I ran across an interesting topic in the news a couple of days ago, and I have been following it since, and it has led my to question some of the things that I consider to be my "opinion". The article in question was about a local civic group who saw a need (litter and trash along a local highway), petitioned to be allowed (as is their right under state and federal law) to address that need, and had their application denied because of their beliefs. Was this the Amish or some other little-understood or secretive religious group? Maybe an unpopular political group?
No, it was a local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan in Georgia who wanted to participate in the Department of Transportation's "Adopt-A-Highway" program. Now, this was not in a big city or hugely populated area, but rather a local highway in a rural setting.
Their application was denied. Is this right? Having postulated that question, here is another-is it morally right or legally right? Or wrong, as the case may be. In any event, they were denied. The State of Georgia originally said that it was because of the fact that the KKK is a "hate group", but they quickly backed off of that statement when the realized that it was unlawful. The Constitution covers their beliefs under the "Free Speech" provision and to deny them the same right as everyone else is not lawful. Then, they came up with another reason, which was that the stretch of highway in question had a posted speed limit of 65 MPH, and it would be "unsafe" to allow anyone (not just "hate-mongering racists) to pick up the trash there. However, the problem there was that the States own policy regarding such conditions did not allow for such a denial, as policy states that "in the event of safety issues such as speed, the groups application will be modified to allow for a secondary location to be assigned". And, of course, they didn't do that.
In addition, you have that pesky Supreme Court decision in Mississippi that forced the State to allow their local chapter of the KKK to clean up the litter on the highway.
So, at this point, the State of Georgia has denied the application, but has not yet provided a clear reason for the denial. You have the local residents of the community, which are divided on the matter. Some agree with the State in saying that because the KKK is a "hate group", they should not be allowed the same rights that the rest of us have. Others say that their beliefs are a constitutionally-protected right and that you cannot deny them participation in events based on their beliefs. One local citizen even made the statement that it really wouldn't matter all that much, as he was white and would not be affected by the group, but that if a black person was just "driving through", why, they just might get the wrong idea.
What does the local chapter of the KKK have to say about the matter? Well. that is what caught my attention. This particular group says that they do not hate anyone, they just want to be around their own race. They are not prejudiced against blacks, nor do they hate the. They just want to associate with their own group or race. Well, the words "white separatist" immediately spring to mind, right? But lets wait just a moment-they also made some other interesting comments.. The leader of the chapter has said that, basically, because they are white, they are being discriminated against.
Huh? His point, and I tend to find that I agree with this, is that nobody finds fault with the various black organizations that behave or act in a similar manner. Ditto with the Latinos. If you are a person of color and you join a social or civic organization which promotes racial unity, you are politically correct and everything is rainbows and candy. If you are white and you do the same thing, you are a "racist" or a "white supremist" or 'separatist". He went on to compare his group with other civic organizations, such as the Lions, Elk, Moose, Masons, Catholics, etc. by saying that all they wanted to do was a service to the community and clean up the roadways. As mentioned earlier, precedent exists. In addition to the Mississippi ruling, the courts also sided with a Nazi party group who wanted to do the same thing. Although in that particular case, the court also sided with the State by ruling that the State had the right to require that the group change its name from the Nazi party to the "Freedom Party". It would seem that the State also has rights, one of which is the right to refuse "inflammatory language".
Currently, the chapter of the KKK which is involved here has contacted the NCLU (I think! It is the national organization that watches over and protects from civil rights abuses) who says that, while they may not agree with the philosophy of the KKK, they have the right to Constitutional protection just as everyone else does. They are currently reviewing the relevant laws and they say that, once their review is completed, they will reach out and contact the State of Georgia in an attempt to settle this matter "without litigation". They have also said that, while they prefer to settle matters without resorting to litigation, they will, if necessary, proceed with that.
The National Civil Liberties Union defending the Klan! Who would have thought that this would have ever happened? One of the statements by this particular chapter, in reference to questions regarding their past, was that times and people change, and that they (and I assume that he is referring to their particular chapter) were not a hate group, nor did they have a desire to persecute their neighbors. They are a group with many christian members that just wants to associate with their own people, and held no ill-will to others (blacks and latinos were specifically mentioned) who wanted to do the same. Another was in regard to the Klan's practice of burning crosses. This group said that they do not "burn" crosses, they "light" them, and that it is done as a way of signifying the "Light of Jesus which dispels the Darkness and welcomes all." Well, as long as you are white, I guess. Personally, I would assume that they did not catch the incongruity of that statement, with its indirect racial overtone, but maybe they did? It is very politically correct, even with its dual meanings!
