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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Me and Race - Or (non)confessions of an old white dude

I shall try not to editorialize here.

I shall just describe my interactions with people who, unlike me, are not Caucasian (is that an okay word?)

I was born into a military family. My earliest recollections are living in military housing with black neighbors. I vividly remember, when I was about 13, living across the street from a black soldier who had married a German woman - they had two children; one was black, one was white.

No big deal to me. In fact not even a "deal."

I graduated high school just outside of Los Angeles in 1965. My school (named after a dead cowboy actor) was probably predominantly white, but had a good portion of blacks, as well as what were then called chicanos (and the Mexican-Americans I knew called themselves chicanos). 

I don't recall ever seeing anything racial.  There were a few black/white couples. The only "racism" I saw was when I would be cruising with my buddy (who later died in Vietnam) who happened to be black. Sometimes we'd be at a stop light and there would be a group of blacks on the corner and just before the light changed my bud would duck down whilst yelling the "n" word. I did not find this humorous.

I enlisted in the Army right out of high school. While at basic training Watts broke out. They had us (recruits) on standby in Fort Ord, California. I'm very grateful they didn't ship a bunch of newbies like us down to L.A. to help deal with the riots.

My first overseas assignment was Korea; I was there two years. In my ten-man detachment were two blacks and one Chinese-American. We all got along, and discussed the increasing race tensions amongst ourselves. 

The only issue of race I saw was that the ville outside our military installation clearly had an exclusively black side. Blacks could and did come on the "white" side with no problems, but it was not safe for a white dude to visit the black side.

From Korea I was shipped to Germany. While there the Germans invaded Czechloslovakia, and my unit traveled to the border a couple weeks prior to the invasion so we could gather intelligence. Enroute we stopped at a military base to spend the night.

Walking from our vehicles to our housing, a group of four or five black soldiers walked by us going the other direction. Our idiot lieutenant (not necessarily redundant) yelled at them, "Don't you boys know when to salute a superior officer?" His use of the word "boys" was intentional, and definitely meant as a racist statement. I didn't like the jerk anyway; I despised him after this.

The men turned, frowned, saluted, and left. Later that night they came after us, and that was the first time I fired a weapon in self defense. No one was injured or killed, but it was scary.

From Germany I went to Vietnam. This was '68-'69. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were dead. There were a few times that I was more concerned about some of the black soldiers than I was of the Vietcong and N.V.A. 

On July 9 I left Vietnam...the couple hours in Bien Hoa airport waiting to get on the plane were incredibly tense as blacks and whites separated themselves and many glared at each other. 

Throughout all these years I had no personal racism, nor any negative encounters with a black (or any other 'minority').

After the Army I got involved in drug dealing etc and got away with it for a few years. The guys I worked with were like the United Nations - blacks, whites, Chinese, Mexican etc.

Then I got busted and eventually ended up in Oregon State Prison. This began in 1973 and ended in 1977. Racism was for real there. Most of the gangs were based on race, from the Aryan Brotherhood to the Black Muslims (who then were more political/racist than religious). Though I had a couple black friends behind the walls, the heaviness of racism was tangible. It remains my opinion that the officials fueled this, with the thinking that if the inmates were divided among themselves less danger to the guards etc.

In jail, enroute to prison, I became a follower of Christ. He made (and makes) a huge difference in my life; but my feelings toward people of other colors did not never was, nor is, an issue.

All that to say I am not racist.

But I'll not be the token white guy apologizing to others for someone elses' racism. I'll do my own time; and ask you to do the same.

And I wouldn't be a cop for all the money in the world. All the rules are on the side of the bad guys. Therefore stuff happens. Sure, there are some bad cops, some racist cops. 

And, frankly, I'd like as much outrage and expressions of support for slain officers as there is for victims and "alleged" victims. I type "alleged" because in the most recent cases, I think "innocent until proven guilty" should apply to the officers involved.

I'm a felon. I can't legally have a weapon. But if I could, (and one never knows how strictly I obey the law), and if you tried to break into my home and/or harm me or a loved one, I would do my dead level best to dispatch you into eternity - whether you be white/black/brown/asian/etc.

(Oh - in case you were wondering, my grandfathers immigrated from Germany and Ireland; so no plantation owners in my bloodline)

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