Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Racism Is Alive and Well In America.
By Helen L. Burleson, Doctor of Public Administration

The second best thing that has happened so far in this century in this country, other than the election of an American of African descent to become President of the United States, is the saga of Shirley Sherrod.

America has always moaned, groaned and empathized with Israel and the Jewish people, because like the Jewish people, they repeat the ever popular slogan - NEVER AGAIN! Regardless of what positions Israel takes whether they are right or wrong, the United States stands up to be counted as the symbiotic twin of Israel.

I, too, empathize with the Jewish people, and unfortunately, I have to turn to the old cliché, “some of my best friends are Jewish.” In elementary and high school, many of my classmates and very dearest friends practiced and followed the Jewish religion. On the Jewish holidays, my classrooms were at least a quarter empty. I befriended and extended a welcoming hand to the Jewish children referred to as the Class of 1942; the Jewish children who were sequestered and smuggled out of Nazi Germany by the underground Zegota group in order to avoid the gas chambers to which many of their parents, siblings and neighbors were sent.

During my generation, circa 1929, gifted children were referred to as “whiz kids.” These were children that could qualify for Mensa (the organization of people with the highest I Q’s).

Gunther Hollander and I were selected by my school to appear on a radio quiz show called, “It’s A Hit.” Questions were about a variety of issues, international, national and local. For those of you who have read my previous blogs, you know I was well prepared because it was a requirement at my home to come to the dinner table prepared to report on newspaper articles we had read dealing with these very issues.

Gunther and I represented Hyde Park High School on the quiz show and did very well. I was devastated and mourned for months after Gunther was struck by a CTA bus when he ran in front of it. Newly arrived in the country and short in stature, he did not realize that a bus driver could not see him as the bus drove off. There’s Ruthie Dreyfuss, my dear friend, who as an adult became my son’s math teacher when he attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School. There was Shirley Parks (whom I don’t believe was Jewish), whose father was one of my professors when I was a graduate student at Northwestern University. There was Edward Rothschild who later became my MONY insurance agent, selected because he was a friend and classmate of mine. There was Jay Goodman, a friend and classmate whose parents brought Goodman ice cream cups to school on Jay’s birthdays. Then there was Sandy Banks who got a zero on a spelling test while I got 100. So accustomed to copying off my papers, Sandy gave himself away when he jumped up after grades were announced and said, “How could I get zero and Helen get 100 when I copied off her paper?” Need I explain to you how I taught Sandy a lesson that I hope he learned for life?

Other than children of the Jewish faith, I had Catholic friends, Protestant friends and friends of every ethnic and religious group.

To the point, America has always welcomed and integrated into her belly the people from all over the world, that is, except for those whom they brought here in chains or people of color. Those who labored in the fields and worked from sun up to sun down (from can to can’t), raped, brutalized, stripped of their language, heritage and culture, separated husbands from wives, snatched children out of their parents hands, were denied the American dream. Look at us and that tells the horrors of rape. We range in color from midnight Black to freshly fallen snow.

Slavery, the white man’s shame, remains engrained in every fabric of American life from its inception to this very day. This is a defining part of who Shirley Sherrod is; and, yet she is still being treated like a slave. Father murdered by the Klan, educated in segregated schools, portrayed as the anti-hero in this recent flap up, she and her racial group are being portrayed as the perpetrators of racism. Racism is the white man’s sickness. Racism is one of the most insidious forms of mental illness. Racism is a mental system designed expressly and exclusively to deny another human’s dignity and humanity. Held in contempt and institutionalized as being less than a human, white people have exploited this system to the fullest in order to validate their very existence.

The Jewish Holocaust was one isolated period in world history. The American Slave system is a self-perpetuating Holocaust inflicted on Americans of African descent, every day of their lives. This is undeniable and indefensible. There is more than one way to lynch a person: there is physical lynching and there is mental, emotional and spiritual lynching. Why do we have the concept of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law? One can be violated without the other or with both. Slavery is a violation of humanity and constitutes the cruelest form of “Man’s Inhumanity to Man." Every day, a Black person, or person of African descent walks out of his door he faces a Holocaust. Remember Amadou Diallo and Oscar Grant. In many instances lying in bed, the Holocaust is going to visit. Cases in point are Emmett Till and Fred Hampton. Policemen in America, possess powers that exceed the powers of the President of the United States. They can assume the role of judge, jury and executioner when they deliberately manhandle and frequently kill innocent, unarmed, Black people. The policeman has the discretion to place a “drop gun” beside the body of the deceased, and or drop a dime bag of cocaine beside a voiceless, defenseless, lifeless body.

Thank God for Shirley Sherrod and her saga, for hers is America’s saga; the saga of unequal justice under the law. Now the theme song of the racists is that Blacks are racists. This is called PROJECTION, another aspect of mental illness. To qualify as a racists one must have influence and power to set a negative tone and then to legislate and institutionalize this behavior. The majority of Black people have neither of these capabilities.

