It’s hard for young blacks to separate themselves from the ghetto…

May 7, 2015

I was watching a New York Times video presentation on the subject of what it is like to be black in America, a series of observations from several young black men, who looked to range in age from pre-teen to teenagers. All were very articulate and came off as being extremely well mannered.

It was heart rendering and troubling. They cited the usual litany: being stopped by police for no other reason than being black. Having people move to the other side of the street when they see you out of fear. One kid said that he was the only black student in a class and they were discussing Huck Finn and then the magic word came up, the one that begins with n. And everyone looks at him — what will he say or do or feel? I noticed in saying this he reverted to the black slang way of talking: “I be”.

Of course we all use slang or informal speech patterns, and maybe that was a good way to describe the feeling, the moment.

One or more of them assured viewers that they were not a threat to anyone.

It seems to me the black community is hampered by the actions of those who do mean harm. But that is not the only problem. It is true that racism has a long history in the United States. But the U.S. is not the only place on earth where racism persists. Racism is part of human nature I think.

You are only as good as the company you keep, they say. Sometimes people are forced by circumstances beyond their control to live with or keep company with the less desirable element of society. That less desirable element comes in all colors and races. It just happens to be easier to spot when there is such a distinct difference in skin tone, black vs. white.

In the original colonies there were essentially both white and black slaves and even free black people. The white slaves were indentured servants who had no more rights than black slaves, at least during their indenture (which sometimes they could never get out of). But I think the convenience of having a race that stood apart by skin color seemed attractive as a captive labor force by those who imported slaves into America. It was the most shameful part of our past, the time of slavery. We’ve yet to overcome it.

I have few answers in all of this really, mostly just observations.

But I think the bad element, who like I say includes those of all colors or races, needs to somehow have its control over large parts of our cities taken away. It seems to thrive where people have nothing to do and where people feel hopeless and not part of our democracy, not part of the wider society.

That element seems to thrive in blighted areas. So we need to clean up the blight. We need more grocery stores and fewer liquor stores. We need more jobs, but our leaders over the past decades have done about everything that can be done to ship those jobs overseas in the name of free trade.

I don’t really know what community policing is, except I have heard that term used over the years. It seems that it has been tried many times but always runs out of funding. I think it means having the cops have better relations with the people they serve, going out on the street and talking to them, getting to know them and helping where they can when appropriate. But I guess that takes more officers and time and that means money. But the cruising down the street like an occupying army is counter productive, as we have seen lately.

In the meantime, however, it does not matter what color you are. You will be judged by the way you comport yourself, by the way you dress. If you act and look like a hoodlum what do you expect? (This admittedly not withstanding the situation when one is black and neither looks nor acts like a hoodlum and still meets grief with the police.)

I realize the problem is that if you are black you are more easily identified by the non-black and for that reason you may well be put to an unfair higher standard.

In earlier posts I stated that it is my observation that people have a better chance if they can somehow move out of the ghetto. I guess, however, some of these young black men are saying somehow that the ghetto follows them.

In that respect I have to agree that it must be indeed challenging to be black in America.

Sterling the bigot needs to be brought down, but do we have any privacy left?

April 29, 2014

While I could not care less about professional basketball and I realize from reading that LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a bigot, to say the least, and a quite distasteful person who sees his and other black basketball players as high-paid slaves on the plantation of the NBA (blacks make up 75 percent of the players I read), it is unnerving that private phone conversations can get a person into so much hot water.

He has been banned (or soon is to be) from the NBA, fined $2.5 million by the league, and a forced sale of his team is in the offing, all over words in an apparently secretly taped phone conversation in which he criticized his girlfriend (mistress) for and admonished her against hanging around with blacks. Ironically, she herself is half black. And as I read it, the old guy is married and the woman in question is much younger than him.

Sterling has a history of racism and is said to have forced black families out of housing he owned and I think may have been a slum lord.

So, whatever, Sterling seems to be  horrid person. And I have no sympathy for him.

I also realize that people in the public spotlight have to work and live under different conditions than the normal citizen. But one wonders whether there is anything such as privacy and the right to hold your own opinions anymore.

This incident does prove, though, that one does not have to have good judgment to be rich.

It is said that even if he is forced to sell the team he could make upwards of a billion dollars on the transaction, after buying the Clippers at a much lower price. There is some talk of somehow keeping him from profiting from the sale, but it would seem that there would be significant legal barriers to that and that Sterling would have the wherewithal to fight that.

In this case the NBA governing body has little choice but to do something decisive due to public uproar.

But probably the biggest and most effective pressure is from the commercial part of it all. Sponsors are fleeing the team not wanting to be associated with racism and thus putting them into a bad light with their potential customers.

And that is as it should be.



I have not yet read up on the deal with his, I guess mistress. I guess it is her who taped the conversations. Maybe she was trying to blackmail him. It’s all very sordid.













