-the-scenes posturing might have transpired, this event was a clear-cut expression of a new phase in history, when groups would choose from among their own to find leadership and imprimatur.  And, whatever the case may be, he was a much better, and eminently more manageable student leader than I ever would have been.

*****

 

As things developed, I was also the last White R.O.T.C. Cadet Colonel at Jefferson.  My turning down a West Point appointment may have been the final insult to the SOP that was tolerable, or the time may just have come for different scheme of things to rule.

In senior debate efforts, my Jewish partner and my Hispanic partner made us a more-than-usually diverse team, whomever I paired with on a specific weekend.  We won in fields that were overwhelmingly White and largely Anglo.

I dated Mary Alice Garcia for a time at the end of Spring semester, and our Latin-loving soul kisses might easily have gotten out of hand had I not skittered off in fear.  On our senior trip, just before graduation, we visited Monterrey, Mexico, where the taste of metal from foundries and blast furnaces and factories tinged the tequila that we snuck into our rooms to celebrate what was soon to be a real rite of passage.  A young Black beauty, Lorraine Thomas, and I spent an hour in the pool, kissing and petting before we, too, decided that going any further was too wild an idea for a virgin like the Spindoctor.

And then a new phase in instruction about color and class and consciousness was ready to begin.  More about that will follow shortly, as Part Two-B, so to speak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Identity News, Color Blues, & Ethnic Dues

PART ONE

Like most North Americans, diversity and division have defined my days here, which now number well over 20,000.  My parents met because my Irish, Scotch-Irish, French mother had an eye for Hispanic men, who were common as corn in South Texas, at a time when such liaisons brought ferocious reaction from parents and peers, and my father, with identical roots except German instead of French, wanted to fly fighters against North Koreans, mere gooks in the parlance of West Virginia’s hills and hollers, men and women whom his country had goaded into war.

That a deaf ear—the result of a hunting accident—would permit him no notoriety above that of a jet-engine mechanic altered the course of his training to Lackland AFB’s vast swath of the hill country South of San Antonio.  There, a ‘blind date’ brought my soon-to-be mom and dad into a heated conjunction, the result of which was me, albeit I came along in the mountainous countryside near Wheeling, instead of in the Lone Star State that conceived me.

And now, in my seventh decade hence, I sit in the higher massif of Western North Carolina, where I ponder so many years in the midst of what almost everyone around me calls race, a category as nonsensical as the notion that creatures of the same species have any relation but those of siblings, parents, offspring, various uncles or aunts, and cousins, which is what all of our sort on the planet are to each other if they do not stand in the first set of relations to any particular friend or acquaintance or stranger.  Seven billion of us live on Earth: All God’s Cousins, as I’ve entitled the first novel that I’ve been penning for myself.

I’ve composed multiple bits and pieces of scholarship, argumentation, articles, features, and research-based essays on these topics.  To initiate this litany of what is essentially a series of vignettes and anecdotes from Spindoctor’s life and times, an abstract that consists primarily of quotations from six such narratives follows here.

troy-davisA very specific item on Daily Kos concerned the judicial murder of Troy Davis for a crime that he did not commit.  Here is a useful contextualization of that point.

“Today, seven of those nine observers take back their testimony, admitting that they cannot state with any certainty who pulled the trigger and slayed an honest cop doing good work.  At least four of the seven retractors currently insist that police threats–of various sanctions against them with criminal consequences–played a gigantic role in suborning perjury against an innocent man who will die in a few weeks at our collective hands.  Mark Allen MacPhail’s death is a fact; that someone gutlessly murdered him is a fact; Troy Anthony Davis’ conviction for that soulless crime is a fact.

But we should make no mistake: copious other facts are now at hand, including and in addition to over three quarters of the eyewitnesses, who formed the sole basis for the State’s pinning this act on Mr. Davis in the first place, having recanted their statements.  Therefore, his actual guilt is at best one possibility among many others that can account for the cretinous and hateful destruction of Officer MacPhail’s life.”

