Sherman, Cynthia, Vickie, Ursala and my racial attitudes

For those who are clueless about the significance of the last post a new AP poll prompted me to write further.

Principal Sconiers is an African American and one of the few who are employees of the Duluth School District. So, my early comparison of her to Allen West and Michael Steele, both African-American Republicans, leaned heavily on generalization.

The poll shows that roughly half of all American voters have negative racial sterotypes of black Americans. I believe it was that fact that explains the very nice things Rush Limbaugh and other creepy GOP pundits had to say about Obama when he was fighting for the nomination against Hilary Clinton in 2008. I think Rush and crew were trying to shame Democrats into nominating a black candidate who he was confident American voters would not elect. No matter what American voters do this election they fully earned my admiration in 2008. They pretty well shut Rush up for a couple of three months till he found his bile again.

I learned about race in Topeka, Kansas. As a very young child I was surprised that all black people looked alike. By second or third grade they no longer looked alike to me and I later became aware that the ability to differentiate between people of different races took experience. (Pearl S. Buck, a white daughter of missionaries in China had no difficulty differentiating between the faces of Chinese people but when she found herself among a gathering of fellow white people was astounded that they all looked the same to her)

One school year I was actually a white minority kid in my sixth grade class. Fifteen white kids, fifteen black kids and one Native American. Coincidentally that was in Topeka, Kansas where the the suit leading to Brown vs. Board of Education was settled by the US Supreme Court in favor of integration.

I walked past the homes of many of those black kids some days to get to school. Many lived in “Tennessee Town” and their cracker box houses rested on cinder blocks to keep them above the damp soil. Some of the black kids came from families with 13 or 14 children and so did one white Catholic kid who taught me how to play “Spit in your eye.” (I only played it once after which I quit it cold turkey when I learned that the name of the game was also the object of the game)

By this time I knew these black kids as the individuals they were. Sherman was the jerk who took my precious art projects and strewed them out on the playground. Cynthia was the girl with two last names representing two different men, a father and step father, whose anxieties drove her to act superior and harass other kids. Vickie was a tomboy who I so liked that I invited her to my halloween party that with my parents help became the talk of the school for a few days afterward. Ursala was the grossly fat girl I suppress a cringe when I had to square dance with her for a phy ed class. Billy Moore was the beautiful athlete who went on to become a phenom in high school. I also met my first peer named Harry, just like me but black as coal. My chief recollection of Harry was a dramatic home run he kicked in Kickball on our school’s asphalt playground studded with tether ball polls. One of the polls was conveniently situated right on the line between third base and home plate and as Harry rounded third looking over his shoulder at the ball he had kicked so far away he ran into the damn poll and lost half his front teeth.

Black Duluthians are still a small minority in Duluth and I feel I owe it to them to remember their individual natures if for no other reason because of my own early experiences. I no longer talk to Mary Cameron who I helped elect three times to the School Board. I once joked with Tim Grover, who I also no longer speak to, that I kept Mary in my cellar. I have a earthen floored space under our sun room in which I placed the middle panel of a bill board I ordered for Mary and placed on a 4 by 8 plywood sheet in my front yard one election. Today its in my “wine cellar” with Mary’s smiling face looking up at me every time I retrieve a Cabernet.

Sconiers herself is no stereotype. Her husband is Egyptian. Her predecessor Eddie Crawford is also black but he’s an individual too who hails from the Caribbean.(NOTE CORRECTION BELOW)

Its not just white Americans who get caught up in generalizations about complicated people and who carry prejudices.

I recall my Buddy sending me lots of essays by Ward Connerly, a black Californian who fought to eliminate affirmative action. He resented the excuse it gave white Americans to accuse Black Americans of preferential treatment. He also thought it crippled black Americans by making them think they really were inferior to whites and needed special help. A lot of blacks didn’t know what to make of him either. I remember Mary Cameron attending a local gathering with him uncomfortable because a lot of her friends disapproved of his politics.

Americans are no different than most people who have gotten set in their ways. They have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new age. As a child during the centenary of the Civil War I guessed that it would take another 100 years before America would be far enough along to elect a black President. I was off by fifty years. Like Michelle Obama who caught so much flack for saying she was proud of America (finally proud if I recall) I too was proud. I stuck an editorial cartoon of Lincoln’s statue giving Obama a thumbs up next to my computer.

So, half of all Americans, white Americans are prejudiced (often unknowingly) against blacks. That didn’t stop them from voting for Barack Obama. Only about 5% voted against him solely because of his “race.” That many may vote against Romney because of his Mormonism. Its our vote to do with as we please prejudices or not.

Not all blacks will vote for Obama some because of their own prejudices. His father was a real African and not and African American descended from a slave family. That’s the real resentment I sense when I hear him attacked by such as Allen West or Herman Cain or even his own Chicago minister Jeremiah Wright Sr.

Its not all that different than Romney’s campaign chairman John Sununu who sneered that Colin Powell only endorsed Obama because they are both black. Cheap sterotypes are too easy.

CORRECTION: Some years after this was posted I talked to Mr. Crawford and learned that his father was an African American in the military who married a French woman. When the family moved Crawford stayed in Duluth.

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