Showing posts with label Jim Crow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jim Crow. Show all posts

Thursday, August 15, 2019

This breaks my damn heart

1962. It was the blackest of years; it was the most idealistic and hopeful of years.

Jim Crow refused to go quietly in the South. Communism, and the fear of it, haunted everything we were, did and said in America. Between us and the Soviet Union, we almost blew up the world.

But also in 1962, if we made it through October, the world would be a better place by springtime -- we just knew it.

Young Americans brimmed with idealism. Black college kids and white college kids risked their lives for their ideals in a peaceful assault against segregationist brutality in Dixie.

The youth of a country that 17 years before had vanquished Nazi Germany and militarist Japan found inspiration in a young president who challenged them to ask what they could do for their country.

JOHN GLENN orbited the earth three times. Next stop: the moon.

America had set its gaze on the New Frontier, and John Stewart of the The Kingston Trio could write liner notes like these above.

I was 1 year old. Hope was alive and kicking. Even in the South.

2019. A broken-down, 58-year-old music-show and blog guy sits at his iMac, typing. He wonders what the fuck happened.

He reads the hopeful, idealistic and oh-God-how-naive words of the late Mr. Stewart, and he wants to cry. He fears that there are no more tears left. Even more, he's terrified that fear will be put to the test again and again.

"So now, as never before, an age of introspection is reaching every one of us." Now our nation is becoming what we've willed within ourselves -- a heart of darkness.

"The horror! The horror!"

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I've seen this movie before. It still sucks

I am a Southerner by birth. I am over 50. I've seen just about everything playing at the Trump Film Festival before . . . back when it was the White Citizens' Film Festival.

The lineup of smutty movies hasn't improved with age. For that matter, neither has America

And the posters in the lobby are still misspelled.

Show me a jackleg American fascist wearing a Make America Great Again baseball cap, and what I see is a self-satisfied Southern fascist, circa 1965, whose sense of his "American" superiority vastly outstripped his facility with the king's "Engliss." Hateful bullies rained stink bombs onto the public square then, and today's thuggish postmillennial retreads do it still.

The picture above is from the July 5, 1965, edition of the Baton Rouge, La., State-Times. On Independence Day, the bowels of hell retched up a "We the People" rally of self-styled "conservatives" at the Louisiana State Capitol, about a quarter mile due south of where I came into this world 4½ years before.You'll see much the same today -- "We the (White) People" festivals of the aggrieved, just with stupider headwear.  Today's Golden Calf is an orange ass (Donald Trump), and the banner of the Civil War's second-place team flies defiantly over the proceedings.


Click on photos for large versions

The array of targets -- the breadth of humanity deemed The Other -- has grown these past 53 years. The capacity for spelling basic English words by angry and aggrieved white people still belies any pretensions of actual supremacy.

George Wallace, on the other hand, was a lot better stump speaker than Donald of Orange.

Yeah, I've seen this movie before.

THIS STORY (and these photos) from the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate that summer day-after in 1965 ought to be familiar to those who've picked up a newspaper from time to time the past couple of years.

Really familiar.

NO DOUBT about it, when a country -- or a state, or a region -- goes full fascist, The Other suffers badly. But as a white man born into a fascist system in a fascist state -- and Jim Crow was a fascist system, and Louisiana was (and still largely is) a fascist state -- I can tell you that as bad as the suffering inflicted upon the persecuted is, the persecutors' spiritual and cultural self-disfigurement may well be the greater of the horrors.

"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Jesus said that; it's in Matthew. "Good Christian people" had trouble with that one in 1965 . . . and they have trouble with it now. See "Trump, Donald -- evangelical support for."

If you don't believe me, look at these pictures from my childhood long ago and far away. Look at the faces. It's all there, and the worst speller in the world couldn't make it any less clear.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Remember, man, that you are dust

This cartoon comes from the 1928 edition of the Baton Rouge High School yearbook, the Fricassee.

I first saw it some 37 years ago, when I was layout editor of the 1979 edition of the Fricassee. Some of us were going through the yearbook archives, leafing through all the old editions of our school's annual that we could find in the cluttered old cabinets of our cluttered old classroom . . . and there it was.

Even back in 1978 or '79, even for those of us Baton Rouge public-school kids, who went to segregated schools -- legally segregated schools -- until just eight years before, the cartoon was striking. Stunning, actually.

Yes, it was the open racism -- the naked, unvarnished and unapologetic racism. But more than that, it was that kids our age -- a decade or more before our parents would be that age -- would be that ugly, that publicly and that casually. This was something powerful enough to give pause to a generation, black and white, raised in the midst of, then in the dark shadow of, Jim Crow.