That Troy Davis was Black and poor was the main surface basis for his death.  However, reporters on the ground in Savannah such as the Spindoctor, as well as observant citizens there who lived and worked in the neighborhoods where the unfortunate Mr. Davis resided, knew that at least as pertinent was that the likely perpetrator of the fatal shooting of a moonlighting policeman was a Savannah Police Department informant whose work and identity were of more importance than either a working class cop’s death or another working class bystander’s falsely and perniciously becoming a scapegoat for the officer’s murder.

Shortly after writing the futile DK plea, a more academic assessment of this sort of wrong followed, which focused mainly on the origins of what one might term an environmental justice movement, and on the documentation of wrongdoing and injustice on which any such social motion depends.  The following lines offer something like a summary of that work.

“For many centuries, a darkly ironic conception of justice ruled in Dixie.  ‘Just Us’ referred to the accurate formulation that legal remedies and the assistance of police and other governmental agents was not only decidedly not available for African Americans and other people of color—and to a large extent, poor people as well, but also that the relations with courts and the ‘long arm of the law’ generally took place as hostility, exploitation, and viciously corrupt practice. …

(Such issues extended to almost all aspects of environmental health and pollution and such other related matters).  Martin Luther King called C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow ‘the historical Bible of the civil rights movement,’ yet I imagine that very few JustMeans readers other than Jimbo have heard of the volume, let alone having read it.  The set of those who would connect this tome with energy and environment issues would contain at least one member, but probably only one member.

The Louisiana Environmental Justice Community Organizations Coalition(LEJCOC) stands for this sort of historical recognition that governs the social orientation in the present, recognizing also that ‘to support and address the needs of environmental justice communities in Louisiana: including poverty, health, racism, crime, violence and other social-economic problems’ requires the ability ‘to bring poor and environmentally-challenged communities in Louisiana to the table with governmental entities and industry ….’”

Just as in relation to the barbaric sentence against Troy Davis, so too here, then, a combination of a broader brush and more nuance than a race-based assessment is a sine qua non of progress.  Color may indeed be the key component, but it alone cannot lead either to understanding or to solutions that address these issues of environmental and other types of social wrongdoing or disparity.

A third missive, a bit wider in its outlook and yet also barely scratching this all-too-superficially plumbed surface, examined ‘race’ and mediation and social justice through a lens that used popular culture as its focal point.  “From Barkhad Abdi to Krishna’s Command About Duty” follows the fact that everything social touches on everything else of such a kind to look at questions of empire and psychology and color in relation to media and popular culture.

“The point of all of this, hopefully obvious, is that things are comprehensible if and only if an onlooker is willing to juxtapose apparently disparate pieces in such a fashion as to see the whole in relation to the parts and vice versa.  No other set of methods will ever yield outcomes other than rudimentary portraits, which in themselves have nothing to do with action, power, or possibilities of transformation. …

(In contemplating Barkhad Abdi’s Hollywood travails, for instance, one would need to consider the young performer’s roots). For many … arid milennia, the traders and warriors and clans of what we now call Somalia played a key role in the manifestation of social relations there.  They mediated markets from across the Indian ocean that shipped spices in return for hides and specie and, often enough, slaves.  They provided waystations for those who hoped to trade otherwise with subsaharan Africa, including those who wanted to purchase human flesh.  They were capable enough sailors that they made excellent merchant mariners and, more recently, pirates, such as those that Barkhad and his friends played in ‘Captain Philips,’ especially now, when sociopolitical and ecological factors have combined to impel them. …

(Layering further swatches of history and depredation and colonial and ethnic conflict onto each other is part of Abdi’s life). (In this vein) (o)ne can read of the intertwining of English imperial efforts in India and Somalia throughout Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, which tells of her ‘adventures’ in Kenya under the tutelage and protection of Farah, her Somali ‘chief-of-staff,’ in relation to all manner of other characters from Arabia, India, and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa itself.  On her departure from the country, she describes the ‘entire’ Somali population of Nairobi’s turning out to see her off.”

