Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Slur By Any Other Name . . .

I’m setting aside my recent feeble attempts at Biblical exegesis in favor of something from the morning headlines – literally and figuratively.
Until Google discontinues this service in 1 November this year, my internet browsers (I use Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome, depending on my immediate need) all have iGoogle as their home page.  It is the most customizable user friendly set of utilities I have found on anyone’s site, and I have it set up with local weather everywhere I have family, newspaper headlines from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Miami Herald, and Tampa Tribune, and a tropical weather watch, along with a big clock and calendar and a few other quick hot links I use.
Scanning today’s Post-Gazette headlines, I encountered this headline:
“Supreme Court sends affirmative action case back to lower court:
The U.S. Supreme Court has kept alive the use of affirmative action in college admissions, but it has made clear schools must undergo "strict scrutiny" to prove that they need to consider race to meet diversity goals.
The article itself, found here, is much longer.
When you consider the recent hot topic of celebrity chef Paula Deen being fired from Food Network and dropped as a spokesperson by Smithsfield hams for a comment she made involving the use of what we euphemistically call the ‘N-word’ over thirty (30) years ago (yes, you read that right – 30 years ago) and the whole issue of discrimination came flooding back through the memory archives of my personal databank.
I’m a child of the 60’s.  I lived through the Miami riots, observed Mississippi and Selma, the murders of Martin, John, and Bobby, hid under my desk during practice drills of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and remember the “I have a Dream” speech from something more visceral than video archives or PBS documentaries.  I remember when affirmative action became law, and remember that the words ‘affirmative action’ are political legalize for “legalized discrimination”, because in the end, that’s what it is.  Our great nation has two kinds of discrimination.  Illegal, and legal.  The legal one is called affirmative action.  It’s the truth.  Get over it.  We also have both acceptable and unacceptable racism.  When a hip hop artist or rap artist of color used the ‘N word’ that is acceptable racism.  When someone finds out that ivory southern white Paula Deen used it 30 years ago, that is unacceptable racism, and by politically correct god, she’s going to pay!
My heritage is mostly German.  Three sets of my great grandparents were born in Germany. There is some Scots-Irish in the mix at the great grandparent level, but starting at the grandparent branch of my family tree, a new strain weed is introduced into the strain.  The uprooted from Germany was replanted in America and from that day until now, every branch, leaf, sprout, root, and fruit has been 100% American by birth coming from German heritage.  My great grandparents became German-Americans but by the very nature of their births, my grandparents, parents, myself, and my children and grandchildren (that’s all so far) can at best clam to be Americans of German heritage.
I don’t know how long it takes for that recognition to be ‘official’; by which I mean I don’t know how many generations, but I’m the third generation born in America and my children the fourth, my grandchildren the fifth.  Anthropologists count 35 years for a generation.  By that count, my grandchildren are a generation early.  My maternal grandfather would have been 100 next year and my grandkids are already generation 4 – 140 years downstream from him – his great, great grandchildren.
Don’t worry – this will make sense in a bit.
I have three sisters and two brothers even closet to their European roots.  Their paternal grandparents were born on Italy. Their father – the man who raised me and who I called Dad, was the first generation of his family born in America. A first generation American of Italian heritage.  My three sisters and two brothers who share his blood are second generation Americans of Italian heritage.
Now, let’s return to the Post-Gazette headline for a moment, indirectly, at least.  When I worked at what was then known as the Oldsmobile Plant in Lansing, Michigan, I was hired to work on the factory floor. After a while I had the opportunity to get a promotion to management in the form of a supervisory role.  First, however, I had to participate in an 8-hour ‘assessment center’ to determine if I had the requisite tools to be considered for supervision, which was absolutely the bottom rung on the General Motors salaried employee ladder, but a place to start.
The assessment was scored in three triads.
1-3: don’t call us, and we won’t call you.
4-6: closer you are to 6 the better your chances are
7-9: you’re a lock for a one week temporary assignment
GM paid thousands of dollars to develop this testing program and they test drove it on experienced supervisors before administering it to us hourly flunkies.  The highest score awarded in the development trials was a 7.3.  I scored an 8.8.  I got a call within a week of the test and my one week assignment lasted 6 months.  I never did get hired as a full time salaried supervisor because just about the time my one week trial was up, Roger Smith, then Chairman of GM was busy killing GM, had instituted an austerity program and a hiring freeze, and in the next five years even hourly ranks at GM fell from 250,000 to 125,000.
Now, let me tell you about John Williams.  John was a black man who worked in HR.  He stood 6’6”, weighed about 275, and could touch his fingertips when wrapping his paw around a basketball.  We all knew John simply as Thunder, but only because buildings shook when he walked, and windows rattled when he spoke.  John was my sponsor, my guardian angel, my mentor, and my friend.