We had grown up with the crazy aunt in the Southern attic. For many of us, the N-word was something we heard every day. For others of us, the N-word was something used to describe us every day.

"Humor" from the 1924 Fricassee (Click to enlarge)
FOR SOME OF US, rank hypocrisy was a virtue that our culture had developed in the years since 1928. Southerners of a certain age can explain to you . . . well, can try to explain to you how there are worse things than being a damned, two-faced hypocrite. For instance, one worse thing is not being one.

Another worse thing is white Baton Rouge, circa 1928 -- of living with a horror you cannot experience as horror at all.

Can you imagine the wretchedness of living with a  conscience that dead? Or, more charitably, a conscience that unformed and uninformed?

Is there much in this world worse than glib, cheerful and constant evil that one commits, thinking of it all the while as an obvious virtue?  

Oh, I imagine many people today could imagine that . . . if only they were self-aware enough to realize they're living it.

AT ABOUT the time we on the Fricassee staff were getting acquainted with just how far our forebears could let their racism and bigotry hang out, Kansas (the rock group, not the state) had a Top-40 hit, "Dust in the Wind."
I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
ALL THE STAFF of the 1928 Fricassee were dust, and to dust they have returned, no doubt. All their hopes, all their dreams, most of their works . . . dust.

That cartoon? It endures. There it is, frozen in time to judge and be judged.

We see the thing today, and we proclaim judgment on that which now is dust. The thing itself, it emerges from nearly nine decades past to stand in yellowing witness to a creator and a culture. To dust . . . dust from the ash bin of history.
That casual racism, the glib reduction of those unlike themselves to objects of ridicule, belies the notion that for some, others are indeed The Other, and The Other is less human than oneself, or perhaps not human at all. And if a group is less human than oneself, or not human at all -- and certainly if they're less powerful -- you can do whatever you like to them.

That's human nature. That's our fallen condition, and it's as old as Adam. We, of course, don't recognize -- or refuse to admit -- that, because Baton Rouge High, 1928.

Because Selma, 1965.

Because Birmingham, 1963.

Because Montgomery, 1954.

Because Berlin, 1933.

Because Fort Sumter, 1861.

Because. Just because.

SO HERE we stand, Donald Trump, 2016. Many American whites have decided that old hatred is the new black, and we get to be as ugly, and bigoted, and in your face as we want because a rich, vulgarian scumbag of a real-estate tycoon and reality-TV star is "telling it like it is."

"Telling it like it is" isn't, of course. Instead, it's just more of those same old lies that we prefer to hear -- the stinking spiritual and mental garbage we find so much more palatable than the God's honest truth.

Today, "fighting political correctness" just means we no longer have to bother with the virtue of rank hypocrisy, that mechanism through which malefaction pays backhanded tribute to virtue. Nowadays, we prefer our evil straight up.

"Telling it like it is" brings us back to Fricassee 1928. "It pays to read the signs."

A bit of virtuous hypocrisy from the depths of Jim Crow . . .
an ad from the 1952 Pow-Wow, the yearbook of Baton Rouge's
Istrouma High School. Click on the ad to read.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Are we getting blind drunk on outrage?

The fraternity-from-hell-gift-that-keeps-on-giving now is giving me flashbacks.

This is the now-former Sigma Alpha Epsilon housemother at the University of Oklahoma, caught on video saying That Word over and over again as she laughs, with loud rap music playing in the background. The Internet Outrage Machine tells me this is Beauton Gilbow, who hypocritically lamented the sad state of affairs on the Norman campus and said she knew nothink, NOTHINK about any racist goings-on at the SAE house.

The Internet Outrage Machine, as it is wont to do -- and let me emphasize there's plenty to be outraged about in this whole outrageous mess -- takes just one sliver of a story, the one most likely to cause good people to lose their s***, and runs with it. That's because the Internet Outrage Machine's collective mental age is no greater than the chronological age of the World Wide Web itself, and young people usually aren't good at perceiving nuance.

So, we're told this is Beauton Gilbow, bigot and evil frat-boy enabler.

I know better.  This is Beauton Gilbow, a vision from my youth. Beauton Gilbow, someone who reminds me of my parents and any number of aunts, uncles, cousins and acquaintances as I grew up in the Deep South as Jim Crow faded away and whatever we have now started to take shape.

