Posts Tagged ‘Ku Kux Klan’

LAURA AND DUKE—A HATE STORY

America generally accepted racism in 1871, even though the Civil War had ended six years earlier. A century later, bigotry stood officially condemned. Yet prejudice had its champions. Today, those champions have champions. 

On Laura Ingraham’s February 20 Fox News show, author/journalist Raymond Arroyo rebutted the furor resulting from the resurfacing of a 1971 Playboy interview with John Wayne. The Hollywood legend friends called Duke told Playboy, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” 

Arroyo claimed that Wayne shouldn’t be judged by today’s standards. Ingraham agreed and likened protestors to the Taliban and ISIS, who “don’t want any vestige of what was.” 

So, what “was” in 1971? Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act seven years earlier. Although millions of whites fought desegregation and equal rights, America officially took a new stance towards racial equality. It was inevitable. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled against the concept of separate but equal schools. In 1948, President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. Before and after that decision, thousands of black Americans died for our country. Theircountry. 

Educated and responsible citizens? In the ’60s, I viewed my fraternity brothers Paul and Bob, my officer candidate school buddies Kent and Cliff, and L.M., starting center on the Fort Sam Houston post basketball team I coached for two seasons, as more than well-educated to the point of responsibility. Exemplary African Americans? No. Exemplary men.

Duke Wayne’s comments become more reprehensible because he stood as a symbol of American manhood. The symbol was false. His real name? Marion Morrison—although that’s not an issue. Until about the time of Wayne’s comments, Hollywood required actors to adopt short, Anglo-Saxon sounding screen names. These often mollified moviegoers uncomfortable with seeing “foreigners” on the silver screen. (Blacks played maids and train porters, Asians maids and gardeners.) Tinseltown disguised Jewish stars like Paul Muni (Frederich Weisenfruend), Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch), Lauren Bacall (Betty Perske) and Judy Holliday (Judith Tuvim).

Wayne’s heroism? Celluloid myth. He played courageous cowboys and World War Two servicemenas an actor. During the war, the military rejected him because of his age and status as a father. To Wayne’s credit, that dissatisfied him. He made USO tours and visited wounded veterans in hospitals—worthy endeavors but hardly on a par with those who endured combat.

In the post-war years Wayne, a conservative, vociferously supported the red-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC blacklisted many Hollywood actors, writers, directors and others for liberal and/or communist sympathies during the Depression years. It destroyed careers, damaged lives. 

Laura Ingraham’s giving a pass to John Wayne’s racist views helps maintain an environment of hatred that over the past three years has crawled out from the shadows. Recently, an Alabama newspaper editor called on the Ku Kux Klan “to night ride again.” And federal agents in Maryland arrested a white-supremacist Coast Guard officer with a large arsenal of weapons. They accused him of plotting to kill Democratic members of Congress, television journalists and others. 

Should today’s racists be exonerated because their views reflect those of a supposedly cherished—and deeply flawed—past? Should their views be accepted because they match those espoused by a current self-proclaimed hero who also never served in the military? The Laura-Duke hate story deserves no love.

For a detailed look at Washington’s Hollywood purges, read Victor Navasky’s 1980 National Book Award winner, Naming Names.

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DEMOCRACY’S NOT DEAD YET

Several nights ago, I heard a symphony of foghorns. I live two miles from the Pacific and half that distance from San Francisco’s Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. Yet extended periods of time often pass between my visits to the beach to admire the ocean’s size, energy and mystery.

So it is with much in life. Beauty and wonder often are much closer than we realize. Politics, war and disasters—natural and man-made—attract our attention. We close our eyes and minds to the good that also surrounds us.

Another matter relates. Tomorrow (Saturday) night, Jews will celebrate Simchat Torah (Joy of the Torah). Then or on Sunday, synagogues will unroll a Torah scroll and read the last verses of the year’s final portion, V’zot HaB’rachah(And This is the Blessing), which concludes with Moses’ death. Without a pause, reading will continue with the first verses of B’reishit(Genesis) with which the Torah starts, presenting creation and life.

Why read the same text year after year? The scholar Jeffrey Tigay explains that we find new insights on every page (as we might at the beach or in a forest), “not because the Torah has changed, but because we have changed since we read it a year ago.”

