To set the math only, next January I’ll be 62. Nonetheless, every once in a while, now much less as the years wear on, I recall a five-decade old outburst that continues to shame me terribly. One of the kids in the neighborhood could be a bit of a bully. Ken occasionally exercised his physical intimidation and once I screamed in response, “You’re a n-word! You’re a n-word!”
Allen Park is a suburb of Detroit, one of several all white links in an all-white chain that encircles an almost all-black Detroit. Unlike the brazen South, where in the 50’s and early-60s they lynched their niggers, where they burned their homes and churches, the communities surrounding the Motor City — Allen Park, Melvindale, Lincoln Park, Wyandotte, Dearborn, St. Claire Shores, et al — maintained their purity by not permitting the “Negroes” to infiltrate, to move into the cities. Negroes could work in the same factories and assembly lines, they could ride the same busses and street cars, eat in the same diners, use the same public facilities, and, except for all-white Camp Dearborn, could recreate in the same regional parks.
And all the members of our good and highly moral towns took pride in the fact that the defaming word contained in my outburst was fairly generally objected to was evidence of an absence of bigotry. We didn’t have “niggers.” They were "negroes." It was just that they couldn’t live in the same city as us. Supposedly they liked it better that way. We certainly did.
I also recall how, following the Brown v Board decision in 1954, my father’s mother negatively remarked, “They need to give us time to get used to the idea.” Although I was too young to recognize the insidiousness contained in the postulation, or the moral depravity inherent in a mind that even made the note possible, I sensed an irreconcilable incongruity in a position that was manifestly at odds with the all too easily tossed about premise of “all men are created equal” in light of practices that suggested otherwise.
I enlisted in the army in 1964. For the first time in my life I associated with folks from wholly different backgrounds. I trained with them. I ate with them. I slept next to them. I struggled with them. And I found I could find no discernable difference between their dreams and aspirations and mine.
It was while I was in track mechanic school at Ft. Benning, Georgia that a sledge hammer was taken to whatever remained of my childhood socialization. Across the river is Phoenix City, Alabama. One Saturday, against the recommendations of officers who claimed that Southerners don’t “take kindly” to meddlin’ Yankees with highfalutin ideas how they ought to treat their “nigrahs,” a few of us white Yankees crossed the bridge into what was another world entirely. With all the benign prejudices and bigotries I’d been raised with in tow, but under control, I had never seen, indeed I had never even thought on “Whites Only” and “coloreds” drinking fountains, toilet facilities, and what have you.
More than any other experience, that one slammed me so hard I am reeling on it to this day. I didn’t get to choose my parents. Neither has anyone ever been given that election opportunity. Whether we are one particular physical set of facts or others are characteristics that none of us can claim as achievement we have earned. Not me. Not anyone!
And now I get to the point I want to make concerning some suggestions that Marine General Peter Pace, the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was some icon of military leadership to be hallowed, if not canonized. Last Tuesday, the 25th of September, in a Senate hearing concerning 2008 defense appropriations, the general attempted to explain comments he’d issued earlier, how being homosexual was a moral deprecation that had no place in the military. The general contended his remarks reflected his personal views and were the product of the way he was raised.
It was Senator Harkin who had brought the matter of the Pace’s publicly expressed feelings from the cellar, where they should have been forever hermetically sealed, and asked the general to explain them.
General Pace tried to. He stumbled. He rambled. He traveled to every venue he thought might extricate him from the morass, or be at least somewhat exculpatory. He failed miserably. In the end, he didn’t apologize or offer the first scent of an indication that he felt that, after giving his position some self-examining thought, that he’d perhaps come to see his deeply regards were the least inefficacious.
Harkin reflected my feelings 100%. Once a person dons the apparel of the United States, and once that person has been awarded authority over others, whatever positions he or she may have been raised with, whatever positions they believe, become 100% irrelevant. Either dump those that run counter to the high principles we try to live to, keep them to yourself always, or quit that post. Choose. Change your heart. Keep your damned mouth shut. Or quit. That's it. No other options available.
To this day I am ashamed and sorrowful of a childhood rant. Bigotry has no place whatsoever in the world or in our hearts. And until Peter Pace — or any and all others like him — arrives at the same conclusion, he has no more moral right to lead than, say a David Dukes who would tie a man to a tree and whip him because of a different skin tone. I respect his valor and service to our country. His surfeit of medals and awards attest to his dedication. (By the way, for those under some confusion, Peter Pace has never been awarded the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Pace) Unfortunately, no award or medal can adequately mitigate a heart bent to diminish any human being for physical characteristics the individual had zero say in.
— Ed Tubbs