Violence by hooligans should never be tolerated; civil society cannot allow itself to be intimidated…

August 11, 2011

Police being overwhelmed by rioters/looters in London and other urban centers in the United Kingdom, and then the slow, timid response at first, but the now strong response authorized by their prime minister and its apparent success (although it’s not over yet at last report) made me think of the so-called race riots in the U.S. in the 1960s.

The story is really quite similar. It starts with legitimate grievances involving race relations (how minorities are treated by the authorities, police) and poverty and lack of opportunity and so on. But once things get out of hand and break into a riot, the opportunists, the lawless, the hooligans, the scum of the earth or the scum of the earth in training take over.

Destroying private property, theft (of televisions and other electronic equipment and other goods, even candy bars) is completely unjustifiable and of course ironically is counterproductive. If you destroy your own neighborhood you have no place to live.  Just as bad, you create a backlash from people who are justifiably shocked at the lack of law and the disorder and the threat to safety.

Case in point:

I’m a white guy who has been fortunate enough to grow up and live in relative peace away from the urban centers. During my teenage years (and later) I watched those riots on TV and saw people looting stores and destroying property. I was outraged. I never could figure out and still cannot figure out why the authorities do not step in quicker with a much stronger response. Once things get out of hand and it is clear that local police cannot handle things, then as far as I am concerned it is time to pull out all stops and call in police from other areas and even the National Guard and even the regular military if need be. Yes that is a problem in that the military, except for Military Police, are not trained in civil policing, but they could be somewhat, and besides, drastic situations call for drastic measures. There are dangers to using raw recruits, say from the National Guard, because you can wind up with tragedies such as Kent State.

But the tragedy is that we never have made it plain that lawlessness cannot be tolerated, so we have moved from the summertime riots of the 60s to wanton drug-fueled warfare, with drive-by shootings and the rest.

Also, I would submit that the modern conservative movement and now to some extent the Tea Party are an outgrowth of 1960s-style lawlessness and disorder that so threatened normal society and so injured its psyche that it ever so gradually turned politically right. They saw the liberals make excuses for the lawbreakers — they grew up in poverty, they don’t have a chance, they are discriminated against.

And let me stop right here to clarify that I am not in any way casting aspersions upon any one race. There is a too large element in all races that use the opportunity of circumstances to justify their own lack of ambition and their own proclivity to lawlessness.

While the current riots in the United Kingdom may have had their start in an incident in which a  young black man was shot by police (and he was by all accounts a criminal and the police said he fired first, but there is a question on that), the riots seem to involve people, primarily youths, of all races (hard to tell unless you have good video, because in a lot of the politically-correct print media, race is left out). And rather than protests it just seems as if it is something to do.

I have never been to the United Kingdom, but I read that most of their police do not even carry guns and there is always a controversy on whether to arm them. Their prime minister has now authorized police to use all methods at their disposal — they’re even considering “rubber bullets”, oh my God! They also are using or may use water cannon. Hey, whatever works.

No I do not suggest that they do it Syrian style and just mow people down or send in the secret police — that is not the civilized or western-democratic way to do things, to say the least.

For those who have legitimate grievances — try politics and non-violence methods — Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior had a lot of success with it (although sadly, King was brought down in the violence of a sniper’s bullet, and that violence begat even more violence).

As I have already stated, there are questions as to how much race even has to do with the riots in the UK. Some observers there say hooligans of all races are taking part. And many people there on the scene, as well as elsewhere, look at all the youngsters involved, some as young as 10 (maybe even younger), and ask, “where are the parents?”

While we all have a duty to our fellow man and we must strive for living conditions that allow hope and opportunity for all, civil society must not allow itself to be intimidated by the lawless.

On the other hand, people with legitimate grievances, grievances that are left to fester, can be expected to explode in rage at some point — but it is questionable how much the chaos in the UK has to do with unrest among otherwise law-abiding citizens and how much has to do with a troublesome element. It seems that the bad element has taken an opportunity to go on its idea of a lark.

Obama administration falls into race baiting trap; racism is natural, though…

July 23, 2010

I am almost incredulous that the Obama administration could have fallen into the trap set by right-wing race baiters concerning the Shirley Sherrod affair.

A blogger posts a misleading video on the internet, taking some remarks out of context, and the administration ousts the Agriculture Department official who made the remarks, without first even asking her what it was all about.

Oh, to be sure, racism is not confined to the right, but exists at all points on the political spectrum and in society in general.

And who knows? Maybe it is only natural, a kind of tribalism.

When I was a teenager taking a vacation with my folks and siblings we were sitting at a lunch counter in Winston-Salem North Carolina, as I recall, and a red-haired and red freckled white man with a stingy brim hat, who looked to be some kind of salesman, who was sitting on a stool next to us, volunteered, without us asking:

“If God had meant us all to live together he would have made us all the same color”.

We as little kids used the N word freely but not against blacks, but against each other or we just said it. I don’t think we really knew why we used it or what the full implications of it were.

