From the time I started elementary school in 1950 until the beginning of the 5th grade in September 1954 I attended a segregated school. We weren’t living in South Carolina or Louisiana. We were living on Hamilton Street between Georgia Avenue and 14th Street in – ready? – Washington, D.C!
That’s right. The D.C. public schools were segregated until Brown v. Board of Education in 1953, and because ‘the District’ (as we called it) was federal property, the schools had to be integrated right away.
The first year they integrated one school as a ‘pilot,’ which happened to be my elementary school, West School on Farragut Street. The following year the entire school system changed.
As soon as the schools integrated, my neighborhood, which had been all-white, also began to change. Which is exactly what happened in every community which was legally or de facto segregated in the good ol’ days – the days when America was ‘great.’
This country is the only country which had a slave system that did not allow for manumission of any kind. The last ship bearing slaves from Africa arrived here in 1806 and yet by 1865, when slavery was abolished, just about every man, woman and child with a black skin was still a slave.
Slavery with its attendant justification which we call ‘racism,’ is America’s curse, and since the Bible says that a curse shall last for 7 generations, we have another 50 years to go before the curse of racism disappears.
Which doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress on many fronts. I remember when black faces were only seen on TV when Jack Benny had a guy named Rochester who picked up after him. I remember when the first hot-dog stand you passed in Delaware after coming over the bridge from New Jersey still had a ‘colored in back’ sign. I remember when the only blacks who you saw at South Carolina’s Hilton Head Inn or Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel were the black guys who mopped the floors.
I’m not the only white person who remembers those days. There are plenty of other whites who can remember what America was like before it ‘changed,’ and many of them and their children don’t like the way things have changed, racially speaking, at all.
I once asked Eli Wiesel why a country as culturally advanced as Germany could have supported something as terrible as the Holocaust and Eli quickly replied, “People are afraid of ‘the other.’ They are afraid of people who aren’t like them.”
Now granted, it’s not reality to compare how some Americans reacted and still react to a black family moving into the ‘nabe versus how Germans reacted when millions of their fellow citizens were carted off to the camps. But if you were a Jew attacked by a group of Nazi thugs or you were a black being strung up because the word got around that you allegedly insulted some white girl, the difference between the two situations wouldn’t have been all that great.
Back in March, a report was released by a political PR firm run by James Carville, which was based on numerous interviews with people who described themselves as Trump ‘loyalists’ and were willing to stick with Trump no matter what he was facing in court or anywhere else. What this report clearly found was that the overriding concern of the pro-Trump people is the fear that they are ‘losing’ the country to non-whites.
What to me is most interesting about this attitude, and I have been aware of such beliefs since I was a 5th-grade student at West Elementary School in 1954, is the sense of ‘ownership’ of America that such people have and try to maintain. All they know is that something they used to ‘own’ by dint of the color of their skin, they no longer ‘own.’ And nobody likes to be robbed.
I’m not surprised that Trump is so adept at promoting such attitudes and feelings. After all, who understands the value of ownership better than someone who builds and sells what is for most of us the most valuable thing we will ever own?