Thursday, May 22, 2008

Race Relations in Northwest Indiana

Jerry Davich wrote a great article in his column today entitled 'New book could stir the racial pot.' He followed it up with a blog post entitled What whites want to know about blacks but are afraid to ask. The buzz is coming from a new book with the same title as his blog post written by Gary attorney John H. Davis. Jerry Davich writes:

"...[The book] asks provocative questions like: Do blacks really prefer watermelon to other fruit? Are blacks naturally loud, lazy, untidy, and athletic? And, can all blacks dance? Still, I found the 111-page book interesting, insightful, and informative. As Davis told me when I met with him at Gary legal office, "I simply want to put this out on the table for public discourse. And what better forum to do this than in cyberspace, and on this blog, I noted, where readers can post their true feelings and opinions without face to face awkwardness or fearful confrontations."

In a comment to his blog post I applauded him for encouraging discussion on race relations in Northwest Indiana. And discuss we shall....

It's no secret that Route 30 and 93rd Avenue seem to be unspoken segregation lines in Lake County, particularly between Main/Taft/Cleveland and I-65. North of Route 30 is mostly black, and just south of Route 30 is fairly diverse. But once you cross 93rd Avenue into Crown Point, the landscape is predominantly white. Go further south into Lowell, and a child might stare and point at a black person ("Look at that mom! He's a little far south of 30!"). Of course there are exceptions, and this doesn't mean that white people south of Route 30 are racist. I'm just pointing out some unspoken boundaries.

When my wife and I purchased our duplex home in Merrillville, some of our white friends and family warned us that our property value would plummet when "they" started moving in. Of course "they" are black people. The owners of the other half of our duplex are a very nice black family. We hang out on the back patio, drink beer together, talk about movies, split costs to maintain the landscaping, and even play board games with their eight-year-old daughter. My neighborhood contains black, white, Asian, and Hispanic families -- young and old. I really enjoy the diversity.

Now before you think I'm tooting my own horn and bragging about how non-racist I am, I must tell the other side of the story. I've always had friends of all races growing up, and it never bothered me much. Then I joined the Army. When I went through basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; I stayed in the barracks: a small room where 120+ privates of all walks of life live together for thirteen of the most stressful and challenging weeks of our lives. Basic training has a tendency to put a lot of people in a bad mood, and when you put a bunch of tired, angry men together in a cramped space, we fight.

The Army has been writing waivers for all sorts of criminals and convicts so that they can enter the Army, and unfortunately I found that a lot of my fellow soldiers aren't very upstanding citizens. I had things stolen from me in basic training. Of course the first time someone reports that to a drill sergeant, he tears everyones' wall lockers apart and throws your stuff all over the place, calling it a "shake-down." Then you have about 20 minutes to clean up an hour's worth of damages, and it had better be immaculate. So you learn to handle things on your own, without getting upper leadership involved unless it's absolutely necessary (which is part of why the Army is so efficient). A lot of problems I had in basic training were with black soldiers, and I began to resent several of them. It was hard not to lump all black soldiers together when holding stereotypes about them. But by the grace of God I graduated basic training and left all of that behind. Today I am friends with many black people.

There is a story of which I am not proud. Our barracks were divided into two sides, with about 60 people per side. Each side had its own set of washers and dryers, and you didn't touch the other sides'. A black guy from the other side got mad at a white guy on our side, and decided to piss in his shoe. He then placed that shoe in our dryer for over an hour. Needless to say, it fumigated our entire area with piss. When you come back to the barracks after a long day of training and punishment, you don't have the patience for this sort of thing. Without giving any real incriminating details, a group of both black and white soldiers from our side of the barracks (I never said I was involved) grabbed this guy and left him out in the rain in the middle of winter (it was maybe 35 degrees outside). The group was supposed to grab his bedsheets and carry him out like that, but they ended up dropping him on his head from the top bunk. To make matters worse, one of the soldiers decided to wear a white sheet on his head so that the soldier would not recognize him, and a black soldier shouted, "you're getting it now N____!" No one thought of the implications of those two things until later.

Since by this time all of us soldiers were good at working together as a team, when he hit the puddle outside and ran to the drill sergeant, everyone denied that anything had happened. The fire guards (who are up all night) adamantly maintained he simply fell out of his bed and took off running. Everyone was fast asleep in their bunks, his bed had been remade as though nothing had happened -- and this guy looked crazy. Unfortunately he began having nightmares about the KKK and ended up getting 'recycled' (held back in a portion of training) because he literally was afraid to go to sleep at night. He honestly went crazy.

Now this was not entirely a racially motivated thing, both black and white soldiers were involved in this, and the black soldier shouted the N word. But things got out of hand, and the white soldier wore a sheet, and.... I share this only to demonstrate that it became easy to stereotype, and to share a moment of which I am not particularly proud.

Now why would I share all of that? Because I'd be willing to bet that we all have a story when it comes to race relations. Almost everyone can recall a time when they said, thought or did something directed towards another race that they are not proud of today. True reconciliation and dialog doesn't happen by ignoring our faults and the past, it only comes when we confess it and move forward. Blaise Pascal, a famous mathematician, once said:

“He devotes all his attention to hiding his faults both from others and from himself, and he cannot endure either that others should point them out to him, or that they should see them. . . .

We ought not to be angry at their knowing our faults and despising us; it is but right that they should know us for what we are and should despise us, if we are contemptible. . . . For is it not true that we hate truth and those who tell it [to] us, and that we like them to be deceived in our favour? . . . Human life is thus only a perpetual illusion; men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does of us in our absence. Human society is founded on mutual deceit. . . .

Man is, then, only disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in himself and in regard to others. He does not wish any one to tell him the truth; he avoids telling it to others, and all these dispositions, so removed from justice and reason, have a natural root in his heart.”

I hope that Blaise Pascal is wrong.

I'd love to hear your story, or your thoughts -- or both.

4 comments:

Daltonsbriefs said...

Sorry to disappoint, but I don't have a riveting story. I grew up in Indianapolis where a judge decided to "bus" inner city students to suburban schools. I was too young to have an opinion but some of my best friends through those years were black students. So, I guess for me the busing was a positive. But, boy did I feel bad for those kids that had to get on a bus at 6 a.m. just to get to school.

prayeramedic said...

lol, getting up early does stink. No need for a 'riveting' story, your experience is equally valid and important. I was a minority in my high school and remember many positive memories from that as well. If it weren't for my black friends, I wouldn't be able to play all of the funk/soul stuff so well on the drums either! ;)

Webmaster said...

wow.

Jerry Davich said...

Dan, I think this is an excellent, and candid, story to share with others. Unfortunately, I doubt others would feel so free to share any similar stories of their own. But this is a great starting point, even if it only sparks others to "think" about the issue, if not "act" on it, through words or deeds. Nice job, Dan.