If you’ve read much of my stuff you know that my serious moments are few and far between. This is one of them. I know it’s long but I really felt like I needed to type it as the 2016 campaign (finally) winds down.
Mrs. Blogmeister would be the first to tell you that most things I write start with an idea that I push to the back of my brain (there’s plenty of room there) and the words take care of themselves over a period of a few days. When they’re all there in a recognizable order I pound them out in a flurry of typing and then tweak and edit and massage until it’s as close to “right” as I can make it. I don’t know about other writers but that’s how it’s always been with me, especially when I was doing a lot of magazine work.
That initial idea can come from almost anywhere and I usually don’t concern myself with where that might have been and just roll along but this one demanded some introspection and I didn’t have to search far. Regardless of your political leaning (blog rule #1: unless that’s the purpose of the thing, never talk about politics), the words “sexist” and “racist” have been showing up in print and broadcast media more than any time I can remember. My personal view on sexism is really quite simple: as a male of the species I am happy to be married to someone superior to me in every way who doesn’t make a point of reminding me that she is superior to me in every way. I’m the son and brother of other women who enjoy the same status (and most rational men know I’m right).
The question of race is a completely different subject, however. When I was born the Emancipation Proclamation was less than 100 years old and the US Supreme Court decision on desegregation had been made only six years earlier. Growing up in New England there were nearly no African Americans (of course that term didn’t exist yet, to me they were “black”; the offensive nature of the other words in use at the time had been explained to me by my parents) so my first visit to the big city was a bit of a shock. During my Navy career I lived in suburbs of both Chicago and Philadelphia and was given a hard dose of reality when where you went on liberty was decided by the color of your skin. White guys to the nice part of town, black guys to the not-so-nice part of town. If you crossed that line (like an uninformed kid from a small New England town did once) it was immediately obvious you were not welcome and it was REALLY obvious when those of dark skin ventured into the realm of those of white skin. Racial tension and violence were a regular part of the news and sadly still are.
I set this lengthy stage to make two points. First, I was raised in a color-neutral household and didn’t worry about what race my friends and shipmates were and never had any issues with superiority or inferiority. That said, if I look inwardly with honesty, there’s no way to avoid the fact that I see people of other races as “different”. Not bad or good, not better or worse, but still different. I suspect that’s a product of the era I grew up in and I hope that the children and grandchildren of us baby boomers can remove that last barrier to equality so that everyone is just a person.
Second is the influence of the music of the multiple cultures that I have had the honor and pleasure of singing over the last nine years in the Windward Choral Society. The exposure to and study of the songs of the Swahili and Zulu and the gospel music of both pre- and post- Emancipation has had a huge effect on how I view the world of race. Understanding and singing this music has lifted my soul in ways and to places that are new and refreshing and enlightening. When my hero Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers were crooning ditties like “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” black churches were ringing with songs like “I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me” and “The Storm is Passing Over”. There’s depth and power and sadness and joy and hopefulness throughout the history of African American music that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else and I thank the boss-lady for working so hard to immerse us all so deeply into it. It’s moved that inner “different” to “not-so-different” and added a layer of appreciation and wonder that I never really knew before.
Lord, I do indeed know I’ve been changed..
As I wrap this whole thing up (and thank you for getting this far) I’m reminded of an interesting moment I had in the early 1980’s. The ship that I was serving on was in drydock in Portsmouth, VA, my first exposure to the southern part of the country. My best friend was an African American kid from Nashville and we did a lot of exploring through the mountains on our motorcycles. One afternoon we found a little bar in a little town that looked like a great place for a beer and strolled on in…oops. The blank looks on the faces of the bartender and cowboy hat-wearing patrons brought my gaze to the license-plate-sized sign behind the bar that said in big bold letters: NO NI***RS. As you might imagine we backed on out.
Fast forward to 2007 and the voters of that same state of Virginia helped add the title of “President Elect” to the name of a black man who would not have been welcome in that bar less than 30 years earlier. Regardless of your political views, you have to think that just may have been a significant step in a long journey to get that storm to finally pass over for good.