the changing tide

black power We had one African-American (Black) student in the Jr.high school and he was gay.  Calvin Gray.  We liked him.  His friends were mostly girls. They loved him.  Don’t know what happened but he and Eddie Woodcock disappeared after ninth grade.  I have no clue what Eddie was, but he certainly wasn’t dark.  Hard headed (literally!) and white as Wonder Bread.  No, you had to drive to Minneapolis and cross south of Lake Street to begin to see those of darker skin.  It became white again maybe ten/twelve blocks south.  Minneapolis.   I never quite understood its layout in diverse terms.  Just knew of the highs schools because of sports.  It was too far from my hometown and means of transportation.  St. Paul had linear nationalistic neighborhoods which I interdicted mostly through sports as well, but here I was more comfortable enjoining.  Dad worked downtown and we ‘sported’ with those teams.  It was a working class city  dominated ‘outside the lines’ by the white stock from the northerner Europe.  My youth collided with neighborhoods’ colored pale.  At least we had Calvin… for a while. Lost him somewhere.

The Minnesota Gophers were National Champions in 1960 and played for that mythical title again the next year. Their dominance was signified by the great black players who coach Murray Warmath recruited from the South, significant at that time because other Big Ten schools had not changed their ‘shirts’ to acknowledge Black superior athleticism. Warmath did.  As other schools saw this trend, Minnesota began to sink to a middling stature, primarily because the Black athlete could say home to play where their numbers were much greater.  The great Bear Bryant, after a lashing by USC  and “Slam Bam” Cunningham saw this light and  ‘switched” it on.   Alabama rose again.  The large Big Ten schools such as Michigan and Ohio State had their own back yards to recruit.  Our two cities were limited.  The great black migration north hung up in Chicago and Milwaukee, missing the convergence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers by 300 or 400 miles.     It was belayed on the southern shores of the Great Lakes.  Father Hennipen’s grain mills of Minneapolis were untouched as were the slaughter houses of St. Paul.  Perhaps some Ivy Professor has studied this.  I did not google to find out.

My understanding of racial tension really did not happen until 1968.  Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and of course the infamous 1968 Black salute at the Olympics.  A year later I was jetting into a ‘new’ world.

The Air Force pressed my face into race relationship.  It was a bewildering time as I separated from family and friends; thrown in with 250 gifted Black, White, Red and Yellow athletes.  Did I say competitive?  Classroom, gymnasium and field.  Life took on a new perspective.  The Academy Prep School was restrictive, pruning all with an attitude of survival while competing hard, collectively and individually.   Here among the 250 (in the beginning!) there was no doubt as to the physical attributes of the minorities.   I understood my ‘game’ needed amperage.

All cadet candidates had to participate in a swirl of intramural sports unless one was playing ‘varsity’ for the school.  I had hung up my cleats and laced skates on full time.  As hockey was not an official school sport (we practiced with the Academy team and played some ‘local’ teams) I got first hand experience with and from minority athletes.  I had to participate in a myriad of intramural sports before heading to the Academy’s Pond.  From lily white interaction in my youth to one of high racial connectivity once the apron strings were cut (I found them in my brown lunch sack on the flight to Texas.  Why I teared up I have no clue)  I slowly assembled a personal descriptive ‘measure’ of the Minorities. Friendship was not hard to develop when faced with oppressive authoritative attitudes.  It was all about doing the same thing, pulling in the same direction, taking  breathing space where we could together away from the watchful eyes of the Officers and NCO’S.  The interaction both in athletics and schooling prevailed to compile a more congenial attitude of shared excellence than any confrontation of social disparity. It lasted a  year. That is when I left.

