August 27, 2013

The ‘N’ Word

I want the “N” word back. I want it pulled out of solitary confinement, dusted off, and plugged back into the “N’s” of Webster’s New World Dictionary.   To be sure, it’s an ugly word. It has little to recommend it. However, to blacks, hip-hoppers, and Hollywood, who toss it around freely among themselves, it has a certain utility. It is used to club ‘Whitey’ over the head should he let it slip. Well, enough of that nonsense.

Eric Holder accuses white Americans of being ‘cowards on race’. He’s absolutely correct. How a nation of immigrants, whose arrival here came decades after the Civil War, was brow-beaten by academics and political activists to accept guilt for the ‘sin of slavery’, in which they had no part, ranks with the greatest propaganda coups of all time. These were the unwanted and unwashed of Europe and Asia, an underclass of serfs, willing to risk life and limb to seek a better life. In the early years of the 20th century, they toiled side-by-side with black Americans in the factories, mines, packing houses and railroads trading their sweat for subsistence wages. They shared a life of human social and economic deprivation.

How is it then that contemporary blacks, passing a white person on the street, link that stranger to slave ownership and see a person-of-privilege, white-privilege? The institution of human slavery is old and color blind. It pre-dates Christianity. It was commonly practiced among all of the peoples of the world. It was through the initiative of Christian denominations in England and the United States, fighting to reconcile the moral imperatives of individual human worth and equality before the law, that slavery was rolled back and those ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence slowly began to force political reality into alignment with the law-of-the-land. Despite their efforts, white Christians still find themselves held in contempt. Paradoxically, Islam continues to embrace slavery, yet black conversions to Islam continue to rise.

Victor Davis Hanson writes, “Somehow in the 1980s we redefined in our schools colonialism, slavery, and imperialism as exclusively European, rather than merely human pathologies – as if the Arab world did not match or trump the European slave trade, as if the Ottomans had no empire before the Europeans in the Mediterranean, as if Persians, Japanese, and Chinese had not sought to conquer, enslave, and exploit their weaker neighbors.”

Diversity, in my opinion, has become a code-word for ‘blackness’. I find it patronizing and insulting. So, as I discovered, do many blacks. While sharing pizza several years ago with several Carleton College international students, a beautiful Somali woman, the daughter of immigrants, told me of the emphasis that her parents placed on academic achievement. They both worked several jobs to ensure that their children would become educated. They believed in education as the key to upward mobility. Ethno-religious differences aside, the message was, and is, the nearly universal message of prior immigrants – knowledge is the key to your future. What she revealed next in the course of our conversation was illuminating. At her public St. Paul high school, the Somalis and other off-shore black students found it necessary to confront the faculty and staff, and insist that they be held to the same standards as the white students. They did not wish to be lumped together, academically, with the home-grown blacks. The cultural attitudes were a chasm apart. She described a native black student body that mocked studying as ‘acting white’, that believed that ‘the man’ would hold them down, hence there was no need to excel.

Christopher Orlet writes in the American Spectator, “But if you are a single parent with multiple children by multiple fathers, and a high school dropout, with a record, then chances are you are part of that culture. If you move to a new rental every six months, yanking your kids out of school after school, and if you do drugs in front of your children, and sell your food stamps for cash, then chances are you are part of that culture. If you are 20 years old, living with your grandmother, with no interest in ever getting a job, or getting married, or doing much of anything, chances are you are part of that culture. If you do not have a kitchen table, but you do have a big flat screen TV, and when the social worker comes to visit someone yells, ‘The social worker is here, go get the light bulb,’ then chances are you are part of that culture”.

He continues, “When I moved into the inner-city, I hoped to gain some insight and understanding of the poor and their situation. Two years later I left feeling the situation is intractable. Everything the professional uplifters do for the poor is but pruning the branches, instead of hacking at the roots of the problem. For the underclass to escape the culture of poverty they would have to cease doing most if not all of the above, and I don’t see that happening”.

He states, “Besides, as I have written before, too many of the underclass enjoy the culture of poverty. They would feel horribly out of place in a tony subdivision where they would have to work to make a house and car payment, instead of drinking beer all day on the stoop – they don’t even have stoops in the suburbs. They would have to cut their lawns and keep the trash and noise to a minimum. What fun is that? In the inner-city you can do whatever the hell you want. You can even shoot somebody, and chances are no one will rat you out, because that is the code of the inner-city streets, and people there hate the cops more than they hate the drug dealers”.

