Archive for Race relations

Teens and Race: Conclusion and Blog Suspension

We have covered the waterfront on this topic but I know it will continue to be a big one. I saw one Internet blurb that my favorite all-time sportscaster, Charles Barkley, may even be hosting a series of shows on the issue.

To summarize, I believe there are several more important categories than the purely artificial one of “race”: income, education, ideology, religion and occupation, to name but a few.

A great example on occupation is professional athletes: in the last two decades or so it’s been very rare to hear any prejudice against black or Latino (sometimes they seem a majority in baseball) athletes. What matters is pure performance.

This of course is being written as the 2016 Rio Olympics proceeds-any mention of race among the medal winners would be completely absurd!

I was inspired to be a runner by the 1964 Olympics, perhaps the best performance of US distance runners ever. One huge element of running is that “the stopwatch doesn’t lie”.   In team sports you can fraternize with coaches and get a leg up, so to speak.

In running it’s you against the world.  As a teen I was comparing my times to Africans and Australians, the distance powerhouses of the 1960’s and again race was completely irrelevant.

Since it is Olympics time, I’ll just conclude by telling about my closest brush with it.  In 1974 I moved from New England (after winning a couple road races and competing in maybe still the world’s most enjoyable one, The Boston Marathon) to the mecca for distance runners, Eugene, Oregon.

There are 12 US athletes that go to the four distance events (three per 5k, 10k, marathon and steeplechase).  Amazingly, five of the 12 came from Eugene: a fact that I don’t believe ever happened before or since. The most famous by far was Steve Prefontaine.  All I can say is that he was the Michael Jordan of the sport.  There are 18 different events in the sport and when a poll asked, “Who’s your favorite in track and field?” Pre got over 90% of the votes. I doubt if MJ himself ever polled that high and they certainly never made two movies about him as they did for Pre back in 1996: check the one where Jared Leto plays him, he seems to capture Pre’s spirit better.

To conclude my 1974 running items I’ll state that I only had a couple great races there, both 10Ks. In the first I finished just behind Jon Anderson, an earlier Boston Marathon runner-up and just ahead of Steve Savage, a 1972 Olympian. To be fair to Steve S, the 10K is three times longer than his event, the steeplechase! In the second I grazed the Olympic Trials 10K qualifying time but a month later my running career was over with a knee injury-Se la vie!

I did have a training partner, Matt Centrowitz, who made the 1976 team and now his son, Matt Jr. is a favorite in the 1,500 meters.  You can be sure I’ll watch that one on Aug. 21st!

Another thing about running and race is that the emergence of African athletes in the 1960’s and 1970’s was not nearly as important to fan interest, one way or the other, as the gradual ebbing of the Cold War.  As I recall, in the early 1960’s Stanford Stadium was packed with 80,000 fans to see US versus USSR.  A US-Russia track meet today would draw a small fraction of that number now. I truly was lucky to have my decade of running coincide with what many would call the “golden decade” of the sport in America, 1964-1974.

To wrap up both the running and race topics together, I will cite the seminal mid-1990’s epic work from D’Souza, “The End of Racism”. It covers a wide swath but with my athletics (by the way, that’s how most of the world refers to our “track and field”) background, my favorite part was how he dissected the genetics behind African Olympic medal winners over the previous two decades.

It turns out that no West African has EVER won a distance race medal (but it has excelled in both sprints and soccer-sports where power bursts are crucial), while no East African nation has EVER won a sprint medal, nor excelled in soccer, despite winning MOST of the Olympic distance races since the 1970’s.  Scientists say they represent two completely different gene pools, as different as black and white, so to speak!  To hark back to week one of this series, it is a clear case of genotype over phenotype. To complete the picture, North Africans, being on the Mediterranean for millennia, seem to be a complicated genetic mix, but even there there is some consistency: I can’t recall them ever winning a sprint medal but they’ve done well in some middle and long distance running events.

West Africans tend to be stockier and more powerful than their slim East African counterparts and of course US African American athletes are descended from West Africans and thus dominate those sports where power and quick bursts are vital while it is rare to see an elite African American distance runner, except of course for our East African imports!