Gilbow, from the sound of her, probably grew up in Oklahoma or the South. And I know a little bit about the culture that formed her and imprinted on her heart and mind a whole host of attitudes, assumptions, unthinking Pavlovian reactions and expectations.

If her upbringing was anything like mine -- and at age 79, I assume her experience was mine on steroids -- she had been well-marinaded in a thoroughly toxic culture before she even reached the age of reason. I'm sure it's possible to completely undo that kind of psychological imprinting, but I'm not sure it's possible without violating many of the Geneva conventions.

AS I SAID, this whole thing is giving me flashbacks. I don't like them. I don't like reflecting on how many of my childhood memories, how many of the silly schoolyard songs we sang, how much of The Way Things Were was thoroughly, unthinkingly and hatefully racist.

Here's a blast from my Red Oaks Elementary past, what we thought was a hilarious takeoff on the Daniel Boone theme song from TV:
Daniel Boone was a man, he was a big man,
But when the bear was bigger, he ran like a n***** up a tree
Folks who grew up in the North -- or should I say grew up in the North and didn't hear the N-word 200 times a day amid a culture where racism and segregation, both de jure and de facto, was as pervasive as the air you breathed? -- generally get to remember their silly childhood songs and rhymes with a certain wistful fondness. If you're a Southerner seeking to rise above your upbringing, trying to do like Jesus said and love your neighbor as yourself, that luxury is forever denied you. You get to remember with a sense of regret and shame. 

Double that if you forget yourself and find a silver of wistful fondness trying to climb over the wall you've built around it over the decades.

Truly, if you're under 40 and not from where I'm from, you have no idea how pervasive -- how normal -- that word, the N-word, was. It's true enough that many white folks in the South were raised by parents who forbade them from using that word because it wasn't nice . . . because polite people didn't talk like that. I was not among that fortunate number.

And even for those who were, "n*****" was everywhere. In the air, in the culture, in the hearts of too many.

FOR FOLKS of a certain age and from a certain place, "rising above your upbringing" isn't something that happens. It's a life-and-death struggle forever. When you have a certain thing pounded into your consciousness from birth, deprogramming is a lifelong task. Some see the need to look hard into the mirror every day that God in heaven sends. Some drift along, thinking they're just fine -- or not thinking much about it at all.

And then one day at an Oklahoma frat house in 2013, somebody sticks a smartphone in your face and you try to be funny and hip for the young idiots you're supposed to be watching over.

(Insert mushroom cloud here.)

Suddenly -- maybe -- it dawns on you that you should have spent a lot more time looking hard in the mirror than trying to impress a bunch of college kids who, having been born sometime during the Clinton Administration, have no damned excuse that I can think of.

Today when I saw that video of
Beauton Gilbow, septuagenarian, I saw my childhood and a bunch of people I knew and loved. And I wanted to cry.

I wish I saw more tears over this and less click-bait exploitation of this from the Internet Outrage Machine. Hateful, racist college kids don't come from nowhere.

It would be a lot more helpful, actually, if we took some of the energy required to be exploitatively outraged and put that toward figuring out why we're no further from Selma, 1965, that we seem to be a half century on.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Glimpses of humanity

Once upon a time -- at least for a kid growing up in the Deep South with Jim Crow as the crazy-angry, crazy-hateful uncle in the attic -- television actually had the power, and the moral imagination, to point to a way out of madness.

I KNOW this seems crazy by today's standards, but TV once offered glimpses of a better world beyond parochialism, segregation and hate. Everyone in the Treasure House was so happy, and Captain Kangaroo was the benevolent ruler of a make-believe place where moose could dance with bear, where Tom was always Terrific, and where Green Jeans always were in fashion.

And Fred could just be Fred -- sans apology and secure in his electronic blobitude.

Meanwhile, after dinner, the 21-inch Magnavox showed us "colored" nurses -- nurses?!? -- like Julia, cool spies like Bill Cosby and variety stars like "Flip" Wilson. In later years, the Sony portable in my bedroom would take me to places like Walt Whitman High School on Room 222, where integration wasn't a big deal at all. And who wouldn't want to have a teacher just like Pete Dixon.

Oh, right. Half of the class . . . and their parents . . . back in the Real World.

EVEN NOW, some four decades past, I still wish I could turn back the hands of Grandfather Clock and flee into the arms of the better angels of the Treasure House.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

'White schools' and 'n***** schools'

The problem with conservative ideologues like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is that rarely do they "conserve" anything. Except, of course, the ability of radical individualists to blow up society for their own profit.