I recall feeling bad when I saw on TV police in the South using dogs against peacefully demonstrating blacks in the 1950s and 60s. That made me mad at white bigots.

I did not feel any better when I watched blacks rioting in big city ghettos every summer it seemed in the 60s and looting stores. That made me mad at the blacks who did this.

While I don’t know personally how it feels to be black and be the victim of white prejudice, I do know how it feels to be white and be the victim of black prejudice — I served in the U.S. Army in Germany between 1968 and 1971. White officers and white NCOs for the most part in the unit in which I served were scared to discipline blacks because they would A not respond (and might resist) or B they would play the race card.

I have spoken to white soldiers and sailors who wanted to make a career of the service but decided they did not like the racism and favorable treatment given to some over others.

Am I racist? Only when racism rears its ugly head against me or when some of my resentment from a time in the past comes back. But what I noticed then and notice today is that members of different races ignore the differences in many cases, but in certain social situations they are inclined or feel compelled to slip back into racism.

It’s of course not just black and white, but brown and yellow and Middle Eastern and so on.

The most ugly and blatant racism seems to come from poor white trash and ghetto blacks, but it can be just as bad at other levels of society too, but maybe a little more subtle, or not, but just as destructive.

(The Tea Party reportedly has a lot of well-to-do whites in it and some of them do not seem to be subtle about race, but it is hard to identify who is saying what in that nebulous group.)

But speaking from the white perspective, what does stick in the craw is the idea that while if you are what we currently call a minority it is okay and even expected that you have pride in your race. But if you are white that is politically incorrect.

Affirmative action also is hard to take. While I don’t think I have ever suffered from it directly, I have relatives on my in-laws’ side who have. One was told flat out by a government fire service official that he need not apply if he was not black or American Indian. I don’t care how you look at that, even taking the fact that minorities of the past were discriminated against in employment, reverse discrimination does not solve the problem. Discrimination is discrimination.

(In the 50s and 60s when my family used to go to San Francisco, our former home, for a visit, I always noticed that the bus and street car operators were mostly black, as well as the bridge toll takers at that time. That was evidentially some kind of affirmative action going on well before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

But resentments of past racial discrimination have to be put behind and so does race discrimination no matter which way it goes.

We do have a black president — something that I swore would never happen in my life time.

I haven’t seen any indication that President Barack Obama made the move to oust Sherrod over the apparent misunderstanding of her remarks, but someone or ones in his administration did. He has since called her and said the decision was wrong and she has been offered her job or even a better one back.

It seems the administration was so scared it would be seen as racist that it fell for the dirty work of a blogger with ulterior motives. The motive was to discredit what the ultra and reactionary right sees as its enemy.

I personally have neither seen the original video nor the full video that supposedly vindicates her. In reality I think the whole affair is much ado about nothing, except it gave a chance for me to vent a little about my own frustrations with the race issue.

ADD 1:

Actually white pride is accepted in certain traditional American ethnic celebrations, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest, but in general it is not politically correct to be white and proud of it, while it does seem to be so to be black and proud of it or to go around saying si’, se puede. A white person entering the U.S. illegally might be thought to be a Russian agent, but a Latino entering illegally is an “immigrant” in the parlance of political correctness.

ADD 2:

The irony of course in the Sherrod affair was that she is black and it was implied that by her own admission that she was racist against whites and that an administration led by a black man (well half black — Clinton, of course was our first black president — just kidding — I guess it was his cool sunglasses and his ability to play the sax and his appetite for sex), Barack Obama, rushed to judgment, showing its own vulnerability in questions of race.


And why does my computer freeze up when I try to write this blog? And why does my spell check not recognize Obama and wants me to write Osama and why does it not know the word blog or blogger?

Looting and vandalism have nothing to do with honest protest…

July 9, 2010

Many of the hometown crowd thought it was murder when a Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) cop shot and killed a young black man in the wee hours of this past New Year’s Day, but an all-white jury called it involuntary manslaughter and so in reaction some looted stores and engaged in vandalism in Oakland, Ca. last night.

Excuse me. Am I missing something here? I don’t see the relationship between the two. You think an injustice was committed so in protest you commit one yourself.

Somehow I actually think that those who loot stores just want the merchandise and see the so-called protest angle as an excuse.

To be sure, there do seem to be continuing race problems in Oakland. And even seemingly law-abiding black citizens often tell their stories on radio talk shows of being stopped by police for apparently no reason — they call it “driving while black”.

In the incident in question, one Oscar Grant was riding on BART and was involved or got caught up in some kind of fracas on the train.

He was detained by police but was said to resist. However, at the time of his shooting he was pinned down on the ground.

Transit cop Johannes Mehserle claims he thought he was grabbing his taser gun but mistakenly grabbed his service weapon and accidentally and fatally shot Grant.

Grant ‘s history with the law indicates he was no angel, but of course that does not mean that he can lawfully be murdered.