At Penn, my education of Minorities hopped up as the University ran smack into the Black minority culture which ran along the West and North sides of the campus, itself situated west of the Schuylkill River.  It was apparent to me that off campus whites and blacks were perhaps accepting of each but certainly not doing much jiving together.  There were other minorities too, but for some reason they were part of the landscape more than set apart. My scope really narrowed to the African-Americans, as they now encircled my bubble of Never Never Land.  Campus street boundaries were predominately black.  The school itself provided an enlightened atmosphere, the seventies producing a linkage of students who began to assert themselves and be inserted into black culture.  In athletics the connectivity was agreeable.  It was not uncommon to see white athletes walking with blacks in that slow rhythmic movement that defined cool.   Asians walked fast.  I think they were all headed to the Library.  As much of the student population traveled the confined walk ways toward career affirmation, the coolness mostly moved unaware through campus.  Except in athletics.  When a black athlete was competing, they lost their color.  Not so in the streets bordering.  There the white walked carefully, expectantly.  Black was black and white not. Color mattered and was understood.  Between the “lines” was a collegiate bubble of acceptance.   Outside them comfort was a luxury and then in day light.  There was no doubt of my increase awareness of friction, experienced as I was now as a minority when beyond, but it was isolated and only if the borders were crossed.

My sport of contest had no African Americans to whom I could relate to as a teammate or opponent. Hockey still was lily white, Anglo American, off shoots from the Angles of greater Europe. It was on the court or field in ‘pick up’ sports that I developed a quasi perspective of racial bias, confrontation as well as competitive interaction.  Philadelphia was no Colorado Springs.  The aspect of racial interaction was mostly experiential.  That was to change.

Chris Young wrote his senior thesis for Princeton, while playing baseball in the minor leagues. He titled it, “The impact of Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball on   Racial Stereotypes in America….” His explanation of what was discovered, ““Jackie Robinson was the variable for the topic of how media influences public opinion,” Young says. “The thought process was that the media shapes public opinion, and so Jackie Robinson was the variable to determine how public opinion regarding race was changed after he integrated baseball. Basically, we saw a shift in tone. There were less negative stories written about African-Americans in the three months succeeding his integration of baseball.” His study is demonstrative of the neglect and change that occurred in our society.  Of course this flew well over my head.  All I truly wanted to do was PLAY.   If the composition of players toned different, so be it.  But I knew there was a difference. Degrees, but there, and it was there on the fields of Hill Hall, in the Quad, or down on Franklin’s turf where it posted different from what I had experienced at the Academy. Wellington is said to have noted that Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton (now considered doubtful at best but a good one nonetheless.)  I won nothing but had fun on the fields of Penn!  And a greater awareness that color meant ‘something.”

I was exposed to Hispanic culture when I found myself in the Central Valley of California pursuing opportunities to provide Group Health Insurance for migrant workers. It was desired because the Growers Associations wanted to develop something to combat what Caesar Chavez was doing with the newly inaugurated labor union, helped along by Bobby Kennedy. The union offered a health insurance program, unknown before they offered one.  The growers wanted non-union labor so desired to ‘combat’ this threat with a plan of their own.  My company got involved and I helped in the benefits and pricing.  I mislabeled it the ‘Wet-back’ program, for illegal aliens who crossed over the border.  That is what I called it to a couple of ‘close friends.’  Otherwise it had an official title which I forget.   Funny thing, we could price it cheaply because the workers did not want to lose a day of work because of sickness or injury and, when they were unable to work, they just went back across the border for treatment.  I suppose it was part of how they operated in general, as It seemed that they would make money and then most would go back to their families in Mexico.  I got a taste of both sides, the good and the not so good.  Most Americans perhaps saw glimpses of this posturing during the build up to the union.  The two sides pushing back on each other.  On for a minute or so during the evening news broadcast.

“The media has changed dramatically in the past 10, 15 years, with the Internet,” he says. “It’s instant reporting and loose lips. The average American is getting little snippets, and believes that what they hear is fact. There is a blurry line between fact and fiction these days. People form their opinions based on pieces of information and then vote accordingly to decide the future of our country.”  So, we were controlled to accept Jackie.  Today there is no ability to control.  Emotions flash.

