I grew up mostly in South Avondale, Cincinnati, Ohio. I was in the Army on leave before doing a second tour of duty in the Republic of Vietnam when civil unrest came to South Avondale. The United States was in flames in 1967, ’68, and ’69 over the very same damned issues as today.
I think it was worse back then because it was black Americans against, well, everybody else. The Civil Rights Act was barely 4 years old and having to answer for killing black people in the United States was still a novel idea for most of America. As I said, I was on leave but I was a medic in the 101st Airborne back then and, because of my training, I played a very small part in keeping a few young black men from dying during the civil uprising.
In any case, time has passed, but the issues remain the same. I used to ask aloud, but, rhetorically…if anyone actually thought passing laws would change the attitudes and behaviors of the oppressors. Some said, “It’s a start.” Well, it is 52 years later and the only thing that changed is that we got older, more young people of all racial, cultural, and ethnic groups have joined the struggle and now we have the internet and the attendant social media platforms.
Initially I wrote the above in response to a question on Facebook. Then I read in the newspapers about a young lady peacefully supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Then I read some of the very negative comments about her activity. So I decided to add to my little missive.
In 1986, after retiring from the Army, I came to the CNMI. The short story is, when I arrived here, there was a small community of black Americans who mostly, individually, kept to themselves. When I arrived, the local community was very close-minded and had no compunction about calling black people “n—-” and they often did, no matter how often one might tell them it was offensive. Back then, the local CNMI population generally thought of “Americans” as white people, period, and they thought of themselves as “white-adjacent.” Many still do. There were a few incidents; but, over time and exposure to the broader world, things improved, at least on the outside. But given the negative comments I read in the online newspapers this morning, it seems the racism and ethnocentrism just went underground. Today, they raise their ugly heads electronically in the form of the cowardly keyboard warrior attacks while hiding behind their avatar anonymity.
Lastly, in the history of the United States, no, in the world, no change has ever occurred without civil unrest. “Peaceful protest” is a demonstrable myth. The synonym for “peaceful protest” is loitering. It accomplishes nothing except to keep the “have-nots” in their place. No “haves” have ever willingly given up what they perceive as theirs. The “have-nots” have always had to forcefully take what they perceive as theirs, be it property or liberty. Before you can negotiate you must first get your oppressor’s attention.
Someone asked me about the point of writing this letter. My answer is I was and am an educator, so I educate. Education, like democracy, doesn’t always feel good.
Finasisu Terrace, Saipan