Thunder came into my office one day and I was pretty certain there was going to have to be a funeral before he was finished – mine.  He was madder than I’d ever seen him.  Here’s why:
He explained that one of my journeyman electricians had applied for assessment center.  Personally, I was thrilled for her.  She was a good worker, good attitude, single mom.  I was glad for any opportunity for her to make a step forward.  Until Thunder tore a hole in the space/time continuum of quantum reality for me.  You think Thor has a mighty hammer?  Thor is a wuss next to my man Thunder when he’s miffed!
Son, he said, (called me Son) first of all she is a journeyman electrician because she’s a black woman.  If she took the test for the journeyman card anywhere but this plant, she wouldn’t get it. GM lost a discrimination suit 15 years ago and this is part of the agreement.  Minorities get certain breaks other people don’t get.
I shrugged and said as long as she does her job and she knows enough about what she’s doing that she’s not endangering anyone, I have no problems.
Boy you just don’t get it! He slammed his fist on my desk.  Remember that 8-hour assessment center you had to take completely cold to test your natural ability as a leader and see if you could be trained to be a supervisor? She gets 40-hours of paid training to take the same damn test, and if she doesn’t feel like that’s enough, she can get another 40-hours of paid training! And the only reason she gets it is because she is black! And of you can’t see how wrong that is, and that YOU have been discriminated against, boy, you ain’t as smart as I thought you are! There probably ain’t much I can do about it, but I sure as hell am going to fight it!
Well, long story short, Thunder did fight it, and he was right on every count.  The gal took 80-hours of paid train to test her ‘natural’ ability, and he got absolutely nowhere with his dispute. The government said affirmation is not reverse discrimination and that’s all there is to it.
And you know what the kicker to the story is? When I informed this young woman of her assessment center acceptance, and her training options, and expressed my sincere pleasure at her opportunity, and that I was happy for her and proud of her, the next day I got called into my boss’s office. The woman filed a sexual harassment complaint against me!
So back to the beginning. If I went out and took to the streets demanding special recognition. That’s all – just recognition, no special treatment like affirmative action, just recognition – start calling me German American even though I have never been to Germany and the closes I can trace my roots back to Germany is 5-generations and over a hundred years ago, and pretty everything except lines on a family tree in me that is German has been replace by every member of a family born in the United States of America since before the 20th century began, you’d laugh at me. . . and then probably have me committed.
Now, quickly! Show of hands, and please accept that I mean no offence when I ask this: how many of you out there claiming to be African-Americans as opposed to Americans of African Heritage, were born in Africa, have parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents who were born in Africa? And again, no offense intended, how many of you really believe first, that lowering or creating a special standard for a people based exclusively on racial heritage irrespective of any other consideration, does anything at all for the individual originally denied rights, or abused in any way (i.e., do you really believe giving you something for free today helps someone dead 200 years?) and secondly, do you not realize that when you demand and receive those specialized entrance tests, training breaks and other things where the standards are adjusted down and racial heritage is the primary factor of consideration, that you are in fact saying yes! You’re right!  Given an equal chance, I cannot compete on a level field.  I’m not as, as smart, as talented, whatever, as you are because I’m black, so you have to give me special treatment so I can be as good as you!
Do you really believe that nonsense? Because that’s exactly what affirmative action says.  And I don’t care what politically correct euphemism you use. If it walks like a duck . . . as for the Post-Gazette article? The only consideration EVER for college, work, or anything else should be IS THIS THE MOST QUALIFIED CANDIDATE?  PERIOD!
I had the privilege of attending a unique Dade County, Florida high school.  It was integrated by design. I attended class, participated in sports and, choir and band, learned debate German, science, history and drama side by side with Black, Cuban and White students. Over 90% of the thousand of us who began the journey together graduated. We didn’t learn or practice any other way than to treat each other as equals.  Two years ago we met together for our 40th reunion. My Black and Cuban brothers and sisters were right there with their success stories – doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, preachers, musicians, moms, dads, grandparents. Kids who didn’t get, need or use affirmative action 40 years ago when we learned we really were the same – equal – and in our case, cut us and we bleed orange and black! How I wish the rest of America could have experienced my high school 40 years ago.
Oh, by the way.  Paula made a mistake 30 years ago.  She said an inappropriate word. She acknowledged it. She apologized. America is calling for her head on a butter glazed platter. GET OVER IT!
Barry closed his eyes, looked the other way and Americans died in Benghazi. He lied about it. He’s still lying about. The talking heads who want to crucify Paula Deen are conspicuously silent on the subject.  Makes you sort of wonder, donnit?

Post a Comment