Some sage black people are advising young black men (or anyone) that when you deal with police the thing to do is to cooperate. Even if they are treating you badly, you will at least survive.

More than one black person I heard on KGO Radio last night claimed that the rules are different between white kids and black kids. They claim white kids can get away with more.

I also heard from someone near and dear to me who lives in the Bay Area that the BART cops kind of act like Nazis toward just about anyone they come into contact with (actually that is my interpretation of what this person said).

While I have read some of the coverage on the story over these past months, I am not steeped in the details.

From what I have gathered, though, BART has a continuing problem of rowdy, mostly black, riders in the Oakland area. There is tension between the BART cops and that crowd. One BART officer, not the defendant in the shooting trial, but the one who originally detained Grant, the victim, yelled the N word several times that night.

My conjecture is that Mehserle got caught up in the moment and really did not realize what he was doing (some earlier statements by him had indicated that he knew he had drawn his gun). I think the verdict was probably correct. I understand he’s looking at a sentence between 5 to 14 years.

I think there is a large contingent of black people in Oakland who although they feel racism still persists, in the words of Rodney King, they think: “Why can’t we just all just get along?”

They implore the younger set to behave themselves and not break the law and to bear up to some continuing injustices, while working to set things right, and not risk jail and pre-mature death.

They also claim that some of the violence is the result of outside agitators.

But this vandalism and looting — I watched in on TV each summer in the 60s as black ghettos erupted in riots all over the nation.

Civil rights has been a long struggle and it may not be over yet, even though we now have a black president, but somehow I don’t think looting and vandalism have any connection with righting wrongs.

In fact, I think it only serves to perpetuate the problem and anyone caught ought to face the full consequences under the law.


In kind of a strange twist, the trial was held in Los Angeles after a request for change of venue and before a jury with no blacks on it. That has some in the black commuity suspicious. But then again a black jury in LA apparently let OJ Simpson get away with murder. Two wrongs, of course, would not make a right.

I’m a little unclear about the anti-ethnic studies law in Arizona…

May 13, 2010

This is what I don’t understand about the new Arizona law to ban ethnic studies (said to be aimed at primarily one program in Tucson public schools).

Is Chicano Studies or whatever it is called taken only by Hispanics or do all students take it or is at least open to all students?

(Please see Add 2 at the bottom of this post)

When I went to college I was required to take an ethnic studies class. As it turned out,  I took Black History. I am white. I believe the whole idea of the class was not to promote black pride but to inform white boys like me (as well as minorities) about the history of blacks in America. The emphasis in the class as I recall was on the law, to include Supreme Court decisions, and the civil rights movement. The class was taught by a black man from Africa.

I see nothing wrong with ethnic studies being required, particularly if the idea is to let us whites know about the struggles of other ethnic groups, but it is a whole different ball game if ethnic  minorities (or ethnic group members, minority or not) are taking separate classes about their own ethnicity at the expense of accepted U.S. History and national unity. I never thought that ethnic studies were intended to promote race pride at the expense of American patriotism.

I read several stories about this current situation but have not yet gotten in straight what is or was going on in Tucson.

It is true that U.S. History as taught in the past concentrated primarily on the perspective of those of white European descent, but then again that is our history — you can’t change that. But ethnic studies requirements have or were designed to give us all a fuller picture of history and a better appreciation that this nation has attempted to overcome racism and ethnic strife that has not only caused problems in America but continues to cause upheaval all over the world.

But again, if the idea of the Tucson program was to use public education dollars to promote the pride of one race, that does not seem wise or right. But if  it is open to or required of all as a needed supplement to standard U.S. History, I would not think that should be outlawed.

ADD 1: (May 13, 2010)

A friend and former boss of mine turned me onto the fact that columnist Dough MacEachern of the Arizona Republic newspaper has written extensively on this subject, so I am going to try to read up on this for more info. If you’re interested you could google: ethnic studies, MacEachern, Arizona Republic.


ADD 2:  From what I have now read since beginning this post, the ethnic studies program in Tucson schools has been put together and run by people who some might regard as left-wing activists. Just as having history written by white European ethnocentrists can have a misleading effect on the truth (what we should all be after, the truth, that is), so can history slanted another way. I’d say: let’s be objective and pile on the facts and have discussion, but leave out the slant (well possibly except as needed for some good old fahioned patriotism — you have to believe in something good about your country). I have also now read in an article from the Christian Science Monitor that the ethnic studies classes are supposedly open and attended by students of ethnic groups other than the ones under study. And it notes that the Tucson district is 56 percent Hispanic in enrollment.



I know there have been charges that the Tucson program promoted racial strife. Well of course that would be wrong, but the program could be changed to do away with that I am sure.

The crazies are scary, but I think they may have always been with us…

April 8, 2010

Not much time to blog, but I feel compelled to comment on all the crazies coming out of the woodwork and threatening primarily those who supported the recent health care reform law, and primarily Democrats.