Looking past immediate concerns, Americans can gain new perspectives on our present situation and our past—hear the call of the Liberty Bell too often drowned out by shouting. We may discover that the nation’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. As I write, I’m gazing at the cover of October’s The Atlantic. This special edition asks a disturbing question: “Is democracy dying?” Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg titles his introduction “The Crisis in Democracy.” A toxic brew of populism, tribalism, Donald Trump and technology worries a number of The Atlantic’s writers and contributors. Nothing new here. A recent edition of Foreign Affairsconsidered the same matter. The non-Fox media continue to do so.

Sure, there’s plenty of worry to go around. Witness the hyper-partisanship surrounding yesterday’s Senate testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanagh. Yet America weathered previous storms.

White people enslaved black people. The Ku Kux Klan promoted racism and segregation not just in the South but all over the country. Universities and medical schools restricted Jewish matriculation. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. In the 1930s, upwards of thirty million Americans listened to Father Charles Coghlan’s anti-Semitic radio broadcasts. After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans. Throughout our history, the nation also suffered a series of economic depressions and, of course, 9/11.

Un-democratic, prejudicial laws and customs have always had strong proponents. Hence the secession of the Southern states leading to the Civil War, considerable opposition to women’s suffrage in Congress and later political maneuvering like Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. All these battered and bruised American democracy. We moved forward.

I’ll give the last word to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, writing from Greece: “Democracy is stubborn. It raises our gaze. It is the system that best enshrines the unshakable human desire to be free. Athens reminds us of that. America reminds us of that. It fails. It falls short of John Winthrop’s ‘city upon a hill.’ It strives still to fail better.”

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WHO’S WHITE? WHO CARES?

A few weeks ago, Rachel Dolezal stepped down as president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP. Ms. Dolezal claimed to be—and still identifies as—Black. However, she is the child of Caucasian parents. I’ll let African Americans decide whether or not they’re offended. But I do share something in common with Ms. Dolezal: I don’t identify as white.

There’s nothing wrong with being white. Some of my best friends and all that. But being Jewish, I identify primarily with all Jews regardless of their genetics. The Jewish people are Caucasian, Black, Latino and Asian. Maybe a few Native Americans. And mixtures. Loads of mixtures. Jews come from the Arab world and India, too. Are they white? Other? I have no idea. I simply don’t care who’s white and who isn’t. It’s just that being white’s not my thing.

I’m not alone in this thinking. Remember the 1990s TV hit Northern Exposure? Each Thanksgiving, Native Americans in the fictional Alaskan town of Cicely pelt “whites” with tomatoes. Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) protests. He’s Jewish. White people—Russians—persecuted his ancestors in the Tsarist Empire. No tomatoes for him. Then there’s the Ku Kux Klan and its ilk. All espouse white pride along with hatred of Jews. Dylan Roof, the alleged killer of nine African-Americans at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church, wrote a manifesto. He not only ranted against Blacks but also cited “the Jewish problem and other issues facing our race.”

A statement by Chip Johnson, the common-sense columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, bolsters my point. In his June 16 piece on Rachel Dolezal, Johnson wrote: “Throughout history there have been light-skinned African Americans, people of mixed race and those of Jewish heritage [italics mine] who have passed for white to escape oppression, improve their prospects or simply to survive.” Johnson’s comment leads me to believe that I’m not the crank I may appear to be.

Ethnic makeup and identity certainly can be complex. In my novel Flight of the Spumonis, Jimmy Q, who accompanies 13-year-old Marco Spolini on a cross-country journey, is equal parts Chinese, Native American, Jewish and African American. The world pigeonholes him as Black, so that’s how Jimmy sees himself. He knows that puts him behind the eight ball, so he persuades the white Marco to hit the road with him.

Racism, of course, can work both ways, changing colors like a chameleon. Some Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans—people from ethnic groups who’ve had precious little to do with each other—band together with African Americans under the banner “People of Color.” They assail “white privilege.”

Being white has been and still is an advantage in American society. But people don’t get to pick their genetics. Many leveraging “white privilege” study, work hard and, while succeeding, open their hearts to all of their fellow Americans. The opponents of “white privilege” see skin, hair and eyes, not human beings.

Is race a social construct? Given the large number of Americans with mixed genetics, that’s becoming true. Whether or not race means anything, it should never be taken as the equivalent of species. Whatever our colors or features, we’re all part of the same human family. That should privilege all of us

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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