Yes, I am a 74-year-old white man, but I am as angry as my black friends. After escaping Catholic high school and attending Venice High School from 1962-1964, I began to grow up and to learn. I’m not talking about what we can all learn from books if we make a small effort, I mean what we can learn about life in the real world.
Prior to 1962 I had only a couple of black acquaintances. I can’t call them ‘friends’ because other than playing baseball together we never spent time in each others homes or socialized in any way. That all changed as I entered my junior year.
The lessons I learned were difficult. Living in my own white world I had no understanding that there are two Americas: one for whites and one for blacks. It remained a mystery to me for years why racism and bigotry exist. Then I joined the United States Air Force in September of 1964. I answered my own questions as I witnessed ignorance beyond my wildest imagination. A boy who grew up in Los Angeles could not dream of the extreme hatred I witnessed during my travels in the south.
Basic training was at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. The one day I was allowed to go off base I spent as a tourist. I saw some of the downtown area and the Alamo; at least what’s left of it. After eight weeks I was sent to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi. There I witnessed racism in a new way.
On the way to Keesler, we stopped at a small restaurant. Most of us remained on the bus while those in charge purchased sandwiches and drinks. Looking out the window was a sign for restrooms located outside of the establishment. Next to the sign was another sign with an arrow pointing to the rear and saying “blacks;” the actual word used was not “blacks,” but I refuse to write it. This was real and a bit upsetting.
The bigotry continued inside of the barracks at Keesler. I shared a room with a great young man by the name of Paul Rankin. He was from Compton, not far from the Catholic high school I attended. When two airmen from Mississippi were “picking” on a smaller, black airman, Paul, who was as physically fit as any other man on base, defended him. A fight began and Paul was the easy victor.
On another occasion when we were allowed to go into Biloxi, the car I was in was followed by another vehicle. Gunshots began flying over our car. The reason? One of our black friends was riding with us.
There are more stories to tell. Remember, 1965 was the year after the Civil Rights Act was signed, and white southerners were not pleased, to say the least.
I feel excitement and hope as I watch films of today’s protests. I am extremely pleased to see so many young, white men and women marching with their black brothers and sisters. I see it as a new beginning by a new generation which truly understands the meaning of America and the Constitution.
These protests are historical. Although they have occurred throughout much of my life, the marches today have a different feel, and have lasted far longer than any in the past. They are about the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and much more. They are about decades of mistreatment by the entire judicial system, and a level of racism in America which continues to be ignored by our elected officials. Black lives do matter.
Yesterday, Trump signed an executive order he falsely claimed would reform the practices of law enforcement. What I read is mostly empty promises and a suggestion that the budgets of law enforcement be increased; nothing about community involvement, and nothing about removing some of the money allocated for law enforcement for social programs which would change America’s backwards direction.
Today, a quick look at what is being proposed by Republicans in congress will prove inadequate, and supportive of law enforcement. We’ll wait and see if they’re serious about reformation within the next few days.
Here’s the way I have always seen this unforgivable problem. All prejudice is pure ignorance. Why would skin color alter the intelligence, ambitions, needs, and personality of a man or woman? Why Trump and his white supremacist friends believe that they are superior to blacks because of their skin color is unimaginable, and just plain ludicrous.
I’m not claiming to be perfect. I have been involved in situations when my own ignorance supersedes my intellect. I admit that I often criticize women drivers. I experienced reverse discrimination several times in my life, becoming both a little frightened and angry. My point is that as human beings we have a choice to use the intellect given us at birth, or judge others because of the color of their skin, national origin, race, gender, or sexual orientation. The latter is unacceptable.
If every man, woman, and child in our nation was a true American; a supporter of every word of the Bill of Rights; racism and bigotry would no longer exist in the United States.
Finally, it’s time for America; for all 320 million of us; to grow up. The rest of the developed world has evolved. The people, all people, of their nations are priority number one. It’s time for our leaders to face the truth. Unbridled capitalism has created social barriers and income inequality. These are the underlying causes for many of our nation’s most serious problems. If we elect wise, caring, compassionate leaders, we will create the change necessary to help every man, woman, and child achieve the “American Dream.”
Op-ed by James Turnage
1964 Photo courtesy of Tullio Saba
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