Part of this is technology — the internet, 24-hour news by the minute. Things that would not have made the news years ago make it today. In other words there always have been crazies — they just did not always make the news.

Also, I have mentioned this before and I was forwarded a story from the New York Times that says some of the anti-health care rhetoric is really a cover for racism.

The downtrodden white supremacists and male chauvinist pig holdouts are mad. Their world is falling apart.

And don’t get me wrong — I’m not one who wants to throw out all old ways and completely change society. I try to think progressive while holding on to the middle of the road somewhat.

But I know racists and women haters when I hear them. I used to listen to the CB radio out on the road — yes I’ve heard it all.

But even if there always have been crazies, it is kind of troublesome and downright scary at times.

And again, politicians and other public figures who condone all the crazy talk or give tacit approval or even stoke the fires are just as bad or worse than the crazies — they should know better.

What would the far right crazies say if they were being physically threatened? They would say “the commies are attacking us”. But right now it seems as if some form of neo-Nazis are attacking or threatening.


And maybe I’ve understated the threat of the crazies, since history shows it only takes one crazy to change the course of history. And often these crazies take in all the vitriol and think to themselves, “gee wouldn’t I be noticed if I actually went beyond words and took action”. Again, I wish that those who would consider themselves responsible public figures would not pander to the extremists — they are playing with dynamite!

A white guy perspective on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the progress that has been made…

January 18, 2010

As some observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday in honor of  the slain black civil rights leader of the 50s and 60s, I a white guy offer this:

I have to think that a certain amount of tension, distrust, or at least suspicion, and competition among the races in somewhat of a natural human trait.

I also have to think that most of us white folk, at least those of us born to the Baby Boom generation and back, have grown up in a culture that puts out somewhat of a double message — one being that race discrimination or judging someone by the color of his or her skin is wrong and the other being that, well, black folk are second class, not that such is right, but, well, you know, that is how society (the non-black society) views it.

All school children are taught that Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator of the black slaves in the United States of America. They are even told a tale of how when as a young boy he saw slaves being auctioned off and it made him sick (at least they taught that when I was in grade school). What they don’t teach in that lower level is that Lincoln did not feel that the black slaves were on par with white folks and probably never could be. He favored a plan to allow them to emigrate back to Africa. But Lincoln did feel that the United States could not survive as a nation half free and half slave. I think he was against slavery and also against the whole slave economy.

Eventually, the idea of allowing or providing for emigration back to Africa was tried. With the help of the U.S. government (I forget the exact history of this) some black people actually did go to Africa and a new nation of Liberia was created. But you have to realize that by this time this was generations later than when the original slaves came over. Those returning were no more natives of Africa than I am of Germany or France and wherever else my ancestors came from. The locals were none to keen on the idea. Also, another phenomenon was observed. The lighter skinned black immigrants took charge.

Another curious thing to me is that even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only applied to those in the rebellious states, not elsewhere, not even in the nation’s Capital, Washington, as I recall reading.

After the Civil War and after gaining their freedom, many former slaves and their descendants migrated north for better opportunities. And while they did find opportunities they also found discrimination just as bad as they faced in the South.

But thanks to the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders and their followers, and thanks to President John F. Kennedy who pushed for civil rights legislation, and thanks to that slain president’s successor, Lyndon Johnson (once a segregationist because it was politically correct in his neck of woods at the time), who used his political skill and influence to push through major civil rights legislation, great progress was made.

All this did not by itself change things, but it did provide the structure and the legal backup.

A phenomenon I have noticed is that many individuals, irrespective of their race, take advantage of legitimate opportunities where they find them. Others look to excuses and cynically see opportunity there.

And to offer a candid white perspective I have to insert this: the image of black rioters smashing store windows and carrying out TV sets during those riots that took place each summer in the 60s sticks in my mind — how did this help the cause? Law abiding black people should not have to suffer as a consequence of non-law abiding ones, just as patriotic Muslims should not bear the guilt of those who are here to do us harm — but in both cases it might not hurt to hear a condemnation of the bad people from the good people of the same race or religious faith (just like all good Christians should disavow Pat Robertson, and don’t I go far afield here?).

When I was in the Army I noted that a lot of black men took advantage of the opportunity for a career there while others only saw the opportunity to use charges of race discrimination to get out of doing work.

Today, many black youth seem to think it is more important to be cool and hang out with the wrong crowd than to study at school (of course this goes for youth of all races).

Discrimination has not ended but it is nowhere near what it once was. There is still, and possibly always will be, that natural division among the races, but we do have a black president, and the President of the United States is without question the most powerful person in the world. If that is not progress for the race, I don’t know what is.

Supreme Court firefighter decision shows why we need judicial balance…

June 29, 2009

And now I know why we need balance between conservative and liberal justices on the Supreme Court.

I wholeheartedly agree with the high court’s announced decision today that white New Haven, Conn. firefighters were wrongly denied promotions when they passed a promotion test with high marks but the test was thrown out by the city because no blacks scored high enough.