Former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder was allegedly roughed up by police and Mae Jemison, M.D., surgeon, engineer and former astronaut, was also roughed up by police. These are just two examples of high profile, contributing members of our society, who because of their skin color were treated in the fashion to which far too many Blacks are subjected daily.

Mrs. Sherrod’s treatment demonstrates to the world what life is like on a daily basis according to the double standard practiced in America.

Her saga also underscores another deficiency in America. The information systems are almost exclusively controlled by a few super rich people who have a monopoly in controlling what Americans see, hear and think. In the hands of these few, some of whom are racists, the news (or THEIR story is almost always slanted in the message or impression they WANT to convey). This PROPANDA is passed off as NEWS.

The venerable civil rights organization, the NAACP, co-founded with white activists and Americans of African descent, was “snookered” by the viral, perpetual video of a truncated speech given by Mrs. Sherrod detailing an experience in forgiveness and divine intervention in a situation that occurred some 20 years ago. Why is her lesson and her saga so important? Her story proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that despite the meanness, the evil, the vindictive, cruel and unusual treatment to which Americans of African descent have been subjected, without relenting or relief, Americans of African descent can rise above the petty, the mean-spirit, the torture and the treachery to forgive.

Americans of African descent and the people of Africa are the most forgiving people on the face of the earth. Go to any country and the prejudice awaits them. My friends of the Class of 1942 said they were told on the boat on the way over to America that they were not to associate with Blacks because Blacks were inferior. Is that not a Holocaust? Restrictive covenants were incorporated in property deeds stressing that the property was, “never to be sold to colored people.” I learned this from a personal experience similar to that of the Hansberry family of “Raisin in the Sun” fame. Is that not racism? I am a member of the African Methodist Episcopalian faith because of Richard Allen’s refusal, as a Black person, to be moved from the front row, to the back row, to the balcony of a Methodist church in Philadelphia (the City of Brotherly Love). Is that not racism? Recently Black children, desiring to swim, were denied use of a facility in this same City of Brotherly Love. Visit churches on Sunday mornings, the Lord’s Day, and you will see a pot that is not melting. Is that not racism? Visit the Administrative offices of most American colleges and universities and you will see an absence of Blacks. Is that not racism? Visit the board rooms of the Fortune 500 and most American commercial and industrial institutions and you will see an absence of Blacks. Is that not racism?

By now, you get it America! Black people are the victims of racism, not the victimizers. It is time to do a massive national soul searching to extricate racism and to purify our hearts and our minds. Much of the wealth of this country was built on the backs of Blacks. Have they, or their ancestors, ever been compensated for that? Is that not racism? Black farmers, to whom Mrs. Sherrod referred in her speech, have never been compensated by the federal government for their losses despite the fact that White farmers have been compensated.

Until President Harry Truman ordered the military integrated, Black service people were segregated and assigned to the menial tasks of cooking, doing the laundry, serving as sentinels or used as cannon fodder. Is that not racism? What about Black heroism in every war since America became a nation on the Native Indian’s land? There’s Doris (Dorrie) Miller, General Colin Powell, the Tuskegee Airmen, the369th Regiment, the 761st Tank Battalion, the Montford Point Marines, the Triple Nickel, the Buffalo Soldiers and the list is endless. Despite the racism they experienced, they delivered for America and the preservation of this Nation.

What is needed in America is an honest recognition of the contributions made by Americans of African descent for their valor, their creativity and their innovations that have been excluded from the teaching of history in this country. If the masses knew that every single day, they wake up, they have to thank some Black person who was responsible for the things we take for granted in making this the richest, most powerful nation in the world, their mindset would be different.

We need to put a stop to racism immediately because we need mental and emotional healing. Failure to do so keeps us on the treadmill that has been and continues to be passed down from generation to generation. When you hear young children use the N word, you know this was a lesson learned in the home, fueled in America’s classroom and fostered by all American institutions.

We all could learn from Mrs. Shirley Sherrod, a heroic American lady, who has learned and is teaching the lessons of our respective religions. Her Saga should be the turning point in American justice and culture.



Blogger Charles said...

"The Jewish Holocaust was one isolated period in world history."

This might be the most outrageous and easily disproved statement in history. In every generation, over the past 3,600 years, Jews have been ostracised, expelled, enslaved and murdered - all because they were... Jews! One does not require a PhD in History to comprehend this fact. No act could be father from "isolated" than global anti-Semitism.

Israel has been attacked repeatedly in every decade since its inception, in 1948. How would you defend your legal home from suicide bombers and daily rocket attacks? What would you have Israel do, surrender and walk away from their ancestral homeland? Since giving Gaza to Palestinians in 2005, more than 4,000 rockets have been launched from that land into Israeli cities and towns, aimed at defenseless Jewish women and children. And people have the chutzpah to call Israel “aggressive.” The world has become difficult to understand. I’m sure that my family thought the same thing, before they were marched into Nazi gas chambers.

Charles Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage

3:38 PM  

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