Thus, the dirty little secret behind the "school choice" agenda Jindal has embraced in his call for the state's second special legislative session this year,
as reported by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans:
The governor spent little time in his prepared remarks on the tuition tax deduction proposal. But teachers union lobbyist Steve Monaghan said afterward that it could define the tax portion of the session.

At a $20 million cost -- allowing parents to deduct half of each child's tuition cost up to $5,000 per child when figuring their taxable income -- the plan is a blip on the state's budget radar. But the precedent, Monaghan said, would establish that the state's educational priority list is no longer topped by public schools.

"This is a distraction," said Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. "If we're truly concerned about building a world-class public education system, then we have to stop sending mixed messages. Why incentivize sending children to private schools?"

Jindal said the idea, which was not part of his campaign platform, came from several legislators and other advocates of "school choice."

"They made a persuasive case," the governor said. "We think it's important for our families to be able to send their children to high-quality schools all over Louisiana."

WHY IS IT that someone who bills himself as a "conservative" -- particularly a fiscal one -- is so enamored of what amounts to welfare for the well off? Or at least well off enough to shell out thousands of dollars a year in private-school tuition.

Welfare for the at least moderately well off is what Jindal's proposed tax credit is, too. And it's what passes for sound public policy in the eyes of Jindal's buddies in the "school choice" movement.

One of those "school choice" friends is Rolfe McCollister, publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report and a founder of the city's Children's Charter School.

McCollister, who's had his scrapes with the local school system, recently penned a column calling on voters not to renew a penny sales tax that funds part of teachers' salaries and provides funds for school construction and renovation. He decries the local public schools' poor performance, particularly their record with at-risk students.

This despite his own charter school's barely passing grade from the Great Schools website, which uses publicly available data and parent ratings to grade America's schools. In fact, according to Great Schools, McCollister's Children's Charter School had the second highest pupil-teacher ratio of any school within a five-mile radius, while earning only a 6 rating on a 10-point scale.

One would think Children's Charter School would be drawing the at-risk children of the most motivated of at-risk parents. Parents you would assume at least gave enough of a damn to try a charter school. Yet. . . .

On a college grade scale, 60 percent is a D. Barely. On my old high-school grade scale, 60 percent is a solid F. And one nearby public, non-charter school at least managed a C. Barely.

IF I'M BOBBY JINDAL, I'm going to be seeking out advice on education policy from "D" educators? And I'm going to be following these folks' advice to pursue a policy of undermining public schools . . . for what, exactly?

There are none so blind as right-wing pols who refuse to see.

"Conserving" a civic culture and a functional society does not include aiding and abetting the "school choice" of the relatively privileged while abandoning the rest to a "separate and unequal" public-education system. There is no "conservative" principle, properly understood, in tolerating decay and dysfunction as the normative environment of those "left behind" in public schools.

(East Baton Rouge Parish public schools, in the wake of court-ordered desegregation, now are 83 percent minority and 79 percent African-American. Most students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.)

And there is nothing "conservative" about opening the public coffers, wholesale, to private groups for carrying out the public's business. In this case, that would be educating Louisiana's children.

"Conservatives" have forgotten -- utterly -- the flip side of freedom. That would be "duty." Just because middle- and upper-class folk have the ability to "escape" a struggling school system, that freedom to do so does not therefore become an entitlement underwritten in whole or in part by the state.

And it certainly does not translate into some "right" to cast the less privileged into an abyss of voters' making, either by commission -- as in the separate but unqual of Jim Crow days -- or by omission . . . as in the separate but unequal of some McCollisterian "I'm not paying a cent of tax money for 'failed schools'" dystopia.

When, by default, most white children attend private schools partially underwritten by public monies and most black children attend public schools abandoned to decay and dysfunction, it is difficult to discern how the "desegregated" present differs substantially from the darkest days of de jure segregation.

LONG AGO, before de jure school segregation had breathed its last in Baton Rouge, my parents used to threaten me with being sent to "the nigger school" when I misbehaved at the officially all-white Red Oaks Elementary. That was supposed to imply a fate worse than death to a young mind indoctrinated, from birth, into a white, racist milieu.

Now, in my hometown, they're working on making every public school "the nigger school" -- with all the awfulness that once meant to little white ears -- and all you have to do to get your kid sent there is not have enough money (or luck, or whatever) to get into this generation's "white school."

And if you don't have the dough (or luck, or whatever) to get into the "white school" in the first place, I don't see how Bobby Jindal -- or his proposed tax credits -- can offer you any hope. Any hope at all.

Let me know how that works out for you, Louisiana.