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It's About Time We Faced Racism

By       Message Tim Copeland     Permalink
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The 2008 presidential campaign had not produced any overtly racist attacks until the Reverend Wright episode exploded onto the scene. It's like conservatives were thinking, "We're not going to say it, we're not going to say it, ...auuuggggghhh, we can't stand it any longer! For God's sake, wake up!! He's a Negro!!!"

It isn't an unusual attack. It is typical right-wing, an irrelevant moment dredged up by the minions of the right and plastered across Fox News, The Weekly Standard and other puppets of the Republican Party.

They want their audience, to fear, once again, the rebellion of the slaves. The message is more subtle today than it used to be, but the meaning is the same: "This should make you afraid, white boy; vote for the Republican. Those blacks are getting to the point they might think we owe them something."

I watched Ken Burns "The War" and I was drawn into the stories of the black soldiers who went to war, died, fought and survived only to come home to the belittling contempt of white sheriffs in towns where white privilege was the law.

I considered.

I grew up in the border state of Tennessee. We had no white-only water fountains, but all the blacks lived in one section of town. You know what it was called.

When I was six, we had a maid named Candy and she cleaned once a week. I remember when my mother told me and my brother that Candy would be working there. My parents both escaped the deep south without the usual baggage of inherent racism and they did their best to pass that along to their children. We treated Candy with respect but, she did not particularly want to talk to us or we to her. That was my first introduction to black women.

In high school, we were integrated one year. There was an announcement by the school administration, and some expectant talk, but nothing much happened. They came and they weren't very many and they followed the rules and they behaved and, most of all, they kept to themselves. There were a few in the band with me. One was named Willie; he played saxophone. So did Melanie. I never spoke to them at all.

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There were a few in college, but they were not in my circles so I knew of them but not about them.

I lived through 16 years of a military career and only encountered black men or women when they were subordinates, perhaps refueling my jet or accepting my flight plan at base operations.

My last four years in the USAF, I had to learn a new trade. No longer was I a pilot of jets. I was a staff officer and my job was to manage the application of Air Force bombs on Army targets. I talked to the men who wanted the bombs on one phone and I talked to the men who had the bombs on another phone, and I brought the two together.

After a while, I was given a minor leadership position in my squadron and tasked to lead a "flight" of white, Hispanic and black men and women. The members of my flight performed a variety of jobs that resulted in a functioning subset of an Air Support Operations Squadron. I did that and I learned a lot.

In so doing, I had to talk to black men and find out what it was they knew. I had to ask them to work for me. I had to ask them what they thought we should do. Most of all, I had to ask them to perform as if they cared what the result might be. They did that.

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During that time, I had one more new experience. My new operations officer, my immediate supervisor, was black.

He was an F-15 pilot, a fighter pilot, and even though his fighter heritage was more aggressive, more focused, and more intense than my reconnaissance heritage, his style was low key.

We got along OK. He was a good leader and I and all of my peers respected him. We never said that, but it was understood. More than some of our leaders, he focused on our mission, not on the politics of life with the Army's III Corps.

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Tim Copeland served a 20 year career in the USAF flying reconnaissance RF-4Cs and working in a Army Corps liaison unit. After the AF, he was a taxi dispatcher, school department computer manager, community college adjunct faculty and computer (more...)

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