And let me insert quickly here that I am relatively sure that such does not mean black firefighters in general are just not smart enough, it only means that those who took that test were either not quite up to it or did not study hard enough or did not use the correct study materials. Unfortunately in life we sometimes have to take exams to get ahead, and worse yet the way to pass the exams is often to study the exams themselves, that is to say, it’s more important to get the correct answers than to actually know the material (sounds contradictory, but that’s the way tests are sometimes), and the exams might not be the best measure of someone’s knowledge or leadership ability, except that one who does not realize the relevance of studying to the test may not have the reasoning and judgment to be a leader.

The court found no evidence that the exams were flawed or were not relevant to the job for which they were designed to test for or that they were worded in such a way as to be more favorable to white firefighters than minorities.

In a previous blog I suggested that perhaps the New Haven fire department might initiate a program to encourage and offer some assistance (I think that is what I wrote more or less) to black firefighters to help them study for promotion exams. I would add that any actual help would have to be offered to all.

The Supreme Court basically indicated that the city overreacted when it threw out the test on the grounds that since no blacks scored high enough (many did pass, they just did not get high enough scores) the city might be liable to a discrimination lawsuit. The court said there was no evidence that the test or procedures were flawed or discriminatory (I’m just going by my own interpretation of a news story here – this is of course not a scholarly legal analysis).

This whole problem is the end result of policies first codified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and furthered by various court decisions since then in the name of affirmative action.

While I don’t consider myself a conservative, I have always been opposed to affirmative action. I totally support equal rights and because so many people did too the Civil Rights Act was passed. I now recall doing some research for a college paper and reading the original bill’s intent and If I recall correctly it said there was no support of quotas only equal access (paraphrasing of course). But all that changed with various judge-made laws over the years that called for all kinds of schemes, from hiring quotas to busing school children all around town to get racial balance (how would that play today with the cost of fuel and our environmental consciousness?).

Quotas and I think busing have been done away with for the most part (not sure about that, though). But the notion of somehow stacking the deck to make sure that minorities get jobs or promotions still seems to exist.

The main problem in all of this is that in trying to do away with discrimination the courts implemented reverse discrimination.

I have two nephews who wanted to be firefighters for the state of California.They took classes at junior college. But they were discouraged from applying. One veteran firefighting official told one of my nephews point blank that if he was not an American Indian or black or Hispanic, he should not bother. They both moved on and got into other work.

It seems to me that affirmative action has worked against minorities. It has put the notion forward that they cannot qualify on their own and that they are just not smart enough to pass tests. Nonsense.

In my own life experiences I have not, in general, detected any outright difference in abilities among the races (yes I know white men can’t jump and blacks make good athletes, but you know what I mean), at least not in intelligence or leadership capabilities. I think it is more about the upbringing of individuals and the choices they make.

I fear that affirmative action has given some in the minority groups a sense of entitlement, the same sense that whites once had over minorities.

How much confidence can one have in one’s self when he or she has to depend upon affirmative action rules to get ahead? Not much.

If minority New Haven black firefighters want promotions I suggest that they do what their white counterparts did – study for the test.

And before I forget, as I said at the top of this blog, it is good that there are conservatives on the court. I guess it is too bad that justices seem to have to be labeled conservative or liberal and cannot just be expected to objectively interpret the law – but then again, interpretation implies some kind of ideological thinking takes place and it does. So to get a balance between conservatively rigid, unbending interpretation that would uphold outright and quite legal at the time discrimination of the past and rulings that go far beyond the letter of the law or constitution, which liberals are prone to make, we need that balance. The New Haven decision was 5-4, with the expected conservative/liberal split. The tricky thing is getting a justice on there who is middle of the road so decisions can go either way, a swing vote, as they call it. I think at this time Justice Anthony Kennedy is the closest to the middle ground, although primarily a conservative. And he did write the majority opinion in this one.

Interestingly, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor sat on the appeals court panel that voted the other way in what was called a cursory opinion. In her defense, some observers say she was just following precedent. From what I have read about her, she tends to be liberal but is unpredictable. I kind of like that as long as she is following the law, as she interprets it, of course, and not making it up as she goes along. Maybe she could balance Kennedy and be a swing vote that is weighted to the left.

Rush and others have it wrong even if they have a point…

May 31, 2009

(WARNING: This is a long post. So if you don’t want to read it all I just want to say that while I think that Sonia Sotomayor would probably be a good Supreme Court justice I am concerned about a ruling she took part in that seems kind of like reverse discrimination (almost) and I also want to say that I know why the reactionary loudmouths are hollering “racist” and what they mean and why someone might buy it; it’s all about ratings, politics, and some legitimate white resentment. But if you have time, read on anyway so I will feel that I did something worthwhile.)