O.k., I accept this. But what we are not connecting to, we the white European descendants, is the facilitation of a different way of conversing, conveying attitude and decisions. The Wall Street Journal wrote on September 20-21″the NFL Is A League Of Our Own,” and placed out the pecking of the outlaw beginnings, (which was all white) its tarnished image of ‘no gooders’ and two fisted drinkers and how the professionalism of sports vanished the purity of the sports to the following of the recent spates of delinquent behavior.”  Wait, this was a white culture wart in the beginning.  Professional vs Amateur.   So, what has changed?  “The sport has taken the underpinnings of a society and allowed them to be scrutinized to the nth degree, pouring out more ink on these societal meltdowns in the NFL than any worldly happenings combined (opinion.) It places the fact that “Off-field violence and dumb choices aren’t unique to football.”  Right.  There it is again.  Instant support or hate.  And because we have made sports the leverage vehicle of choice to look at the health of our society, we are condemned to see it in its tarnished standard as the source of study.  The white warts that were kept from view are now multi-colored barnacles that sprout from the screens of computers and phones, especially black.

What we have failed to see coming off the southern plantations, crossing borders, migrating and sifting while growing exponentially is the development of cultures unwilling to wear red, white and blue.  Simplistic I know, but quantitative.  And becoming more qualitative.  Their voices are hard to stifle.  And the ‘blow-over’ time, excepted as two weeks to a month (the time when events lose interest to those not intimately involved) is becoming longer and harder to dissuade from levels which can be easily provoked again.

Our study group has changed dramatically since Jackie Robinson came to the plate to take his first swings with the Dodgers.  Dave Daubenmire states in one of his columns, “Here is the only evidence the NFL needs to talk about. But they won’t, so I will. Blacks make up about 12% of the population, yet 70% of NFL players are black. 70% of black children are raised in a home without a father. The American prison population is 35% black. Poor black kids are two times more likely to drop out of school than poor white kids.” Bam…There it is, our sampling is skewered if we look at it from perspective of race. But is race the real issue?  When John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were throwing F-bombs on the tennis courts, white men both, did we look at them as white or just as a-holes?  (We should not forget the lure of the bad-ass, whatever the color.)  What were we as a society when we treated race without 24/7 coverage?  Not especially embracing, but the landscape now has changed dramatically.  Social strata based on race, especially with the rise of the Hispanics can bring instant tweets biased with colored attitude.

I have been always fascinated with the ‘rituals’ that Blacks develop; the high five, low five, the fist bump, butt bump, the high/low salute, etc.  What is intriguing to me is how White culture not only accepts these but assimilates them almost immediately.  Then Black culture changes and develops another, from the streets, only to have the Whites accept soon after!  The alliteration of Minorities to integrate with the greater population became diluted and more separated.  Blacks turned from Black Power to African-Americans.   Not sure what that means, but it is suggestive of greater if not more subtle division.  I am aware of Hispanic rhetoric persuasive to a republic within this Republic. ( I wonder if it will happen before the state of California falls into the ocean?!)

Philadelphia has, or at least had, its conclaves of foreigners, such as little Italy, the Polish, Chinatown and Russian quadrants all barricaded by language but induced to be part of the greater collective.  These languages have been around for centuries. The ‘banger’ language of Black America has shaped not only the spoken transformation of communication but attitudes as well. Watch the T.V. series “The Wire” if you would like a taste of this (make sure you use subtitles!)  It backed away from English to phrase its own.  Or perhaps I should say pushed.  Others’ ethnicity maintained their original and learned English.  By the third generation English was dominate.   No more thank you very much.

