Don't like to read? Listen Now!
I was a high school graduate at the age of 18 when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. As a young man in Los Angeles, California, who graduated from a racially diverse high school, I was very happy for my black friends with whom I attended Venice High School. However, my naivete was exposed when I joined the United States Air Force in September of that year. I had learned that there were indeed “two Americas,” and I was about to receive a wake-up call with a huge slap in the face.
I was stationed at Lackland AFB, in San Antonio, Texas, for basic training. From there, I was assigned to tech school at Keesler AFB in Mississippi. We were placed on a bus for the short trip. When we stopped at a coffee shop in Louisiana, I saw my first proof that the “south will rise again.” Our escorts went inside to get sandwiches. I looked to my right and saw a sign “restroom.” There was a second sign with an arrow pointing to the rear with a single word: “niggers.”
However, the openly racist attitude was not limited to the whites in Louisiana, it was prevalent within our barracks at Keesler. Constant conflicts between Blacks and whites created an uncomfortable living situation.
After returning home to Los Angeles, I witnessed occasional overt acts of racism, but nothing like I experienced in the South. I was fortunate to live in L.A. and San Diego, and then finally to the Reno/Sparks area in Northern Nevada, where I will remain.
I was once again a little naïve. I was slow to learn that the area in which I lived was once known as the “Mississippi of the West.”
I learned how bad it was during the 2000 election. My state of Nevada gave its five electoral votes to the second-worst president in history, George W. Bush.
However, that was nothing. Along came the leader of white supremacy in America, Donald John Trump. However, there was one positive change. Our state’s growing population, many from California, chose Hillary Clinton.
Of all the destructive results of Trump’s illegitimate presidency, one stands out. Within a few months of his Electoral College victory, Trump revealed himself once and for all.
After the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump admitted that he was an extreme racist, with a single comment, “there were good people on both sides.” However, when the “Black Lives Matter” movement grew after the murder of George Floyd by a cop, Trump called those protesters “thugs and criminals.”
For me, it was another awakening. Now in my 70’s, I believed that racism in America was on the decline. I was so wrong. I soon learned that about 40 percent of our nation’s people supported Trump and his beliefs in white supremacy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism.
So, what can we do to heal this disease? A good friend of mine, whose son is mixed, said “only time and education will create change.” I’m only partially sure that is valid today. Racism and bigotry are indicators of extreme ignorance, but there is more.
Our nation is as divided today as it was during the 1860s. I believe we are engaged in a second civil war. This may or may not become a bloody war, but the first battles have been won. Our votes removed Trump, his racist and bigoted administration, and several right-wing politicians from Washington in 2020. The next big battle will be one year from November.
If we win this war, and we must, there will still be work to do. All women share in the same demand with Black men, women, and children. None of them are seeking “special treatment;” they simply want complete equality in every situation, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
So, here’s a beginning. I believe that our verbal descriptions of each other continue to divide us. Not only must we believe in “equal rights for all,” we must see each other as equals. Maybe we should stop describing those of us who have Black ancestry as “African Americans,” or even “Blacks.”
My friend was mostly right about her premise, but it has evolved in a specific way. Diversity has grown more rapidly than expected by sociologists. At the current rate of change, pure whites will no longer exist in 2040.
The most recent Census Bureau statistics find that whites are having fewer children than other races and minorities today. Trump’s “people” do not like this, but it’s inevitable. The majority of younger Americans reject racism and bigotry. The error is in the name given to our nation. We have never been the “United” States of America. But we can be.
We are all Americans. Ending descriptive terms including “Black Americans,” “Asian Americans,” “Mexican Americans,” and others will cease to allow mental pictures and baseless assumptions about each of us.
The truth is that it is a crime in the 21st century that any specific group has to struggle for equal rights in America. We are far behind other developed nations; proving that we are more regressive than progressive as a people. There is still a need for great change, and it begins with you and me.
Op-ed by James Turnage
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Stephen Melkisethian’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License|
First Inset Image Courtesy of Charles Edward Miller’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of Public Relations Society of America’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License