I learned a lot yesterday. Today I wonder why I didn’t know it before. So… Looking in my rearview mirror I saw why. No one can know everything and one thing I didn’t contend with a lot back in the day was the news. I shared Thoreau’s view:
I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter,—we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.Walden Henry David Thoreau
I wondered if EVERYONE knew this stuff and I didn’t because I’d never been interested in the news. I will never know, but throughout my life I’ve felt my first responsibility was to my life and its innumerable imperatives, not to a lot of information I couldn’t do anything about. Now we live in a time when even news is news. Anything a president says is news and this was an item of news I read yesterday, “The President tweeted 30 times in the last hour.” Nothing about what the president said. The news was that he sent 30 messages into social media. The implication was that he should have been doing something else instead.
That’s a pretty significant message. It made me think I should be doing something else instead. 😀
I’ve been puzzled by the term “systemic racism.” It seems obvious enough, I guess, racism built into “the system,” but even the term “the system” is vague. What system? WHICH system? In my little mind, racism is the way people treat each other, but yesterday I watched a video that revealed — defined — systemic racism. It brought back a lot of memories. As I watched I remembered listening to my parents and Aunt Martha back in the early 1960s talking about integrating neighborhoods. They had a LOT of opinions, one of which was that it was the right thing to do but people wouldn’t like it. I took from that the idea that segregated neighborhoods were wrong. “They don’t want to live with us any more than we want to live with them,” my mom said. “Anywhere they go will turn into a negro neighborhood.” (Negro was the preferred term in those days, so don’t jump on me about that.)
I heard a lot of things from those disputes, but since I was a little kid it didn’t mean much. Even while they were having these arguments they were raising me to take every human individually and not take skin color seriously. They were probably prejudiced (or realistic?) but their ideal was better than they were (as ideals should be).
I watched the race riots of the time on the TV news. It was hard to believe what I saw — cops clubbing people, dogs going for the throats of black people, just general inhumanity. My parents were as shocked and aghast as, I imagine others were. From the back seat, I heard Dr. Martin Luther King speak over the car radio. I remember the Black Panther movement. All of that, and all it said to me was, “Be nice to people.” I was naive enough to think that that philosophy was shared by the people in my country. When I was in my 30s, living in a poor, mixed race neighborhood in San Diego, I saw that poverty, lack of education and unemployment were the big problems. Not everyone in my neighborhood was black or Latino. There was a handful of white families living in the same struggling conditions. Equal opportunity was a myth.
I was one of the few who had an education and something like a real job, but even then, like most of the people around me, I had three jobs. Teachers were no longer being given tenure in colleges and universities. I was a part-time teacher at three schools. I didn’t know from semester to semester where I’d have classes or how much I would make. There were months I didn’t earn my house payment.
Sometimes I remembered my parents’ arguments, and someone saying, “What white person is going to move into a negro neighborhood?” Well, I had (minority neighborhood) and I liked it fine. I also believed it was right for me to be there.
For a few years, the neighborhood was violent with lots of gang action and drugs. From time to time a meth house exploded. Finally a police station was built where the grocery store had been, and all of our lives improved.
The cops were awesome. They made it their mission to get to know who should and who should not be in the neighborhood. They went door-to-door introducing themselves. A white Wiccan couple moved in and adopted a little black boy. Come the winter solstice, the Wiccans had a ceremony in their front yard. Essentially, it was a bunch of white people wearing white robes, holding the hand of little black kid. People called the cops to say there was a KKK meeting going on and seven police cars showed up at their house. The next day the cops went door-to-door with a handout about alternative faiths and invitations from the family for everyone in the hood to come for a tea party the following Saturday. People went.
My particular experiences related to minorities and police are relevant to me, but they didn’t change the world. I particularly hate it when someone stands up and says “Well, when I lived in a black neighborhood, WE…” as if it were a universal experience that should define beliefs and actions for everyone everywhere. I know mine is NOT a universal experience, but it all really did happen.
A few days ago I wrote on this in my post, “Life and Learn, Dammit!” and a new reader commented. He has an interesting blog that is well worth checking out, Robert Matthew Goldstein. I have sincerely been seeking answers to my questions and he offered one that, I think, hits the nail on the head. In our conversation he said that the South never accepted defeat.