Now, here is the thing. While I do not agree with the Klans policies, in this matter, I think that they are right. I also, as mentioned earlier, tend to agree with the leader of this chapter and his assessment of the perception of other groups when compared to his I have seen this, and have even commented on such an attitude elsewhere in the blog. This has led me to examine my own beliefs and opinions in regard to race and prejudice, which has led my to this question: Am I a racist? Or just prejudiced? Or is there a difference?
Now this is going to get complicated, so bear with me and save your judgement for someone else. I asked myself the question-am I a racist? Well, first of all, what IS a racist? I went to wikipedia for a definition, and according to that-no, I am not a racist. I do not believe that I am naturally superior to others, just as I believe that nobody is naturally superior to me. To me, being a racist would be militant Islam. Or the Black Panthers. Or, for that matter, the Klan, although they are no longer relevant as an organization with influence, as their membership has dropped to an estimated 4000 to 5000 people nationwide. Or the group that that clown Mezgers created, which then bit him in the ass.
To me, a racist is one who actively hates others because of their ethnicity. One who espouses violent acts as an expression of the belief-set to which they ascribe. That is not me.
But what about prejudice? Does that describe me? Once again, I dash off to wikipedia to search for a definition. This one is a little harder, but in general, the answer is yes. I am prejudicial towards certain ethnic groups. This begs the question of why. Why is it that, while I do not hate others because of their ethnicity, I don't really like them all that much either? This has required that I start looking around inside myself, which (trust me!) is not a pretty sight, in order to find out why. In all actuality though, it was not very hard at all to determine why I have the attitudes that I have.
When I was young, I grew up in East Saint Louis, Illinois. In the 1960's and the 1970's! Now, E. St. Louis is one of those places where, if you are not a certain color (black) or you do not belong to the neighborhood, you probably don't want to go to. At least not if your intention is to make it out with all of your possessions, if not your life. It is the kind of place where the mayor, when I was growing up there (Carl Officer), had bodyguards who carried fully automatic Uzi's and the gang members would approach you while grid-locked on the freeways and offer to sell you drugs. You did not conduct ANY business of ANY kind in E. St. Louis without the mayor getting his cut. But none of this bothered me, because I was part of the neighborhood. Black kids were my friends, we played together, ate meals at each others houses, got in trouble together, and everything else. Eventually, my mother started getting scared because of all of the racial issues that were going on in that place and at that time.
So we moved. To rural,small-town southern Illinois. Out in the butt-crack of nowhere, surrounded by corn, wheat, and beans. But no black people!
No friends. We moved, and I started my first year of high school in a lily-white community, not knowing anyone and having no friends. Portions of the student body and myself had a mutual agreement to keep our mouths shut. They said "Niggers", while I said "Friends". They said "Nigger-lover", while I said "fucking red-neck" . They learned real quick that this "city-boy" not only knew what a "country ass-whuppin'" was, he also knew how to dish them out quite effectively. Plus, the fact that my dad put a gun in my hand as soon as I was big enough to keep the muzzle from dragging in the dirt, and I was a dead shot. That, more than anything, helped them to accept me. Eventually! I guess it is just part of the country life. And, strangely enough, chess! This high school had all of the usual school groups-football, basketball, baseball, and the like-but they also had a chess team. It sucked ass and their record was a little lower than the turd floating in the bowl, but it was a team, and I KNEW how to play chess! Another one of the things that pops taught me. Shoot straight, study history, and play chess. Amazing how they are all interrelated at some level!
Anyway, here I am, a square peg in a round hole. Bungled my way through high school and life, and got the fuck out as soon as I was 17. Joined the military and spent the next 12 years learning how to get along with others. This where it really all started, too. This is where I learned that we are all the same. It is hard to hate niggers when your best friend and the person you trust your life to is one. When you have your arms buried up to the elbows in his body trying to keep him from bleeding out because some rat bastard cocaine cowboy in Columbia blew him up so they could sell more dope. And while you are doing this, another "nigger" is working on you, because you just took an AK round through the thigh. The military teaches you that there is no black or white, there is only green!
