Submitted by Eric Chandler, CW2, US Army Retired, Lakewood.
Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.
A General Observation which is well documented throughout History: This attitude is pervasive in all humans at various intensities and has been so from the very start of our species.
Homo sapiens, in our various “forms” (i.e., races, ethnicities, places of birth), have had some level of dislike of others based on those forms. The term “race” has been used to describe people based on their skin color, religion, country or region of origin, politics, and those differences between the “races” has been the “reason” for fearing, disliking, not trusting, or hating the other “race”. Throughout history one ultimate outcome of this so-called “reasoning” is one “race” doing physical and/or psychological harm to another “race”.
So, how does a human acquire such “reasoning”? It is, actually, quite simple….one has to learn it from members of one’s own race and/or through life experiences with other races.
Case in point….me.
I was born in Evansville, Indiana in 1947. My parents were born there as well. According to my parents and substantiated through DNA testing, we are of German, English, and Scottish origins. A distant relative was Jewish from what is now Poland.
When I was 1.5 years old we moved to Oregon where my Dad (who was a surgical tech on Iwo Jima) earned his teaching degree from the University of Oregon (Eugene) and my Mom, who was a Registered Nurse, worked in the Obstetrics ward at Sacred Heart Hospital (also in Eugene). We eventually wound up in a small town in the Willamette Valley called Lebanon where I lived and learned about myself, others, and life in general. It was, for the most part, a good experience.
My first learning about “racism” was from talk amongst kids about “Okies”…people from Oklahoma that were transient workers in our area. I also heard about gypsies. Both “races” were disparaged, belittled, scorned, mocked, criticized, vilified, and derided because of their lifestyles, dress, and other “differences”. Now, mind you, I cannot recall having seen nor interacted with either of those “races”, yet the “seed of racism” towards them, and them-alone, had been planted in me.
Also, there was an inherent attitude, which could be termed “racism”, in our small town regarding the “haves” and “have nots” as well as the length of time you and your family had resided there. So, well-established / well-off people and their kids got special treatment and recognition. New people and their kids, unless they were well-off, were automatically mistrusted/treated differently. This form of “racism” I knew well because it was applied ever-so subtly to me and my family. My Dad, the teacher, had to work extra jobs to support our family of four kids. My Mom could not work because she was needed to manage us and the home, so, for all intents-and-purposes we were “poor” and because we moved into Lebanon in 1954, we were also “new”. Therefore, as they say in agricultural terms, we had a “rough row to hoe”.
Interestingly, and for reasons unknown to me, the presence of people of other skin color were minimal in this small lumber and agricultural town. The only one I recall was a good friend I had for several years who was Black. His Dad was Caucasian, and his Mom was a very-light-skinned Black woman. We knew them through church, so we shared many events together there and in high school.
My first experience interacting with large numbers of Black people was in 1959 when we took a trip back to Evansville, IN to visit relatives. While there we went to the city swimming pool and had a blast playing and swimming with kids of all sorts, including a goodly number of Black kids. We also saw lots of Black people throughout the city, including in the neighborhoods where my Grandparents lived. Not once did I hear any negative comments about them from any of my family members, so that experience with Black people was positive.
After high school I attended Oregon State University from 1965-67 where there were people from multiple “races”, and I enjoyed being a part of that multi-race/ethnic/cultural environment. My first experience concerning racism at OSU was, unfortunately, in my fraternity.
I sponsored a young Black student as a pledge to our house. Everything went well until it came time to vote on who would or would not be accepted into our fraternity. During the discussion concerning this Black pledge there were a couple of “brothers” who were against accepting him because of his skin color. A heated argument broke out between me and these malcontents, and most of my other brothers supported me. However, when it came time to vote he was not allowed to join because one person, especially, was against him. That’s all it took….one NO vote…the proverbial “black ball”. I was infuriated and let all of them know of my feelings about this outrage. From that time forward I was person-non-grata with these two people.