To conclude the whole series, let me refer to the great Martin Luther King. I can still vividly recall walking across my Dallas campus on an April day in 1968 when I heard the news of his murder.  I cried like a baby for quite a while: it really affected me deeply. That was before I’d met my first black friend and my “fighting racism” consisted mainly of vociferously arguing with racist dorm mates and athletes, the majority of both groups being racist in 1967-68.

That next summer I had a job as a nonunion teamster with many black co-workers. We would unload 30-40 pound bolts of cloth from inside trucks.  Although it was a little over 100 degrees outside, when we brought a thermometer inside the truck it measured 150 degrees!  I know it’s not nearly as bad as picking cotton but after I finished eight hours of that drudgery by running 10-15 miles in the slightly cooler Dallas summer evening. Two interesting physical aspects of that summer is that, first I would urinate on awakening and that was it for the rest of the day-I would wring out my saturated shirt all day long. Second, my other runners and I would run a 10 mile loop around Dallas’ famous White Rock Lake because it was cooler, but the water attracted a wild variety of insects.  After our 60-70 minute run our entire bodies looked like a car’s windshield if you’d driven it cross country in summer without a cleaning!

Back to my black coworkers, maybe half the staff as I recall.  It was my first encounter with blue collar types of any hue! I became really fond of most of my co-workers and one in particular, a young black guy named Roy. He was the embodiment of the term “Hell on Wheels”. In what I believe was a more lenient era of enforcing driving laws (not forgetting the infamous DWB-driving while black), Roy had what seemed to be a Guinness Record for violations, especially speeding. Since he wasn’t allowed to drive a car he took his frustrations out on the poor humble fork lift. It could easily be a reality TV show today.  Roy was charming, always joking but he drove those warehouse forklifts at breakneck speed. The lift alone at those speeds in the tight warehouse corners is amazing but he did it with them stacked 3-4 pallets high! Amazingly, I can’t recall any injuries or even spilled pallets.

Of course when you spend eight hours a day for three months anywhere it’s hard not to pick up the local “patois”.  In this instance, most of the workers there spiced up their conversations with the intermittent M-F word. It’s possible I’d never heard anyone utter that word in person. Which was OK except when I went home to dinner. My mom wasn’t there as a referee since she worked the 3-11 shift as an RN and my younger brother didn’t have a clue at the time.

Anyway, the M-F word just seemed to seep out of my mouth. For example, “Please pass the M-F butter”.  I still remember the horror on my dad’s face the first time it happened-maybe something like the first Japanese bomb to fall nearby in Okinawa! To make it even more tense, we usually ate dinner in front of the TV news. I vividly recollect one “M-F bomb” landing during a news account of one of the many racial riots that occurred in that era-THAT night was our most vociferous argument on race!

To wrap up my personal early racial experience, I’ll refer back to my previous entry and my first black friend, Adam. He, along with Dr. King, inspired me to be much more active in “the struggle”.  In the fall of 1968, Dallas’ #1 racially-tinged issue was high food prices in black neighborhoods. Of course a lot of folks talk and complain about an issue but that fall two young black men decided to take action. They went to a local grocery and each filled up a cart with various goods but when they got to the cash register they just stood there refusing to pay. For their fairly mild protest they were given a 30 year sentence! A tiny group on campus printed shirts saying “Save Matt Johnson and Ernie McMillan”. I knew I had to wear one. On campus the shirts were mostly ignored (SMU was a rich kids school and I was only there due to the full athletic scholarship) but “crunch time”, in both senses, came during meals.  I ate all three meals in the athletic dining hall. There were maybe 100 athletes (most of them giving me looks that could kill and they were all pretty big!) that ate there, with only a handful of black ones and not a single one of them ever wore a “Matt & Ernie” shirt as I did. Perhaps because the 1968 Olympics had just finished with that iconic scene of Tommy Smith and John Carlos holding up the black glove salute on the medal stand the SMU coaches had all given “the talk” with their black athletes on attempting similar protests on campus.

It’s only fitting to conclude all my words about that antiquated 18th century shibboleth, “race” with Dr. King’s most famous quote:

“I have a dream that my four little children that one day I will live in a nation where they won’t be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”


Blog Suspension

As any reader of this blog knows, it started as my own little protest against family court. I continue to firmly believe that keeping fathers and less-well connected mothers from their children is one of the two or three greatest injustices in the US today, is almost totally ignored by the media and has almost as grave consequences for society as segregation had for America and apartheid had for South Africa.

If you’ve read many entries you know that I had a 14 year struggle (beginning with my son two months in utero!) to get 50/50 custody, never asking for full custody. I went through six or seven bad, mediocre and good attorneys, losing my career and $1.3M in lost wages, attorney fees and travel expenses in the process.

Part of it was appealing a 700 mile move away. I wrote my own appeal (wonderfully assisted by one of the two “good attorneys”) and miraculously won! I heard that a layman writing his/her own winning appeal happens less than 10% of the time. It made no difference in the least because my ex was granted nine straight continuances (I asked for one and was denied). I know perhaps a dozen dads and one mom who went through San Diego Family Court and had almost equally negative experiences. Even worse than the judges, were the so-called “mediators”, who seemed particularly biased. And, of course, it isn’t confined to San Diego.  If one reads the actor Alec Baldwin’s book, it sounds like Los Angeles could be even worse!

Anyway, May 2015 was a turning point in my life.  I had just broken up with my girlfriend (yes, she was black), the one I’d felt most compatible with in my entire life. The rents in San Diego continued their ascent to “Dante’s 7th circle of heaven” and it just hit me-why not move close to my son? I had of course thought about it for years but the economy in NE California had been slow (unemployment as high as 20% for one year) and seemed like a western version of Appalachia-beautiful but poor.

Since I was now on Social Security (albeit at a low rate due to working in Japan in my prime earning years), it made it feasible to move. It is beautiful here, the weather’s better than I thought, I live across the street from a CC with teaching potential and, best of all, only eight miles from my son.

I had a previous divorce with a VERY cooperative ex who allowed me to have, on average, a 32% time share through my daughter’s 8th grade.  This was despite six moves on her part (another reason I hadn’t moved north to NorCal earlier) to exotic locales like Sitka and Kotzebue (above the Arctic Circle where my daughter learned the local Eskimo dialect) Alaska. Despite those overwhelming geographic challenges, I can’t remember a single missed visit. It was easier in the 70’s-kids could fly unaccompanied at age four!

So, missing my daughter’s high school years (we did have every August & December together to see the UK, Japan, China, Thailand, The Philippines, Mexico/Copper Canyon and Argentina/Iguazu Falls, the worlds widest). I wonder how many dads have taken six extensive international trips with their daughters? Having missed HER teen years I didn’t want to miss HIS years, so I decided to move north.

And of course, once again family court looms. Last May I calculated that all my clawing and scratching in court had given me about a 15% time share since his birth. In the third of three court cases I had, it seemed the facts were on my side since my ex had not complied with 13 of the last 16 court-ordered flights but, again, absolutely no difference. So, last May I had the case transferred north-all six files. As one might expect with this massive bureaucracy, there were delays. In all it took four months. I calculated that if one put the six files in a shopping cart and pushed it only six miles a day you’d have them there faster-pure Kafka (by the way, a good man to know if you decide to take on family court!)

Despite that outrageous delay, I was in a completely different judicial world up north. San Diego Courts gave lip-service to shared parenting but mostly ignored it when it came to enforcement.  This county was completely different-they actually believed in it! Now, a cynic might say that since my son was now almost 14 it should be an open and shut case and maybe they’re right. Anyway, after 14 years and with no attorney (I might say that was a factor but I tried it only once in San Diego and it was a disaster.) I finally achieved a 50/50 time share. It can be complicated with holidays, birthdays, etc. but overall I was 95% satisfied-I don’t believe that number in San Diego ever got over 10!

OK enough of the good news-family court survivors can’t take too much of of that.  At roughly the same time I got 50/50 custody (New Years) I got cancer and this wasn’t one of those misshaped moles on your arm but a tennis-ball sized lymph node on the neck.  The oncologist I saw in January was very optimistic,even saying a 70% chance of cure because my type of cancer, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma is common and there should be lots of up to date research. I asked, “Which stage is it?” In his taciturn Indian-MD style he said “four”.  I replied, “What’s stage five?” With no change of expression he simply said, “Death”.

Well, that was before the first chemo regimen. I have now started #5. The third was Keytruda, the $150,000/year wonder drug that stopped 90 year old ex-President Jimmy Carter’s cancer. It did nothing for me. I am currently traveling 460 miles round trip to receive care at UC Davis. There’s a great staff and facility there but it’s strictly stop-gap. My plan is to move in with my daughter in LA by month’s end.

My family situation couldn’t be any better. My brother is a 100% match as a stem cell donor and he’ll drive me to LA.  I’ve always put my daughter on a pedestal (She runs her own company and just signed contracts with Fox, NBC and CBS and has two preschoolers while she juggles her hubby’s globe-trotting cameraman schedule) but she’s really outshown even herself recently.  She has a strong spiritual side and, as Trump would say, she’s HUGE on healthy eating, both of which are crucial in overcoming “The Big C”.

Of course all this means that, after those 14 years of struggle, I’m going to be separated from my son once again, this time for the longest time since his first year (that was a six month separation!). The doctors are vague on time frames but I’m expecting to have at least three months in LA. As in earlier eras, he’s going to have to start being a man. One of my biggest pet peeves is the helicopter parent/”boy in the bubble syndrome”. I went to Catholic schools in which both geography and history were much better taught than in today’s public schools. My son’s going to hear from me that for 99.9% of human history 14 year-olds were working, procreating and hunter-gathering.  Not that we should shove them out the door at 14, but kids today are extremely sheltered from the real world.  100 years ago most kids grew close to some of their farm animals but saw them die regularly. In all of our big wars : WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam many 17 and even some 16 year olds were on the front lines. The bottom line is that my son will gain more maturity this year than in all his previous 14 together.

One last thing about LA.  I’m lucky again in that my daughter’s house is roughly equidistant between two great cancer hospitals, City of Hope and UCLA.  The latter is rated #6 in the US for cancer and the other is #20 but known for innovation.

This blog will be suspended and perhaps is finished for good. I frankly feel that I’ve exhausted family court (for a great summary of the topic see the DVD DivorceCorp) as a topic.  Even The Big C can’t conquer Twitter, so you can follow me there:@jskidsmc. It’s very different from this blog, a lot of anti-PC stuff and geopolitics. I think my last one was presidential vs. parliamentary systems.  If we had the latter, we’d maybe only be stuck with one of these two abysmal candidates for a few months!

As the main character used say in my favorite TV show as a six year old:

“Bu-deep, bu-deep, bu-deep, that’s all folks!”










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Teens and Race, Part IV: A Tale of Two Cities

Dear Son,

I. Baton Rouge, La.

Although I began my college in Dallas (only because SMU offered the best full athletic scholarship), the first year was boring.  Early in my sophomore year, Adam strolled into my open dorm room.  Other than the 2-3 black athletes on the track team and the 2-3 in my high school, he was the first African American I’d met.

Adam was an amazing talker: as they said in Texas at the time, he could charm the skin off a snake! I was very surprised to hear that he had no “black accent” whatsoever. It proved very useful in making dinner reservations and especially on our long trip to Chicago and New York:he could seemingly arrange almost anything over the phone!  In the 60’s and 70’s the cheapest way for 2-5 people to travel was a “Driveacar”, a company that transported people’s cars and then found drivers who only had to pay for gas-even better than Uber!

So what about Baton Rouge you say?  Adam was actually from New Orleans, the big city a couple hours south.  I visited him once for Mardi Gras (a real “bucket list” experience) and of course enjoyed the carnival atmosphere.  What was almost equally enjoyable was to stay with his very friendly family and be greeted by the “rooster guard-dog” in the front yard!