The fracturing of the political glass ceiling by a black man does not come without cost to the minority population. Obama’s ascendancy to the top of the pyramid forces a reassessment of the strengths and shortcomings, both real and imagined, of the society that put him there. His election affirms that the principles upon which the nation rests are inclusive, that the complex matrix that is American society is navigable by any citizen regardless of race, creed, gender, or national origin – or, to invoke the word that gives me heartburn, our diversity. Our strength as a nation does not come from ‘our diversity’. It derives from the belief in, and the acceptance of, a common ethos, by a diverse population, that we are equal in the eyes of our Creator and that we stand equal before the law.

While attending a Veteran’s Day program at a suburban Atlanta grade school a few days after Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral victory, I wondered if the black students singing the patriotic songs felt different on this day, more connected to the nation whose history had short-changed their ancestors, more ‘in love’ with their homeland. Were they now considered equal stakeholders? Could it be said that the time had come to run the ‘race card’ through the national shredder? The answers will be long in coming, but I believe that those youngsters were the prime beneficiaries of Obama’s election, all other considerations aside.

Such optimism, however, is fading. A nation whose president, chattering classes, and civil rights establishment can’t deal honestly with the Trayvon Martin shooting has major problems. A cursory examination of the facts confirm that Trayvon was a troubled young man, a drug user, a petty thief, a truant, a street-fighter, a misogynist. He was ‘tossed’ from his mother’s Miami residence, and his Miami high school, because of his behavior. His purchase of Skittles and the can of Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice cocktail, if his Facebook posts are believable, were to be used in combination with the cough syrup, Robitussin, to produce a drug concoction called “Lean”. He assaulted George Zimmerman. Yet he has been portrayed as an innocent young man just returning home with candy for his ‘brother’.

We are left to ponder why America’s ‘queen of daytime television’, a black billionaire, and other prominent blacks in this white-majority country, dare to invoke victimization, to play the race card, to fault an entire society for the transgressions of a few, here and abroad. We ask why Al Sharpton – a liar, a charlatan, a tax avoider – is still allowed to be the voice of black America. They dishonestly equate the Martin shooting with the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in August 1955 – a patently false comparison.

I was stationed in the deep south during the civil rights era. In 2004, I was asked to write an Independence Day essay for a local newspaper:

“Lieutenant, ah nigras is heppy”, he said, all three hundred pounds of him under his Smokey hat. It was forty years ago this week and we were in his Mississippi Highway Patrol vehicle leading a gray school bus full of sailors to a search area platted by the FBI in rural Neshoba county.

On June 22, 1964, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Cheney, a young black, were reported missing. They were civil rights activists engaged in voter registration drives in the deep south. Those of us stationed at McCain Field Naval Air Station, north of Meridian, were directed to assist in the search. The movie “Mississippi Burning” is Hollywood’s account of those events.

As we drove to our map grid, the patrolman and I conversed. He was a decent guy, but conditioned by the culture of the deep south. No klansman, he nevertheless accepted the “minor” deprivations suffered by blacks. What did I think? I chose my words carefully.

“I am an officer of Marines. We, all of us – white, black, yellow, brown, red – are sworn to defend the Constitution, and give our lives for this country if need be. No one who bears that burden should be denied service at a lunch counter, use of a bathroom, a seat on a bus, or the right to cast a vote. It is really that simple”.

Our Founders asserted that our rights are derived from God, in our case, a Judeo-Christian God, and that “all men are created equal” before the law. Despite the words, it took us almost a century, and a civil war, to move closer to the expressed ideal. Another century later, my sailors and I were scouring the Pearl River littoral, dodging water moccasins, searching for the remains of a new breed of patriot.

My patrolman could not understand why these college kids were descending on the south and stirring up trouble. It made him uncomfortable. It upset the status quo.

I told him that the time was ripe. We had backed away from the reality of slavery at the time of the founding because, in order to cobble together a nation, some problems had to be marginalized. The national ideals were nevertheless codified. People of good will, of high moral purpose, would rectify our national shortcomings in due time.

A patriot is defined as “a person who loves his country and will do all he can for it”. As we approach our 228th birthday, we recognize our patriots in all our shapes, colors, uniforms, jobs – all of us who love “this greatest country on God’s green earth”.

“Happy Birthday. May God Bless America.”

I returned to the deep south recently. The highway that we used years ago during the search is now named in honor of the three young men who died pursuing an ideal.

After two years of living in ‘the hood’, Christopher Orlet concludes, “Here’s what I know. We know what it takes to be successful in America. What we can never know is how to make people want to be successful”.

Now back to the “N” word. Does it have a place in the American lexicon? Let the debate begin. Perhaps, for starters, it could be used to describe the killers of Chris Lane and Delbert Belton.

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