While I don’t agree with the tone of folks such as Rush Limburger Cheese (not his real name) or Newt Gingrich in their shrill, especially in the case of Limburger, sounding accusations that Sonia Sotomayor is a “racist”, I understand where they are coming from. I don’t agree with their motives or possibly in this case even the accuracy of their charges.

What they are claiming is that because she is on record as asserting that as a Latina she has better judgment than a white man, she is a reverse racist, thereby no better than the more familiar conventional racist who just does not care for folks who are black or even brown or yellow, because he (or she) is white.

Sotomayor is Puerto Rican (Hispanic) by heritage. She has been nominated by President Barack Obama to replace the retiring Justice David Souter (she is considered liberal and thus would keep the court’s liberal contingent intact, but interestingly enough, Souter was considered conservative until after he took his place on the court and the decisions started coming down).

Limburger (not his real name) is an entertainer who uses politics as his shtick, although I must admit he seems to have become a primary de facto spokesman for the somewhat fractured or disorganized Republican party, which seems to be searching for a new identity. Power abhors a vacuum, so Rush rushed in. And I’m going off the subject here, but apparently the cable news, to include the left-of-center commentators, seem to love the fact that Rush is the spokesman – they run clips of his harangues every day.

Gingrich I suppose is looking for some kind of political comeback. So every time he makes a racist accusation he is appealing to his base for political (money) support.

But buried way down to right here in this blog is what I really wanted to say. Both Limburger (not his real name) and Gingrich and others of their ilk are playing on white resentment. And by that I mean resentment from white racists as well as just everyday white people who are not racist.

Let’s go back in time to the 1950s and the1960s.

As a kid, even as a little kid, I knew that there was such a thing as racial discrimination and as a white boy I did not have to suffer from it.

The little farming town where I lived in the middle of California’s Central Valley had one area designated “Colored Town” and one designated “Mexican Town”.

A de facto type segregation was noticeable in the public elementary schools, especially among the black children, because most of them lived in a certain section of town.

I was told by my parents and learned by watching the news on TV, and I guess from teachers at school too, that in the South there were actually laws that discriminated against black people. They could not go to the same schools, could not use public swimming pools, and had to use separate drinking fountains – and the list goes on, and let’s not forget, perhaps worst of all black people were kept from voting by various means.

I saw the news reports of a white sheriff (s) using dogs against black civil rights demonstrators. I saw the National Guard having to be sent in just to allow some black kids to go to a public high school, and federal marshal’s to get them into state universities, and, well you know the rest…

Later, as I got older, I also learned that there was often discrimination in employment – and this was not just in the South. And also, I learned that discrimination of all kinds was not just in the South. In fact it was just as bad everywhere.

I was taught not to be racist, and that is not to say that no one while he or she grows up is not exposed to or even indulges in some what may be thought of as a benign form of racism (racial jokes and such).

We had a neighbor lady from Texas. She saw nothing wrong with discrimination (and this was no joke). She said that “colored people” back where she came from were more polite. “If you are walking down the sidewalk they will step off the curb for you,” she said, just as matter of factly as you please. She was telling that to my mom and I think my mom almost fell out of her chair. I was listening. But I knew better. She was an otherwise nice lady, but in her Southern culture she had grown up with some assumptions about the place of race in society.

My upbringing, from an early time, pointed me toward support of civil rights and dismantling racial discrimination.

Things seem to turn when through a tragic event, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, his vice president, from Texas, Lyndon Johnson, became president. Even though Johnson at one time had been a segregationist, he had turned to new deal-style Democratism and support of civil rights. Because Kennedy had unsuccessfully pushed for civil rights legislation, Johnson was able to use the sorrow of a nation to push it through, partly as tribute to Kennedy’s memory.

But of course passing laws alone does not necessarily change people.

However, at least the law was there. But as I became a teenager and throughout my teen years there were riots in the black ghettos all summer long every summer. There was a new militancy among black society. I never could understand what breaking a department store window and running out with a TV had to do with civil rights. None of us, no matter what our color or heritage, have a right to do that.

And then I was in the Army. And that is where I saw this strange dichotomy. Get this: I was assigned to my company. I was first greeted (if you want to call it that) by a stern and black First Sergeant. I was next introduced to a firm but somewhat less stern black platoon sergeant. I think the racial makeup of my company was about 50/50 black and white. It seemed that there were a tad more black NCOs among the career soldiers in my battalion. Among my peers I can tell you that there was no discrimination in promotions, at least from buck private to sergeant. I don’t recall seeing any black officers at that time where I was. But what I am trying to say is that there was certainly equal opportunity.

But among all of this we had a certain contingent of black soldiers who did not feel that they had to do what everyone else does or at least did not care to. To be fair, we also had white soldiers who felt this way. But the black soldiers had a ready advantage in this. If they did not want to do something, they hollered “discrimination”. Although this did not always work, especially in my company with so many black NCOs and a black First Sergeant, it did sometimes. The officer corps was particularly sensitive to discrimination charges because their higher ups were getting heat from their higher ups (it was all about the political pressure back home from those riots).

