History as it happens
I was 14 when Richard Nixon resigned, visiting an aunt in New Jersey, a cat-lady and Purple Heart Navy vet and Pearl Harbor survivor who chain-smoked menthol Salem 100s and never married after losing her fiancée in the attack.
When Nixon said “My fellow Americans,” she shut off the TV and said “I can’t watch this.” My dad and I went outside to listen on the AM radio in our Dodge station wagon, while he chain-smoked his Benson & Hedges menthol 100s. He said “This is history, I’ll be damned if we miss it,” and grabbed two beers out of the cooler. It remains one of the memorable nights of my whole life, a clear affirmation of the power of free speech and sustained citizen protest.
Now, 45 years later, I’m getting that same feeling again. Nixon’s dog-whistle “Law and Order” rhetoric and policies were a direct response to the third party challenge of Alabama’s George Wallace, an unapologetic racist who pushed Nixon and the GOP toward a more fully institutionalized racist and white-supremacist agenda. Wallace lives on in today’s white “militias,” whose claims of defending citizens and businesses ring hollow, a majority of white Americans recognizing these displays as racist intimidation and willing to call it out as such.
Jimi Hendrix’s song “Machine Gun” shaped my political consciousness growing up, tying together the moral insanities of war, racism and police-state violence. Hendrix grew up in Seattle, raised by a single dad. Hendrix is one among many black American thinkers, artists and even athletes who have served as moral teachers for our nation not despite but rather in direct challenge to the nation’s persistent violence toward them and rejection of them as fellow citizens and human beings.
Hard for me to understand
I just finished reading Dale Courtney’s opinion piece in today’s paper (Wednesday, June 10) and found it disturbing. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone can believe that George Floyd’s death was an isolated incident or that racial injustice in law enforcement isn’t a systemic problem. But, I know I can’t change Courtney’s mind any more than he can change mine.
I’m white, too, and I don’t know what it’s like to be black. I do know this is a pivotal moment in world history. We have the opportunity to study racial injustice with fresh eyes and open ears. It’s my wish that we inform ourselves, mostly by listening to what black people have to say without getting defensive.
We can also consult news reports and statistics from balanced sources. We can watch interviews of those most affected by racism and seek out literature by black authors. These all provide insights into a world we white people don’t experience. The way I see it, this is a time for making choices. Do we try to understand the race discrimination that causes so much misery, bring it out of the shadows, and change? Or, do we continue to pretend that it’s a minor problem, or somehow justified, and allow it go on?