I Might Change My Mind

A few days ago, I mentioned that I’m reading a book titled “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. At that time I was only a hundred pages into the story, and made the comment that I don’t understand why Blacks continue to ask for reparations. The various movements like Black Lives Matter, and Defund the Police are also a mystery to me. After reading another two hundred pages of this story I am beginning to understand where these people come from with these radical ideas, and why they claim that America is systemically racist. Another term I have begun to understand is Jim Crow. I have personally witnessed Jim Crow treatment of blacks during my lifetime in Chicago, except the Jim Crow policy wasn’t legislated into a law to prevent blacks from advancing.

My earliest recollection of Jim Crow treatment dates back to 1951 when a black family moved into a home in my neighborhood of Burnside. I saw a blue and white police car parked at the front of a house immediately across the street from Tuley Park my favorite childhood hangout. At the time, it never registered that the cops were there tp protect the family who had just moved in. Nor, did I know that it was a black family. Later, I learned the specifics, and it kind of shocked me. I was thirteen years old then, and did not know what racism, or segregation was. It was only into my adulthood did I learn about these things.

In this story author Wilkerson depicts very graphically the treatment of slaves. White slave owners were wrong. To them, slaves were property like a plow, a wagon, etc. At best they believed blacks to be a life form beneath that of a white human. They treated slaves like they treated mules or horses. By the time Lincoln got around to the Emancipation Proclamation, over one hundred and fifty years of abusive treatment of slaves by whites transpired. Since 1662 whites, world-wide, had ingrained the cruelly harsh treatment of blacks and the notion that they were less than human. England did not abolish slavery completely within the kingdom until 1807. a few years after the North American colonies seceded. The difference between England and the USA was that there were not many slaves living in England only the English colonies. To the English, slaves were a figment of their imagination, in the USA slaves were all around and hated. The blacks were suppressed from voting, language, education, white friends, travel, food, and entertainment. A slave owner required his slave to ask for permission to do anything, and if the owner chose not to grant the request the slave went without. Slaves were beaten for any infraction or rule in place, or a rule invented on the spot. Black men who looked at a white woman, and the look was considered lascivious by the woman or her husband the black man was whipped, beaten, and often hanged. I cannot convey the horror that a slave endured as well as Ms Wilkerson can express in her writing, and I recommend that all white people read this book.

A strange thing happened on September 22, 1862, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves. Bingo! Overnight approximately 5 million blacks were instantly liberated. Except there was no radio, no internet, no phones, only newspapers and telegraph to tell the story. Blacks could not read so newsprint was useless. Most heard about their freedom from someone else. But what did that mean, freedom? Most ex-slaves stayed with their owners, and were paid something for their labor, and most owners cheated the heck out of a share cropper’s part of the earnings. The end result was that the freed man was no better off than before. But, he was now free to travel, and to speak to whites, that is, if he spoke respectfully. If a black man were walking on a sidewalk and a white was coming toward him the black was expected to step off the sidewalk and allow the white to pass. If a black man looked at a white man’s wife and the white man thought it was a leer the black was punished, usually by the white man and his friends. Very often, the black was hanged after he was tortured. Where was the freedom? If a black wanted to move off the plantation he had to reconcile his debt with the owner who always found some hidden debt, and thus was cause to keep him on the farm until it was paid off. He could now send his kids to school with whites. Except, the kids had to be kept apart from each other. Or, the black teacher was summoned to work somewhere else and the school closed. In short, the black man was not free.