The University of Pennsylvania’s professor of Linguistics, William Labov, is acknowledged as the “pioneer of sociolinguistics,” the first to truly study the ways people talk and verbally communicate. In an article from the Penn Arts and Sciences Magazine, Sept. ’14, he is noted as developing the ‘Reading Road,’ a system to help develop urban youth to be better able to read in the tablet of understanding they have progressed in.  He published “The Atlas of North American English; Phonetics, Phonology, and Social Change” in 2006 which address the needs to make reading enjoyable to youth rather than them hating it. To do this verbalization had to be phonetically compiled into writing.  His career is to understand the normal American and understand what they say. It is in Philadelphia and New York where he demonstrated African American Vernacular English is incorrect but that has its system of coherent grammar and rules, used by African Americans.  This dialect is untouched by others around it and street savvy Whites have learned its nuances. Wait.  Was the dislike of reading spawned by race?  Why hate language?   Or is it a product of divisional self worth, wherever or however a separation spawns?  When I was hitch-hiking down south, I found myself in a small Alabama town where I was the only white person in sight.  I asked a few questions of a couple of residents and could not begin to understand what they said.  Latter, when I reached my destination I mentioned this episode I was told that I had come across a Welfare town, where the residents all lived off government checks.  O.K.  So, what happened to the spoken English language?  All I can tell you is that they were using a diversified language which I could barely understand. This phonetic disparity certainly was not confined to just large cities. And this was thirty years ago.  Did “Webster” catch a train north??  Population growth can spawn in various places with viability induced by multiple sources of power.  Race is no exception. Minorities have grown as a percentage of population at lightning speed.

Rome began its descent when its native population lessened their grip on the their culture and civic responsibilities while the empire expanded into greater ethnic areas.  Now Mercenaries from the provinces began to acquire them.  The native tongue of Latin was replaced in the Eastern lands by the more acceptable Greek.  Latin began to become archaic.  The separation and decline had begun.  It is not particularly parallel, but the formation of hyphenated American culture has progressed to one more inclined to separation rather than for unification.  Early migrants, with their own foibles and goodness assimilated to the American way, while maintaining their Irish, Italian, Russian etc ancestry.  Not perfect but one can see them as part of the greater, the Country.  (A great study on the use of power and expansion can be seen with the European migration that took place around the time of the ugly Mexican War and the Potato Famine of Ireland.) This “way”progressed to define the ‘towns’ of America as separate under the larger umbrella of the uniqueness of what the USA is and was.

Have we fallen into a pit of racial segregation and now redefining unification?   Have we lessened the sinews of who and what we are?  Have we allowed the fibers of where the dominate constitution of people now is separated to a point that living together is becoming too strained?  Have we gated the neighborhoods while wealth has hitchhiked away?

We can point at the stagnant extreme of our political system and its oily “voice” of the media as an example.  Everywhere we hear of the “fixes.” Really?  Please tell me how these fixes will occur when half the population  dislikes or hates the other (not race but ideology?)  The camps are no longer tents but walled disdain.  And Race can accelerate emotion.  It can dominate as well.

Greatness comes in bunches punctuated in spurts of revival, only to fall into pits of digression.  I have small hope that we can suffer to maintain the discipline that national acceptance must maintain.  It never has in the history or man.  We had the buffer of expansion to the West Coast to allow this country to grow and become something great.  The expansion was not without fault, but inevitable.  It now is such that we are part of the exponential human growth that has seen the world expand over the last hundred years from one BILLION to almost seven. And this is while we, the world, took it upon ourselves to cleave MILLIONS of people here and there with mass genocide and war.  With that growth comes acute problems.  We see this germinating in the USA.  Emigration, the masses who are drawn to the “dream.’  We want to be a gated ‘community’ as a nation. The desire is not unique nor ‘wrong,’ but what do we do with the overflow of poverty that spills into us?  And the controlling factor of the ‘extreme monied evil’ that has a exploited many facets of division?

Answers?  Really don’t have excepting the base on which I stand, tottering at times.   England pushed the Irish hard, and with it the Gaelic language fell to ruin.  I get pulled into the muck of the “goodness” of mankind when all along I understand that it is a false premise.  All I have to do is look in a mirror.  And I know that it is not the reflection that offers hope.  It is greater.  It is Faith.  And Love.  Way too simple I suppose.  But the fixes that will emanate from Government cannot withstand the strain, try as it might.  Nor the landed gentry to whom the impoverished have declined to embrace for individual and collective reasons.   Individuals will have to become involved at some point.  It will be either before or after the revolution, whenever it comes.  Yes, it will come.  Its shape unknown as its method.  The World was set ablaze with one man killing another…WWI. Forecasting it is futile.  Understanding that something is going to break is easier.

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