Street Smart

Let's talk about racism

 


There’s been a great deal of discussion about racism lately so let’s visit that topic a little differently. I’ll explain from my perspective. Unlike many who are offering their opinions, I didn’t just visit or read about racism in a particular area…I lived and worked in such areas nearly my entire life!

Before I continue with this true saga, I want to point something out. Somewhere along the line, the term “racism” has come to mean “White people against everyone else.” I can comfortably state from the position of a person who has “been there, done that and got the t-shirt” that this media driven definition is a false one! All ethnicities have the capacity for, and a history of, racism and bigotry.

My parents moved my family from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Southern California in 1965. They rented a home from a family member in Lake View Terrace in the San Fernando Valley. They didn’t know anything about the neighborhood at the time. They were just happy to have a place to live. Little did they know that the neighborhood was experiencing tremendous demographic change. What had been a pretty upscale middle-class white area, was rapidly becoming an economically depressed Black neighborhood. I don’t know, and couldn’t explain, the socio-economic reasons for the change. I just know I watched it happen! By the time I was in the sixth grade, nearly all of our neighbors were Black, with a scattering of Hispanics. My two best friends were a Black kid named Shayne and a Mexican kid named Jose (Joe). We were just kids and race really didn’t factor into our daily existence until we went together to junior high (looking back, I think I started to see things happening when I was in the sixth grade, but junior high really brought it home).


I could tell from day one that my junior high experience with the other students was going to be different. The white kids were significantly outnumbered and targeted by the Black kids. White kids had to hide their lunch money and/or their lunches from the Black kids, or it would be taken by force. A Japanese friend of mine was beat up and cut with a razor blade at the handball courts on St. Patrick’s Day because he wasn’t wearing anything green (picture that…a Japanese kid getting brutalized by Black kids because he wasn’t properly honoring an Irish holiday!) All of the “non-Black” males carried green plant leaves into the showers after gym class to avoid the same fate. My brother, who is one of the most gentle souls in the world, had to run over a mile to get home every day so he wouldn’t get beat up after school. He wouldn’t fight back and (as much as I disagreed with his stance at the time) I now admire him for that. We were always outnumbered. Any white kid challenged to fight knew that he wasn’t going to fight only one person. The outcome of any fight was known before it even began. I was fortunate on two fronts. Number one, my best friend Shayne was the toughest kid in the school. Anyone who fought with me had to contend with him too. Number two, I’m not a gentle soul and I can’t run like my brother. So, when push came to shove, I had to confront my tormentors. I wasn’t all that afraid to fight back if I had to. Like most bullies, the thugs were caught off guard by anyone who might fight back and that created a little pause in the mind of a would be attacker. At least I could create a delay long enough for Shayne to get there!


Sanders County Ledger canvas prints

Every Friday was called “Paddy Day” by the Black kids. This, for them, meant that all of the white kids were fair game for a beating. The situation became particularly brutal on April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Every white kid in the school became a target. Apparently it was our fault Reverend King was killed. My brother barely made it home that day! Even light complexioned Black kids were targeted. The theory being that they were tainted by having white blood.

High school was bad, but not quite as brutal. The demographic had changed from the junior high school. The number of Black and Hispanic students was now pretty equal. They spent so much time hating and fighting each other, that whites weren’t targeted quite as much. A white kid still had to keep his head on a swivel when walking the halls or going to the bathroom alone, but it was a little better than before.

A reader might assume that given that background, I would be a racist, but that’s not the case at all. The few (there are many, many more) violent stories I just related were committed by a relatively small number of the students at both schools, and I knew that from the outset. So, it just never made sense to me to attribute the actions of a few to an entire race. I didn’t see the logic in that sort of thinking then and still don’t.

I hate bullies and know for certain that played a huge part in my decision to become a police officer. After my probationary training, I requested an assignment in South Los Angeles, which was almost entirely Black at the time. I saw the same thing I’d seen in school. An overwhelming percentage of the crime was committed by a relatively small number of the people in the community. The only thing different? There were no white people to target. So predators did what predators do, they preyed on the weak. Black on Black crime was the huge problem then just as it is today. Look up the numbers yourself. It has nothing to do with race.

Racism in any form is wrong! Judging a person by anything other than their behavior and the content of their character is just plain stupid in my view. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” I used that quote awhile back to discuss the coronavirus but it applies here as well. There are outside forces that are loving the division in our country and see it working to their advantage. I blame the liberal media for fanning the flames. Rather than internal conflict, we need to come together on this issue and put it behind us for the good of our nation.

Blaine Blackstone is a retired Los Angeles Police Sergeant who enjoys the simpler life in Thompson Falls. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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