And caught in the middle of all of this are white folks who have never been overtly prejudice or practiced overt discrimination (or even acted in those ways in a suttle fashion) but who have watched some shirk their duties or try to take advantage using false charges of racism. And these white people are also told that if a person is a minority and robs a store we should consider the fact of his or her upbringing and the legacy of racial discrimination. There are white people who grow up poor (and yes, some of them rob stores), but they don’t, and shouldn’t, get that consideration.

We should all be judged “on the content of our character and not the color of our skin”, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said. And under the law we should be treated equally, and that goes both ways. We should all have the same rights and the same obligations.

I think a lot of us thought that civil rights legislation would mean that folks would be treated fairly and that there would be neither discrimination against blacks (or other minorities), nor against the majority, because turning things around and just treating others wrong didn’t make sense. If white folks have been discriminating against black folks, you don’t solve the problem by turning around and letting them be discriminated against.

But in too many cases in interpreting civil rights legislation the federal courts have done just that. Although I think most of it has been abandoned now, in many instances court decisions led to racial quotas being mandated by court orders. We wound up with qualified non-minorities being refused jobs because a certain minority quota needed to be filled.

I once suggested to a racial quota-supporting professor at college that rather than quotas, a better solution might be a lottery. I proposed in a paper for her class that if you had virtually equally qualified candidates for a job you could put their names in a hat and whomever is chosen gets the job by luck of the draw. She thought that was a novel approach, but I could tell she was not buying it.

Enough of that – back to that court pick:

At this point I have neither read nor heard anything yet that makes me think that Sonia Sotomayor should not be appointed the U.S. Supreme Court, but I still have a nagging concern over her part in the New Haven, Conn. firefighters case.

And her comment from sometime back saying something to the effect that as a Latina she would hope she would have better judgment than a white man seems to me like just so many words and probably one needs to read or hear the whole context of that. And it probably proves nothing more than that if you ever think you might have a chance to sit on the high court you’re better off to say little to anyone (except I’m interested in that open position). Then maybe again, she may be benefitting because she is so outspoken and caught the ear of Obama. Remember Republicans (and conservatives), the other side won and gets to choose.

She’s authored enough opinions and took part in many more, so her record is clear to anyone who cares to study it. I’ve only read some summaries, but she seems fairly even handed, except I imagine on close inspection one would conclude that she as often as not leans to the left (whatever that means – to me it means she can give the benefit of the doubt to the side that might not get such treatment from those who think there is always a hard and fast answer to everything and it always means preserving the status quo).

The firefighters case, Ricci vs. DeStephano, has reached the Supreme Court and is awaiting a decision. From what I have read it is expected that the court will reverse the lowers courts’ decision, thus, interestingly enough, reversing Sotomayor’s ruling, sitting on the appellate court. I guess that is because there is still a conservative advantage on the Supreme Court (in this particular case I feel that is a good thing).

You can read the case or stories or summaries of it online at various sites, but in a nutshell 118 firefighters of the New Haven, Conn.  City Fire Department took a test for eight vacant lieutenant positions and seven captain positions. Trouble was, the only ones who scored high enough for promotion were white (and, or to include, two Hispanics). No blacks scored high enough. The city decided to scrap the test figuring it would be liable for discrimination. The case eventually wound up before an appellate panel, upon which Sotomayor sits, and with a summary opinion, not arguing the merits of the case, the appellate justices decided it was proper for the city to throw out the test. No one got promoted. Those who would have got promoted are suing.

While I have read that the test may have been flawed somewhat in that it has a question or questions irrelevant to these particular positions, and while I have read that the test was judged by some not to be the best way to determine qualities of leadership, I have not read anything that says the test by itself was in anyway discriminatory to minorities (just possibly the result).

From what I have read, at least one of the white men taking the test had a learning disability and had to go to some expense to buy study materials, but he was able to pass it through his own hard efforts and sacrifices.

And that’s kind of the way it is in life. Sometimes it’s all about taking the test. The smart people are the smart people often for no other reason than they study for the test. I am sure that every one of those applicants had the same opportunity to do what was necessary.

However, I do think that the city could decide that maybe that test was kind of useless and a new test and a new procedure could be found and a new recruitment effort could be made to encourage all to learn what it takes to pass it and get promoted.

But, you know, aside from race, there are other barriers we all face. Some of us take tests better than others. Some of us are smarter (or not) than others, and, I hate to say this folks, but we all do not possess leadership qualities. But I think leadership probably is something more to judge by actual job performance and interviews.

And, I’ll never get through with this blog, but the idea that simply because minority test takers do not score high enough does not mean they are being treated unfairly.

And is it not being forgotten that the bottom line, especially for emergency personnel, is are we promoting those with leadership and SKILL? Those two qualities have to trump concerns over racial discrimination every time.


The Wall Street Journal has a good story on the New Haven case: