Archive for teens

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

“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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