OK, now for the Baton Rouge connection. It is the capital of Louisiana and maybe even more importantly, the home of Louisiana State University, one of the South’s oldest and largest. Adam claimed to have been one of the first black students there, but if you’re not the very first, it’s hard to verify and Adam was full of some mind-stretching stories.  The one I do believe was his depiction of his first shower after his PE class: he said that many of the white students sincerely expressed surprise that he didn’t have a tail, as their families had told them! At least we’ve ALL moved beyond that in the 21st century!

II. Kansas City: a tale of two grandmas

There is a current nexis (a good word to know) between the two cities.  About a month ago, a black man was shot and killed by the police in Baton Rouge. The incident is still being investigated (my old friend Adam and the victim shared the same surname but were not related) but apparently in retaliation a black man from Kansas City drove all the way to Baton Rouge, almost 800 miles, and shot several law enforcement officers, killing three. This was less than ten days after the five police murders in Dallas.

Kansas City was an important part of my youth, especially prior to high school.  I had visited my grandmother and my dad’s side of the family, every Thanksgiving, Christmas and part of summer vacation annually. Although Missouri was a border state and thus not part of the Confederacy, my dad’s mom was racist to the core, openly using the “n-word”.  The irony was that she was the dearest, sweetest woman I ever met in my life, far nicer than my mom’s mom in upper New York State (who was not overtly racist and in fact the KKK burned a cross in HER yard, back in the 1920’s, since they were also against Catholics and Jews).

My KC grandma was so nice that I usually forgot about her racism and it was only natural to call her for a place to stay since her city was on the route Adam and I took on our grand sojourn to Chicago and New York. The dinner and evening with my grandmother went very well and she was nothing but extremely pleasant to Adam the entire time. We bade farewell the next morning and it seemed that all was well.

It wasn’t until I talked to my dad on the phone a few days later that I heard there was a problem. He was what I might call “semi-indignant” and said that grandma was shocked to see me with a black friend and that she immediately washed all the sheets on Adam’s bed as soon as we left.

My dad himself had the chance to succumb to Adam’s charms (perhaps part of it was that Adam was wearing a suit whereas I was in typically sloppy 1968 era garb) and was the perfect gentlemen when Adam had an overnight stay in our new California home a couple weeks later. My dad and I did argue about race but not as much as the Vietnam War. Speaking of Asia, and in conclusion, my dad was much more anti-Japanese than anti-black, having served in Okinawa in WW II.  I can still see the shocked look on his face as he drove me to the airport for my first job in Japan!





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Teens and Race Part 3: Big D

Dear Son,

Last week I told you a few things about my birthplace and where I lived until your current age, 14.  Just before my 9th grade I had a triple shock: I would be going to an all-boys school, had to wear a uniform and we were moving to Dallas, Texas.

After WW II my parents returned to my Dad’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri but the job prospects were slim there. So, he took a job in the once-again boom-town of Tulsa. A quarter century later he got a lucrative job transfer to the new boom-town of Dallas-amazingly both moves were about 260 miles south.

The city was quickly expanding north and my school, Jesuit College Prep had decamped from an inner city area to the north edge of the city.  Because it was considered the most prestigious Catholic school in Dallas, the students often came from wide distances, 10-30 miles was common. Unlike my Tulsa schools there was some diversity but only a handful of blacks and only one Jew! However, there were two big ethnic groups, Italians and Hispanics.  The ethnic slurs for those groups were much more widely heard than “the n-word”.

We moved into town in August, 1963 and my brother and I slowly adapted to very different environments.  At school in Tulsa politics=JFK.  The nuns were so proud of our first Catholic president that they engaged in propaganda (a good old Medieval Catholic word) that would probably be banned today. In Dallas my teacher was a black seminarian who had us analyze Dylan songs and discussed civil rights. In fact the next year he and a couple other teachers got up and left, seemingly on very short notice, to march for civil rights in Mississippi and Alabama.

At the end of my third month in Dallas, my political instincts had been stoked to the point that I was very excited to hear that we would be released from school for JFK’s visit and that my Dad wanted us to see him at the airport.  Three years earlier we’d seen Nixon do a quick drive-through in Tulsa but this sounded more intimate and indeed it was.  The car-caravan was just beginning so we got a relatively good look.