While at OSU I had joined ROTC and found a real liking for that lifestyle, so, being very-disappointed with the school’s atmosphere I opted, in July of 1967, to leave OSU and join the US Army. At the end of my training I was sent to the 3rd Armored Division in Gelnhausen, Germany. I was an infantryman, driving an armored personnel carrier for a unit that had turned out to be a very-unpleasant experience. In 1968 I was asked by my commander if I would accept being re-assigned to the Brigade’s Unit Police Force (i.e., traffic control, leave & pass control, and general security for the facility). I readily accepted the position. By the way, the only “weapon” we were authorized to carry was a long, black, wooden night-stick.
One evening while working at the back-gate of the facility (a.k.a., in German: Kaserne) I observed a young Black female (18-19 years old) walking through the gate, headed towards the family housing buildings inside the Kaserne. Fairly close behind her were two Black soldiers who were making rude and crude remarks towards her, and I could clearly tell she was unhappy with their presence.
So, I did something I rarely did, but was authorized to do when soldiers came in from “off the town”, I stopped them and asked to see their pass or leave forms. My reason for doing this was to allow the young Black female enough time to get home safely and without any further harassment.
The two soldiers became enraged and started yelling at me at such a loud level that the Military Police (MP) Desk Sergeant, who was inside the MP station 50 feet away from the gate, came running out to find out what was going on. They refused to do as I asked, nor did they follow the orders from the MP Desk Sergeant and walked off towards their barracks. The Desk Sergeant then went into the station and ordered two MPs to find and arrest the two soldiers for failing to follow lawful orders. They raced off in their jeep to get these men and the Desk Sergeant stayed with me at the gate.
Five minutes later we heard a gunshot.
I handed the gate over to the Desk Sergeant and ran towards where the MPs had gone. When I found them, one MP was behind the jeep with his pistol drawn pointing towards a large group of Black soldiers….all dressed in civilian clothes. The other MP was putting his pistol back into his holster and was backing away from one of the soldiers from the gate incident who was yelling and threatening him. NOTE: no one had been shot….the MP had fired his pistol into the air simply in an effort to gain some control of the situation.
I pulled my night stick out and carefully moved towards the yelling Black soldier with the intent of stopping his threatening actions. When I was directly behind him, he whirled on me and the group of Black soldiers immediately closed in and surrounded me. I backed off with my hands in the air.
Very quickly the group dispersed.
Later that night word got out about the incident and I was told we nearly had a race riot. I was called in by the Brigade Commander and Sergeant Major to explain what had occurred. Also present were three or four Black soldiers who said they represented their brethren. After my explanation, all agreed I had acted correctly, especially since I was trying to protect the young lady.
Even so, for the next two weeks I was regularly threatened with bodily harm for the “wrong” that I had done. Finally when I received the next threat from a non-Black “messenger” I told him that if these people wanted to “get it on”, then tell them to meet me in the PX parking lot after my shift was over and take me, and me alone, on. The threats stopped.
For quite some time, because of this experience, I had considerable hesitance when working with a Black soldier until I knew they were a person I could trust. Having that feeling troubled me greatly. Fortunately, over time, that sensitivity has dissipated.
Since then I have worked for, with, and supervised people of many different races, including Black people. My predominant life experiences have been good-to-excellent and I have enjoyed many friendships and relationships with people: from many parts of the world; from many-different religions, multitudes of ethnicities, and of color, including Black.
However, this current situation going on in our United States disturbs me significantly. What I see are far-too-many people of ALL races being “racists”….the “painting” of the “other” people into whatever kind of group-id (“race”) that can be the target of hate-filled actions and words.
IT IS TIME TO STOP THIS CRAP!
What we ALL need to do is take a deep breath, step back and start thinking as functioning adults who really care about each other…regardless of differences, and start focusing on those things that are common to all.
Each person needs to take on a leadership role and demonstrate through POSITIVE actions how we can get out of this mess. Such actions can be as simple as: looking into any person’s face and giving them a smile; saying, “good morning” to someone you don’t know; helping someone at the store; etc. Start small, but at least START acting in a POSITIVE manner.
Ultimately, we need to re-arrange the agenda and begin believing firmly that ALL PEOPLE MATTER, and that we ALL belong to the HUMAN RACE. To do otherwise is to put ALL of us in jeopardy.
Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I have a dream as well….that one day ALL people will not be judged by the color of their skin, nor for their religion, their country or region of origin, their ethnicity, their politics, nor for any other “difference from others”, but solely on the content of their character.