Anything like race, if the notion has meaning other than fetish or bugaboo, has little to do with Abdi’s plight as an underpaid actor in a hyper-privileged environment.  To look at this issue and most others in the world today necessitates that a thinker ‘intersectionalize,’ so to speak, multiple ways of contextualizing things, a process in which not only is color only one of many factors to take into account, but also its meaning is one that comes from its relations to everything else, and not at all from itself.  All such racialist tunnel vision is at best flawed and largely false.

Another—a fourth—Spindoctor blog, this also from the Solidarity Forever website examined an instance of Southern History that also revealed the complex and interconnected subtleties that make up what most people today simply ascribe to race and racism.  The case at hand in “Tearing Down the Walls” involved one of the ugliest and most effective divide-and-conquer schemes in history—the convict lease system—which continues in new forms to proffer both exploitation of and hostility among workers to those who already own everything on Earth.

Tennessee-republican-broadside-coal-creek-warThe “Coal Creek Wars” concerned the mineral and metals district that centered on Chattanooga, stretching from Birmingham to Knoxville.  In it, White supremacist attitudes toward Black workers did not keep mine owners from using often enough illegally incarcerated African Americans whenever profit or class war called them to do so, with “the stern hand” that such ‘dusky workers’ needed.’  An intense battle of classes soon became unavoidable in this context.

“One interesting aspect of this upheaval was that the miners were plus-or-minus ninety per cent White and the prisoners were almost one hundred per cent Black.  Another fascinating piece of this story was that the union and unorganized colliers, with allies from community businesses and local agriculture, repeatedly confronted the militias assigned to oversee the prison-mines, and forced the release of the Black men incarcerated their.   The victorious coal miners in such cases packed the jailed workers off to the State capitol or to Knoxville in the company of their keepers.”

Media and cultural ‘leaders’ like preachers—either universally or generally, respectively—renounced miners’ acts on their own behalf.  ”No matter that media and social leaders condemned them, however, beginning October 31, 1891, the up-in-arms miners took things a step further.  They had become irretrievably disenchanted with established norms and approaches when Governor John Buchanan, a Farmer-Labor-Alliance Democrat, whom they played a big role in electing, not only failed to find a way to end convict leasing but also led some of the militia units to East Tennessee to ‘restore order.’ …

For over a year after July, 1891, when large scale direct action began in earnest, the mining district of Tennessee became even more an armed camp than it had already been, off and on, since the end of Reconstruction.  A state of something like warfare prevailed.  Not until a year or so prior to Tennessee’s ending the convict lease in 1896—the first deep-South State to do so—did outbursts taper off and end altogether in the deep hollows of the Cumberlands, the Smokies, and the Blue Ridge.”

Again, relying on race and racism wholly fails to account for what occurred.  A different rubric, richer and more multihued, must replace an explanatory nexus based primarily, let alone exclusively, on color.

33 RACISM JV“We’re All Cousins After All” provides an overview of the material that people, at least plausibly, need to ponder in connection with this ideation, a fifth instance of Spindoctor narration.  As with the material on environmental justice, this reportage occurred on JustMeans, arguing in terms of corporate social responsibility and sustainability that issues of color, and the supremacist ideology that different coloration elicits, required more than conceptions of race in response.

“My title today alludes to a long-ago essay, one of the first that I ever published, the original of which lies at the bottom of some mile of files, or at the back of a stuffed file cabinet drawer.  It’s the answer to the ‘Jeopardy’ (prompt) that is arguably the most important inquiry that we can (make) in these days of troubled times.  ‘(T)he scientific relation between each person on earth and every other person who is not some stripe of parent, sibling, or offspring?’”

