Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Boy From The South Or I'm Not Going Back

When I was a child the county courthouse and the surrounding blocks of shops were the centers of our community. The courthouse was a huge structure of marble and granite and it was surrounded by giant live oak trees. To gaze on the courthouse and the surrounding grounds was to gaze on a cool and serene scene. To this day I still think of that courthouse as one of the two most beautiful structures our community possessed. The post office, one block over, being the other. They are gone now. Replaced by faceless modern structures, that in my estimate, display no architectural beauty what so ever. As I reflect on this building and the pastoral square that surrounded it there is a great and painful sadness in my soul. The source of that sadness lies in two stark facts. The first is that on the lawn of that majestic structure was a monument to the Confederate South. The second was the two, somewhat inconspicuous, water fountains on the lawn. Inconspicuous with the exception being that one was marked "Colored" and the other marked "White".

As I reflect on the frequent warm summer afternoons walking around the town square and holding my mother's hand, it is amazing to me the innocence and naivete with which I saw these things. I realize now that it was sadly, so very "normal". It was "normal" that the town was divided by a highway. It was "normal" that the people of color lived west of the highway and the "white" people lived to the east. It was "normal" that there was a "colored" shopping area and a "white" shopping area. It was normal that there were "colored" toilets and "white" toilets. It was "normal" that the children of "color" went to the schools west of the highway and the "white" children went to the schools east of the highway. And, it was "normal" that over half of my community was living in abject poverty, unseen in plain sight.

I suppose that it is only natural that I, like many others, often reflect on my childhood with more than a touch of nostalgia. I believe that that is quite normal but, I also believe that we do something else that is quite normal, but not normal. We don't all remember those subtle and not so subtle signs. We don't all remember those signs that said, "Colored Only" and "White Only".  Those signs of deep-seated disrespect, viral hatred, and venomous resentment toward a group of fellow Americans that happened to be of a different skin color.

At the age of 18, I did something that so many members of my family had done since the Revolutionary War. I joined the United States Army. This became one of the defining moments in my life.  I entered an Army where, because of the draft, every ethnic and socioeconomic class living in our country was represented. I must mention here that even with the draft, some of our citizens with means and or influence did avoid the draft.

It is not possible for me to describe the following 28 years in this single blog entry so I will simply attempt to express some of the profound effects it had on my life. My entire worldview was about to change.

On the day that I joined the Army, I began an experience of profound consequence.  An experience where the color of mine and my comrade's skin was the least relevant thing in my life. The military taught every soldier that you take care of your "buddy". Your "buddy" was the most important person in your life. Your life depended on your "buddy" and your "buddies" life depended on you. This relationship, this bond, was forged in the fires of war, and for me, it could never be broken. My comrades and I lived and ate and slept together every hour of every day. We held each other in the cold, we pulled each other from the mud and we check every inch of each others body for leeches and bugs. But most importantly we made sure our buddy lived to go home and we did it in any way we had to regardless of the consequences to our own well-being.

During my career, I served in every condition known to man in both peace and war. I served in blistering deserts and frigid tundras. I served with every variation of humanity that occupies this earth and they all had one thing in common. They were, to a person, human beings just like me. Throughout my life and career, I have met people I liked and people I didn't like and people I "really" didn't like. I met people I loved and people I fell in love with, but I never met a single person where I experienced one of those emotions because of the color of their skin or their religion or their sexual orientation or any other human trait.

I don't want my readers to misunderstand. The military was not a cultural utopia. It was, in fact, a part of the great bureaucratic machine. It was a microcosm of American society at large with all of its many troubles. The difference was that all of these cultures and ethnicities, these people, were forced into a single unit and required to conform and blend for a single purpose. The military implemented surprisingly effective programs to promote equality and equal opportunity and understanding. Soldiers had to become one single unit for the sake of the mission and their own survival. The positive side effect of this merging was tolerance and shared values. An environment where all humans could come together with mutual respect and understanding. It promulgated a multicultural society. 

Since November the 9th I have felt profound sadness and anger. My emotions are raw but not as a result of any political discourse. They are a result of the language and attitude of one individual and the group of people who are following him. It is a result of who we are about to put into the office of the President of the United States and those whom he is choosing to fill positions within his administration. They are a result of what these people represent and the lack of core human values they appear to not possess.

Since the election, I have read many articles and opinion pieces that espouse that we must work with those who will soon be taking the reins of power. Writers across the spectrum are saying that those individuals who voted for the President-Elect have simply expressed their grave concerns for our country. That these people have used their vote to express their concerns about losing their jobs and their culture. And, that we must accept the results of the election and move forward.

I agree with much of this. We have been losing jobs overseas and our culture is changing. It is true that we haven't done enough to reform our immigration policies and to stem the tide of incoming undocumented immigrants. It is true that we haven't done enough to craft trade agreements that are fair and that keep good jobs in this country. I understand all of these things and there are many, many more issues I most probably agree with. I want to tell all the people who have supported the President-Elect, I understand. I really do! I want those same things but, I also want an accepting and just society.

In the beginning of this post, I described for you the community that I grew up in and then I told you of my profound experiences upon leaving that community and entering a world that opened my eyes. Now, I tell you that I am profoundly grateful that I left that community. And this is why.

The community that I left, like many communities across the nation, was not really the nice place we all thought and believe that it was. It was a place that we really don't remember accurately and that we remember with false images. We don't look deeply  at our memories.  We no longer see the signs "Colored" and "White Only". In reality, it was a place of segregation and inequality. A place of happiness on one side and deplorable inexplicable pain on the other. I do not want to go back there in reality or spirit.

My disagreement and the disagreement that I believe millions of Americans have with the incoming administration is this. They appear to be blatantly and admittedly misogynistic, racist, homophobic and demonstrably unqualified to be in the positions they are being placed in. I simply cannot accept such people being in charge of my government. I cannot accept going back. I want to move forward to a nation that is inclusive in every way possible. I won't share my country with hate and the President-Elect and his staff is the personification of that.

Those Are The Sergeant Majors Thoughts On That.

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