Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A White Man's Game

I am someone who interprets the history of America from 1940 until 1970 as a time when everyday Americans beheld a bigger picture and, as a whole, lived their lives for the betterment of their country and their families.  That greatest generation, as it has been labeled, sacrificed, not only young lives during World War II, but the comforts of life in the form of rationing of gas, meat and sugar (among other items), and, even more importantly, participated in vast numbers in the drive to recycle metals to build the necessary war vehicles needed to win that war.  It was a national effort.  This is not to say that some Americans took advantage of others' willingness to give, nor does it excuse the leftover racism that resulted in the continuance of Jim Crowe laws, and the scientific experimentation that was inflicted on men of color. 

My point is that, the country rallied around the common goal of defeating Nazi Germany, and willingly paid a personal as well as a national price to see that job through to its end. 

(Perhaps that is why we still have such a fuss made about whatever enemies there still are in the world, even though those enemies, Ebola, ISIS, etc, are not in the same league as the Third Reich.  The belief that only through a common fear can we unite.)

I am also someone, although of the minority in this category, who believes that a next greatest generation will occur, sometime soon.  This generation to come will take on the issues of today, but will solve those issues, not by looking back in time for solutions that are rooted in hatred and fear, but will embrace the changing dynamics of America.  It will be a generation that removes the remaining obstacles for those not born with pale skin and male genitalia.  It will be a generation that realizes that it was the diversity of the United States, fueled by the immigration of hundreds of thousands of men and women during the early 20th century, that set the table for the great achievements of the years 1940-1970, and it will be this generation that understands the power of today's immigrants to provide new blood, new ideas and a new version of the American melting pot.

But, in the meantime, it is incumbent upon me to touch on the white man, at least from the perspective of American history.  Since the discovery of the new world, a statement in itself that pretends that Native Americans did not exist before our arrival, the tale of land acquisition is sordid at best, criminal at worst.  Clearly, the Europeans of the 16th and 17th century discounted the rights of those already living in the Americas, more often than not with (in their minds) the blessing of their God.  By slaughtering the native populations either actively through battle or inactively through disease and relocation, the European settlers "civilized" the North American continent. 

Once the country took its great leap at Independence, and its economy and industry began to develop, men of color were imported to provide the labor.  Fortunes were made, Americans prospered, and the idea that this country was better than the Old World began to take shape.  When the light of the idealism of our democracy mingled with the belief that our new governmental system came from on high was focused on the evils of slavery, a great Civil War ensued.  Despite the Union victory however, the South still held on to its notions of black and white, and it took another 100 years before new laws were created that reminded us of the power of that first declaration, that all men are created equal. 

Now, despite the more equal footing that women and minorities have been granted, our economy and government representation continue to be dominated by the white male, who, not only still occupies the bulk of CEO positions and state senate seats, but has managed to create some backlash laws that protect him against discrimination, as if the white male doesn't already hold all the cards. 

What is truly sad about such behavior, is that the freedoms of which we brag, the great democratic experiment which was forged in war that we hold on high, is not a process that we readily acknowledge others to follow.  Consider that when the urban riots occurred in the 1970's, much was made of the horrible violence yet is that not the way our forefathers reacted to the restrictive laws and mores of 18th century England? 

Or, when judges rule in favor of affirmative action or gay marriage, it is with a sneer that some white males discuss these "activist judges".  How dare they rule to provide equal protection under the Constitution for people different from me?

Paradoxically, many white males, so entrenched in their belief that they are made in God's image, no other race or gender, are enamored with the all that makes America great yet believe it to be so simply because of the contribution of those who share their race and gender.  As if "all men are created equal" assumes the word white in that phrase.  And so, when statistics of higher incarceration rates for black males are discussed, it is without the idea that those same crimes are being committed by white males, but that justice in those cases is not meted out in the same way.  (There is certainly an economic factor here as well, but the phrase white trash usually provides the way out).

Sadly, and this is sad, while America is still a great country, those who claim it to be the greatest now, or greatest ever, do so without the statistics to back them.  Mortality rates among children, death by violence, obesity rates, longevity, life satisfaction, education level; there are many ways to gauge "the greatest country" and America frequently falls short in those categories.  Yet the white male sings on about its greatness, I think, because they believe that America, by and large, was created by the white male and any acknowledgement that there might be cracks in our foundation must be ignored for those cracks indicate a flaw in the white males ability to create, and improve America, its greatest achievement. 

Is there hope for the white male?  Surely, once he realizes that being part of a great team (America) can be just as rewarding as being the leader of that team.  And, that by sharing the leadership and vision that will enable America to solve its problems, the white male can make an even greater contribution, because it will demonstrate that they place the betterment of their country and their families above the need to prove they are the superior race and gender.


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