This guy grew up in Charleston, SC… He added a link to the text he mentions and it was fascinating reading. https://archive.org/stream/reflectionsoccas00acha/reflectionsoccas00acha_djvu.txt
What struck me was the idea of “cheap labor.” As a part-time college teacher I was cheap labor. So all of us in my hood were somebody’s cheap labor and it was in their interest to keep us down, to keep us insecure and struggling. I fought against the part-time teacher thing as much as I could which wasn’t much since it took a minimum of six (writing!) classes a semester for me to hold my life together. My mentality — and that of everyone I knew in the same boat was, 1) someday I’ll get tenure, 2) if I fight against this, I won’t have work. THAT is an infinite loop. If things were to be made fair, tenured faculty via teachers unions would have to fight FOR us and that wasn’t going to happen. Tenured teachers said of us adjunct faculty, “If they were any good, they’d HAVE tenure.”
I could see that the football coach at the university where I taught had a contract that paid him $4,000,000/year and I had a three year contract on which I had to teach 5 classes/semester (tenured faculty taught a 3/2 schedule — 5 classes/year) and was paid $24,000/year. I did get “benefits” including excellent health insurance and retirement. But IF I had not scored that particular part time job?
Then, yesterday, I watched a video (below) that explained how racism is built into the American system as a way to ensure the availability of cheap labor. Cheap labor depends on diminishing educational opportunities, for one thing, but also making it impossible for people to acquire wealth — wealth being, essentially, home ownership. In this I was lucky that my Good X and I had bought a house, my house in the “hood.”
Because it was a minority, high-crime neighborhood (which we did not know when we bought) the house was cheap, especially for San Diego. It was also a mess. It was a two bedroom house built after WW II. In and of itself, it was a pretty little house with lots of light, two large bedrooms, a large kitchen. Because we bought that house, I have a house now.
The people who’d rented it from my X’s friend had trashed it. They had sold drugs from it, had repaired? stolen? cars and the yard was littered with automobiles. It looked like a crack-house/junk-yard. There was a VW beetle literally hanging from the palm tree in the front yard. There was drug paraphernalia all through the trashed house. We went in, cleaned it up, and lived there. During the cleaning process, a guy came by to buy drugs…
We were always afraid that the notorious “William” would return seeking revenge. William was white. The neighborhood at that time was also an enclave of the Hell’s Angels.
We got this wonder for $68,000. I loved living there and those 17 years were among the greatest in my life, but it had its challenges…
Everyone in the hood was struggling along with me. I didn’t realize the bigger picture of WHY everyone in the hood was struggling.
Here is the video I watched yesterday. It explains how the system built racism into it to ensure that minorities would find it so hard to prosper that a supply of cheap labor would always be there. It explains what my blog reader meant by the south never surrendering. It illustrates how a system (university, college, factory, government) could benefit by making it very difficult for people to prosper. I got from it — though it doesn’t say it outright — how creating tension between races can keep the struggle alive to the benefit the “elite.” It showed me in no uncertain terms how money is the the whole point of everything in the system. Greed. This means that people like me — who are not motivated by money — are easily exploited. I now understand what is meant by the term “systemic racism” and I’m disgusted.
The featured photo is a cartoon I drew back then depicting life on my street… I am the moose. Next to me is my Venus flytrap that I put outside on a slice of bologna because I needed to draw a fly for my magnum opus sculpture, “Barbie’s Battle of the Bands.” The dog and puppies in the sky are my neighbor’s. Daisy, a little pit bull, wanted to be my dog and would climb the cinder block wall to come to my house. When she had a litter of puppies, she taught them to do the same. If I left the front door open, Daisy and the puppies would come in. The feet to the side belong to my neighbor who had advanced senile dementia and would run away whenever he could to go to a restaurant 5 miles away called “Heidi’s.” We had to watch out for him all the time. The little man across the street is one of the few whites in the hood. He is standing by his little dog. He loved having garage sales, and called the garage the “go-raj.” It was a very strange place to live but absolutely NEVERE boring. Our hood was a family.