Of course, the answer is, the question, “What is a cousin?”  This past Spindoctor essay continued,

“As any who have taken the time and energy necessary to plow through what I’ve been writing can testify, much of what I convey revolves around more or less complicated skeins of relationship. …(proceeding to examine sources both scientific and Marxist in their orientation to knowledge)… This theoretical and scientific undergirding that informed my notions of color and class actually, since I was neither a philosopher nor a scientist, but a student of history, grew out of my focus, beginning as an undergraduate and continuing through forays in grad school and from then until now, on the meaning and development and possibilities of life in the Southern United States.  Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Native Son still provide clearer conceptual foundations for discerning Southern History, which revolves around the vortex of slavery and White Supremacy; and U.S. history, which revolves around the vortex of Dixie; and world history, which revolves around the vortex of the USA than do any number of ‘standard’ annals of the past. …

And through everything runs the thread that defines the fabric of Southern existence: the enslavement of tens of millions of cousins over a period of centuries, whose offspring are friends and neighbors and fellow citizens today, whose lives and prospects form a distinct, and often central, component of contemporary life–of my life.  Without doubt, the primary analytical and conceptual methods for dealing with this complex of historical fact and current conflict swirl around the idea of race, the explanatory upshot of which almost always devolves to racism. …

As today’s article unfolds itself in a reader’s mind, I ask that they repeat the accurate notation that the title advances: “We’re all cousins after all.”  (Joseph) Graves gives us a sturdy simple tool with The Race Myth, which he follows up with the expanded and updated The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium.  Matthew Hughey proffers an informative orientation to the path down which Graves wants to take us, and, quite plausibly, down which we had better move our fannies directly.

‘Graves’ work was written (first) to dismantle the so-called scientific basis … of the actual existence of race as a typology devoid of racist content and conjecture, and second, to expose the politically motivated ideological underpinnings of biological descents into the abyss of racism.  Thus, Graves examines the history of biological diversity from a modern scientific perspective.  He writes, ‘…what we call ‘race’ is the invention not of nature but of our social institutions and practices.  The social nature of racial categories is significant because social practice can be altered far more readily than can genetic constitution.’ …

(President Lincoln understood that) (s)lavery remains the central most dispositive truth of American history. …And thus spake Abraham: Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’

And we could rub the readers nose in the fact—these are as close to ‘facts,’ in any event, as we’ll ever get in relation to the past—that the recompense, the remuneration, the payback, for the two and a half centuries under the law of the lash has yet to clear the bank of history.  ‘Jim Crow,’ as we saw yesterday, and viciousness to make the blood flowing from the screen in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ seem like a mere sprinkling of mist, have predominated in relation to the ‘Black Man’s Burden’ of carrying the profitability of capital on his sturdy shoulders.

Closing our eyes to this tale, even if we don’t want to hear it, may contravene an easy path to a decent future.  The long knives of systematic gore and carnage are capable of popping up quite quickly.  We have little time, very possibly, to ‘straighten up and fly right,’ as my momma always liked to say.”

Now that’s a really long quotation from an analysis that the Spindoctor composed seven years ago almost.  It’s over 30,000 words long, and maybe a hundred people have read it.  Unfortunately, everybody on the planet ought to check it out, not that this assertion, or its possible truth, make much difference.

Fitzpatrick Color Chart
Fitzpatrick Color Chart

Undaunted nevertheless then, finally, another longform report argued that “The Race Trap” has become an insidious aspect of contemporary culture and politics.  It gives the most comprehensive and racially-centered aggregation of the Spindoctor approach to these thorny elements of the current context.

To wit:

“If a prime purpose of thinking and study and discussion and learning ends up as something like reasonable action that improves human life, then the overwhelming majority of SOP mediation that happens today in this largely intellectual and dialogic sphere is, viewed most optimistically, counterproductive and absurd.  This assertion might appear quixotic and clearly makes a disputatious claim.  However, this essay will contend that at least provisionally it proves that contention, in relation more exactly to broadcast or otherwise distributed discourse about social conflict that reputedly involves ‘race,’ ‘racial differences,’ ‘racism,’ and so forth.

