Where I go to a very black place

Yesterday’s volunteer work at the Church will end up being two days. We had a small crew scraping and painting the sills of all the windows at ground level but I looked at the arched window facing Lewis street and saw that it was badly checked and flaking so I put up a ladder and tackled it. What I had thought might be a morning’s work kept me until 4pm despite getting cordial help with a second coat of primer from Mark Hennessy. All the white on the window frames will cause wonder when Church commences this morning. It looks like I’ll have a good week of weather ahead to pick a new day to cover it with brown paint like the rest of the windows. While we painted Mark told me about his family and an older brother my age who was killed two weeks after getting to Vietnam. That would have been my senior year in high school. He was born in April of 1950. I was born in December. If I had not enrolled in college I would have had a lottery ticket into the Army myself but by then America had sorted itself out into the college bound war evaders and the blue collar, like it or not, warriors. Maybe that’s why the pre-division military of WW II has always looked on it as “the Good War.” It was everybody’s war rich and poor alike, plus we won it with our Grant-like demand of unconditional surrender.

While I painted I recited the Presidents in order once. I did it before going to sleep two days ago. After committing Lincoln’s immediate predecessors to memory with the DeRose book I did the same to the smaller set of presidents after him up to William McKinley. That was pretty easy because it was a two/three combination. After Rutherford B Hayes, there was a one-two punch, Garfield famous for his assassination if little else and his Veep Chester Arthur a crook who tried to set a good Presidential example. That was followed by a threesome of two presidents. Cleveland, Harrison, Cleveland.

I spent Thursday or Friday afternoon reading about all these presidents in Wikipedia to get the details of their presidencies in brief. I also roamed the Amazon site for book reviews on the bios of these and other politicians of the Era. The Democrat Cleveland was in his first term as President when my Republican Grandfather George Robb was born. That family history helped anchor him in my mind with the four year cadence of Presidential elections. The year Grandfather turned one the Republican Ben Harrison got a term in the Oval Office. This got me to Cleveland again followed by a date I’ve known since high school. 1896 was the year of William Jennings Bryan’s run against McKinley followed by yet another date that has stuck with me since a Constitutional Law class in college. 1897 was the year that the Supreme Court ruled that “Separate but Equal” was constitutional. Fifty-one years later as I was heading to school the Court pretty well killed Plessy vs. Fergusson with the Brown ruling. Plessy had been right up there with Chief Justice Tawny’s Dred Scot and maybe Robert’s gutting of the 1965 Voting Right’s Act. After all we aren’t racist’s anymore. (I’m just saying that to bait my Buddy. Then again maybe I’m not.)

I did update my reading list on my old website by adding the book about Lincoln’s other five presidents. While I was looking at it I noticed that I’d stopped writing thumbnail descriptions of the books about six years ago so I added them in. I also discovered that I read Orwell’s Animal Farm in 2005 the year before I got wrapped up in fighting the Red Plan. I don’t remember rereading it but the timing was fitting.

My Buddy sent me a quick three emails in response to my posting his last email. I haven’t read them yet. Not sure I’ll respond but I may simply put them on the blog without a rebuttal. Least I can do for fairness’ sake.

I did have one debate with myself about my reply. I used the word “conviction” when talking about my sense that there is some DWB going on in Duluth. One of my Buddy’s replies refers to my not knowing the meaning of the word conviction although I’m won’t be sure what his whole comment will be until I open it. We often fence over definitions. The word “tendentious” was one of our first such debates. It occurred to me that the word “suspicion” might have been more appropriate. My Buddy is quite right. I have no evidence to back up my suspicion. I do have a good reason, however, to call it a conviction although it has yet to be proved.

It has been demonstrated that hard, some would call it oppressive, police work can tamp down crime. Rudy Giuliani’s police came out in big numbers and routinely stopped black young men in some tough neighborhoods. Crime there went down noticeably and was linked to the constant police presence. It works. So in Duluth we have some tough higher crime neighborhoods and it makes sense that our police would spend more time there than Lakeview or Piedmont Heights. It also just happens that these tougher neighborhoods have a higher African American population. If more cars are pulled over where more police are and there are more black drivers in those parts of town. Well, you can see where I’m going with this.

We also have a drug problem and those drugs come reliably from bigger city drug networks. Those networks on the ground are run by a larger share of inner city entrepreneurs and predictably those are more likely to be black than they would be if the networks operated out of small rural communities. Our cops know that and being vigilant they would be strongly inclined to stop a car with an out of date licence or a broken turn signal if it had out of state plates or a new unfamiliar face. If that face suggested a likelihood that it might have come from some inner city well….. Again you can see where I’m going with this.

This has been the predicament for blacks in America since they were first brought over as indentured servants just like white Europeans. Only slavery turned out to be a lot easier. Slavery had been tried on Indians but they could escape into the forest and blend in with non slave indians. Blacks could always be seen as foreign to North America and if you found one living with the Indians you could pretty well guess that he had escaped. Think of black skin and African facial features as like being a brand on a cow. Or just think of it as designating a cow no matter who claimed ownership. Although slavery is no longer part of the equation the brand still is evident.

I was going to write an new Octoroon post a while back. The first of them prompted my most recent spat with my Buddy.

Here’s where I was going with it. That word was lifted from New Orleans slave life. Octo in this case refers to 1/8th of a person’s ancestry and this specifically was used for people who were descended from 7 white and 1 African great grandparents. By the time you have mixed in a seven to one genetic blending the African is a pretty minimal 12.5 percent. But in slave society it was enough to consider a person a Negro. Hell, most Europeans and Asians have 2 or 3 percent Neanderthal genes. (Africans who stayed on the continent never got contaminated with them.)

The otherwise all white child who had one octoroon as a grandparent would be down to 1.5 percent African ancestry. And yet in the Antebellum South there was the charming “One drop” rule. If you had a single black slave ancestor you were considered black. By that measure all Europeans are Neanderthals.

This prejudice against African features has not died and it has had a riot of interrelated consequences. Talented African Americans are suspected of being talented because of the white “blood” in their systems. African Americans have for years been shamed into hating their African-ness and impelled to couple with more European looking blacks. Nazi Germany with his junior high school quality Fuehrer decided that the one drop rule made sense when they began hunting down Jews to send to the Concentration camps to purify the German race.

One possible outcome of a black/white mixing is the ability for “passing” into the white community. An only slightly African looking child might move to a new place where without proof he or she could pass as white. For parents who wanted to spare their children the grief they endured finding a white mate made sense. For white parents the reverse was true. Having a child connected with a black mate was unthinkable for most of our history. I asked my Dad once back in my college days if he would mind my marrying a black woman. When he told me he hoped I wouldn’t I asked why. He told me he would grieve for the treatment he expected they would get.

They are still getting that grief. One way its inflicted is called a DWB. “Driving while Black.” That’s why for a hundred years the biggest black owned business in the US was skin bleaching. Maybe it would work in Duluth.