On returning home I was listening to my beloved rock and roll on the radio when an announcer broke in to say, “The president has been shot!” Of course we all couldn’t conceive of the president actually being gone, so we immediately turned on the TV for updates.  Within a few minutes, though, the terrible truth emerged. I recall a huge controversy at the time, “Should the NFL cancel its games that were scheduled only two days after the assassination?”

To me, watching the news and sports that weekend, it seemed that the country was roughly evenly divided.  The NFL decided to play its games but I vividly recall that my new team, the Cowboys, played in Cleveland and there were big “Dallas Assassins” signs evident for parts of the game.  The media also jumped in and defined Dallas as “The City of Hate”. I believe that some strong political polarization existed there (both JFK and LBJ were lightning rods) but that racial attitudes were no worse than the Texas average, LBJ himself being a staunch segregationist until the 60’s. Attitudes in the Deep South were far more hostile as evidenced by the fact that blacks joined college sports teams earlier in Texas than in the Deep South.

Fast forward 53 years to July 7, 2016 and it is clear to me that Dallas is now one of the better US cities for race relations. The fact that people of all ethnicities were praying for the officers while they were being treated at Baylor Hospital (where my Mom was a nurse in the 60’s) and later engaged in a long and deeply-felt mourning period. Best of all of course were the words, tone and actions of Police Chief David Brown. Dallas citizens were so moved that police job applications are up 344% in the 18 days since the second most tragic day in city history.  In fact the whole nation was clearly moved and I can’t help but feel that if he’d been leading our nation the last few years that race relations would be far better.





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Teens and Race

“Race is the last refuge of a scoundrel” Since history isn’t taught well in our schools today, most teens (and, to be fair, most of today’s parents) won’t catch the historical reference.
In the late 18th century the hot topic was royalty and one’s right, indeed some said responsibility, to rebel against it. In 1775 the American colonies were just beginning their rebellion and the British monarchy was under assault from both within and abroad. Ironically, one of the monarchy’s supporters had a political conflict with one of the other supporters of King George and he penned the immortal line: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.  That quotesmith was Samuel Johnson and he was so prolific that if one goes to you’ll find 35 quotes starting with A-words alone.  Indeed “race” is the lightning rod of our new century, just as “patriotism” was for the 18th and perhaps, with all its great wars, the 20th century as well.  Politicians on all sides invoke this shibboleth when they want to end the discussion to avoid losing a more complex argument.  I find it particularly amusing when this is raised by a leftist who typically elevates “science” to a level just short of divinity, or, in some cases, even replacing divinity!

The concept of race belongs back in the 18th century with Samuel Johnson and alongside such ideas as phrenology and bleeding as a cure for illness.  My 14 year old and I frequently play Scrabble and consult Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, so I did it here and found 11 definitions but the first one really says it all, “a group of persons related by common descent or heredity”.  This is probably close to the American consensus definition, but when we look at science, it is clear that “race” should be replaced by “ethnicity”-a much less psychologically and politically charged term and one which covers billions of people who don’t fit easily into racial boxes: Indians, Pakistanis, Indonesians, Arabs, Latin Americans, etc.

What little science there is behind race can be reduced to two simple scientific concepts: genotype and phenotype.  The former is the sum total of genes transmitted from parent to offspring.  The latter, again according to Webster, is “the appearance of an organism resulting from the interaction of the genotype and the environment. Thus, each of us is simply an elaborate combination of phenotype and genotype and probably a wild combination of ethnicities-as seen in the TV ads.

In conclusion, to really prove that race doesn’t matter let’s look at homicide in the last century:

*In the last 100 years “whites” killed over 100 million of their fellow “whites”, mostly in the two world wars.

*In the last 60 years it was mostly Asian killing Asians, 80 million in China, Cambodia and North Korea: as verification for China, I highly recommend Dikotter’s “Mao’s Great Famine”, which documents how he killed 45 million alone from 1958-1962 while the world turned its collective head away.

*In the last 30 years it has been Africans killing Africans, at least 20 million in civil wars of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Liberia, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique, again, mostly ignored by the media and non-Africans.

I guess “race” really wasn’t so important in any of those places!


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