So, that started my early attitude of tolerance and respect. But what in the hell happened? Well, that is easy. Like I said earlier, I went to prison. When you go to prison (and I do not mean jail, as they are NOTHING like each other!), you are immediately thrown into extremely close contact with, for lack of better term, the dregs of society The lost, and the losers. I lived in a room that was probably 12x20. With seven other guys. For FIVE years! A room that was a combination of bedroom, bathroom (yes, you shit where you eat and sleep!), and living area. In such a situation, you learn very quickly all of the negative associations that involve other people and groups. You learn very quickly to either bow to prison politics, which call for strict and inviolate separation of the races, or suffer the consequences of your violation of the "prison code". If you are the type of person who holds to attitudes and behavior patterns which are at odds with the code, you learn to fight. Fortunately, I am very, VERY good at that! Or was, at least. You don't eat together, you don't associate in any meaningful way with each other, and it is very much a culture of "us against them", with "us" being the white race, and "them" being everyone else.
Needless to say, we clashed. Frequently! And while I got a fair reputation as someone who wins fights, quantity is a quality all its own, as they say. I was "approached" by the local shot-caller, who said that, while he admired me sticking up for what I believed in and that by doing so, I was a credit to my race, the next time they would be coming to kill. Well, that didn't work out so well for them on the first two occasions, but I figured out that this was a battle that I could not win, so we reached an agreement. Of course, at the time, I was bleeding like a stuck pig from getting stabbed, but dude had two broken legs. We decided that, as soon as he healed up, I would "work" for him in areas which required attention, but did not involve race. In other words, they would leave me alone as long as I was not vocal in my opinions and I would beat people up for them. Which I agreed to, as most of the people in question needed it. Chomos, mostly. And snitches of course.
As time passed, I began to develop my negative attitudes towards people of color. Remember, before you rush to judgement here, I was in constant close contact with the worst that society had to offer! I do not think that it is possible to exist in such a manner and NOT be affected in some way. And I was affected. It made me sick to realize that, not only was I falling into the trap of judging everyone by the actions of a few. but that it was being forced upon me and I could not get away from it. It's like slowly going crazy and knowing it, but not being able to stop it. And then, one day, it was over. I was told to roll up and get out. Have a nice day and stay out of trouble, but we have a spot for you, if you can't! No decompression time, no nothing. One day you are in orange, and the next you are in Levis, trying to figure out just what in the hell has happened in the last 5 years!
So, my day got here and I got out. With an unbelievable load of baggage and issues! My PTSD was raging, my sense of self-worth was at an all-time low, I was scared and angry at everyone, and I know how to kill. NOT a good combination! The key point was when I was at the bus station in Texas, on my way home to Colorado. I was sitting on the bench and this black guy who was a bum was sitting next to me. Stunk! God that mutherfucker stunk! He asked for money, wanted to share my food, and was, in general, well on his way to becoming a statistic. Then this fat, sweaty, white pig of a cop came over and started harassing him by telling him that he needed to move on and not disturb white folks.
HUH? Wait just a fucking minute here! This is America and the sixties are fucking over! He wasn't being moved on because he was a bum, he was being harassed because he was black and because he might be bothering a white person. And I don't LIKE blacks! But this is just fucking wrong. I wondered how my buddy would have handled it. Well, if I had been able to keep him alive, that is. I told the cop to fuck off, that the guy was a friend of mine and that he wasn't bothering me. And I think that, at that moment and because of my thoughts of my friend, who I had not been able to save, my world changed. Kind of like the Grinch, when his heart grew three sizes that day!
But habits that have been ground into you over years are hard to change. I have major trust issues, for a number of reasons, but I don't hate anyone. Not anymore. I have developed a "work-around" that has not confronted my prison and trust issues. I still do not like black or mexican people as a general rule (and I'm not real fond of most white people, for that matter), but I make case-by-case exceptions. I allow my dislike of their race in general to exist, but I judge each member of that race which I come in contact with individually and on their own merits. As individuals and not as a group. It is a very strange study in contrasts, as I count among my best friends both men and women who are black and latino, and they are fully aware of my attitudes towards them as people.
I guess that the easiest way to say it is that, while I do not necessarily "like" people of African and Southern American extraction, It is NOT because of who you are.
It is because of what you did to me. I have forgiven, but I will never be able to forget. I have prejudices, and I DO work on that-every day of my life-but I do not hate anyone.
I think that my friend would have understood me, and probably would have even approved. I hope everyone else does, but if not, I don't really care. I fight my demons every day, and this is the best that I can do.