In essence, because precisely one human race exists, ‘racism’ only addresses a socially developed concept about a false idea, that different races with different biological qualities in fact are a part of the human condition, a popular and yet completely incorrect conceptualization of human social relations that inevitably colors and distorts what happens among diverse social actors, probably in a completely toxic, and ultimately in a totally self-destructive, fashion. …”

This does not mean that color prejudice and White supremacy don’t exist.  On the contrary, “At least as much as any other correlative, the capacity to resist force against oneself or one’s friends or one’s family is a sine qua non of social potency.  In the United States, the uncounted thousands of police and vigilante murders—and hundreds of thousands of assaults—each decade fall with such massive disproportion on people of color, and Black folk first among these assaulted populations, that any notion that chance determines this fate must look surreal.  The very fact of the disparity is explosively ubiquitous at all compass points, both ideological and cultural, in mediated assessments from every possible place on our planet. …

(Moreover), (t)he American Civil Liberties Union summarizes (another aspect of) this malicious and detrimental incongruity, irreconcilable with anything other than vicious injustice, double-dealing, and purposeful division: “Even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise: 35% of those arrested for drug possession; 55% of those convicted for drug possession; and 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession.

This skewed enforcement of drug laws has a devastating impact.  One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are currently either on probation, parole, or in prison.  One in five black men have been convicted of a felony.  In seven states, between 80% and 90% of prisoners serving time for drug offenses are black.

(Literally scores of additional examples of discrimination and vicious supremacist thinking show up.  However), (a)gain, coloration, or race, does not cause or play a significant role in this opportunism and exploitation: these malefactors come in all shades.  What turns out to be dispositive, again and again and again and again—and again—are the twin factors of geopolitical strategy, along with its scramble for resources and markets, on the one hand, and the capacity to control and dispose of vast armies of labor and muscle, as well as buckets of cash, on the other hand.  Skin color just doesn’t explain either the political economic tangles or the socioeconomic conundrums that capital causes in these struggles and then solves to its own advantage until working people of different colors—can anyone present say Cuba?!—have united to oppose bourgeois overlords. …

Arundhati Roy in 2013
Arundhati Roy in 2013

Perhaps a brilliant epigram from Arundhati Roy, a multihued writer of color, gives form and thrust to what the Spindoctor has been developing here.

‘Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it.  To deprive it of oxygen.  To shame it.  To mock it.  With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories.  Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few.  They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’

The most recent Nobelist of color guides those willing to follow to the most crucial reason for abandoning ‘race’ as an organizing principle, for rejecting ‘racism’ as the causal agent of oppression and exploitation and vicious inequity: no matter one’s ‘good intentions,’ insisting on racial categories lets the real factors that cause our woes escape notice; insisting on racial categories gives elites the chance to ‘toss a bone’ to the crushed masses that does nothing to change fundamental problems; insisting on racial categories, in a busy and crowded world, will always cause opportunity costs since one can only do so much, meaning that the real causative elements receive short shrift or no attention at all.

Whatever else the Spindoctor is, he is not a complete idiot.  He does not expect these notes to be popular.  He realizes that busy people with many beautiful ideas of their own will resist even delving into this oeuvre, let alone reading it all.

Nevertheless, to those who don’t insist on obfuscation or denial—ah, the river in Egypt—this much must be clear.  We are all cousins, unless we have an even closer kinship.  The differences among us are tiny, relative to our genetic code, our biological template.

Whatever the case may be, this recounting of a body of work is not an excuse to continue in the same vein, though I might do so in ways that would continue, at a minimum, in interesting and engaging me.  Instead, the purpose of this intellectual overview was to provide a basis for introducing an extremely personal, extremely observantly-lived existence that has—almost literally on occasion—burst with the contradictions of the rainbow coloration of the human condition—sort of a ‘Color in the Life of Cousin Jimbo’ narrative for all to ponder who see fit to do so.

This is a first installment.  A continuation, quite quickly, is forthcoming.  That’s a promise, not a threat.