Over six million blacks finally woke up to their plight and decided that the only way out was North. They snuck out of their towns on trains and busses all headed for cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and even Los Angeles. All of them saw this as the lessor of two evils. Although they didn’t expect to find what they did. The North was basically just as racist as the south. They did conclude that the north was more friendly than the south. They learned that they did not really have access to hotels, restaurants, rest rooms, and jobs like they were hoping for. Suddenly these cities were inundated by new people squeezing into already crowded ghettos, and putting pressure on every resource the north had. The cro-magnum man did not appear on the doorsteps of New York by the millions expecting to be fed, housed, clothed and educated. The black didn’t want a handout but they did need and want work that could support them. The black man from the south took a huge leap forward in getting out of his dilemma in the south, but it took many years for them to assimilate into the populations they moved into. We often complain that immigrants coming into our country illegally must be given time to assimilate, and we as the people whom must accept them should be given time to help them to assimilate. We complain about people who come here from foreign countries who don’t speak our language, are not citizens, but want everything we can give them. We fail to recognize that the black people coming north from the south were also foreign to us. Yes, they were citizens because most of them were born here, yes, they could speak some form of our language, but we had to learn to listen, yes they were un-educated, but most were smart and could learn easily. Still, we refused to accept them immediately. I am from a generation that did not learn to be a bigot from my parents, I learned it from the population around me. Until I read this book, I had no clue as to the conditions of the people of slavery. I do not hate black people, I do not believe they are lower form of animal. I do not believe these people came here for the benefits. I do believe that most of them are hard working people who want a better life for themselves and their families. The problem was that when they flooded our cities we were not ready for them, and they were not ready for what they found.

It took man millions of years to evolve into the form we exist in today, yet we believed back in 1862 that all we had to do was sign an executive order and the evolutionary step would mysteriously be by-passed. In 1863 the proclamation was finally passed into law. That is when the individual states began getting creative in how they would keep whites and blacks separated. Each state wrote laws on how to vote, how to educate, how to sit on public transportation, how to drink water, how to go to the toilet. “White Only” signs appeared everywhere they wanted to keep blacks away. These laws and rules became known as Jim Crow laws. Now that I understand what Jim Crow means I can still see evidence of segregation going on. All of it is very quiet and never touted with signs, but people remain committed to keeping blacks out of white areas. One such example is how a white town will keep blacks out, and remain completely within the law. Most small towns are very old with small homes on big lots that were built 50-90-years ago. They are small by today’s standards, and not very architecturally beautiful inside as they are today. A builder will execute his own form of Jim Crow by buying up an old home in a desirable school district. He will pay top dollar for the home thus giving the seller a great profit. The builder then demolishes the outdated home and build a new mega-mansion on the lot which is typically two to three times the cost of what he bought the old one for. The remaining affordable homes in the immediate neighborhood just increased in value. If the builder does this often enough, the homes in the affordable neighborhood suddenly becomes less affordable to the average income family. I see this happening in neighborhoods in and around Chicago.

If I were a black person whose ancestors were treated as the 6 million migrants from the South to North were treated I’d be hollering retribution too. I am not black so I won’t say I can fill those shoes well enough to complain. I can sympathize with the plight of the blacks if they identify Jim Crow rules being applied against them. These rules are stupid, and not fair and should be abolished. I don’t believe that every complaint a black has against a white is the result of Jim Crow, and each incident must be proven to be true, and not used as a political tool to get what they want.

This book has certainly caused me to examine my conscience on the matter of racism, and racial bias. I don’t believe any human is lesser than another. I don’t believe blacks should be treated unfairly, on the other hand I don’t believe blacks should be given an upper hand (affirmative action) when gauged against others in any endeavor. I don’t believe schools should lower standards for entrance below a common norm. I do believe that poor students should be held back a year to catch up. If school districts don’t like this then too bad for them. I graduated from grammar school with a couple of kids that were twice my hight, twice my strength, and shaved. I lived through it, they lived through it, and our teachers lived through it. We all survived and thrived. Upon seeing these guys as adults they all made a living, had families, and enjoyed life.

In conclusion all I can say is that I didn’t write as exquisite an essay as I had intended, but I’m lazy, and good work takes effort. I gave it my best. The worst that will happen is that the good Lord will flunk me, and make me spend another year in this school we call Earth.

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