ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Whenever I start thinking about preparing an article, I always go over it in my mind outlining points to cover. I had several possible approaches this time, but it’s urgent not to be accusatory or to condemn anyone. There are some malevolent and evil people in the world who just want to harm others and their main tactic is to deceive. But the overwhelming majority of us really are trying to do what we think we ought to do. But we will never reach a consensus at the rate we are going as our country becomes more and more polarized than at any time since just prior to the Civil War.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”
Those are not just words from history. I was 14 years old and listening on the radio from the West Coast when the late civil rights leader spoke those inspiring words in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in 1963. Rather than telling you what’s going on in America now, which you already know, instead, let’s focus on how we can actually achieve Dr. King’s dream for our country.
A PERSONAL ACCOUNT
I have written a lot before about historical events that have occurred during my more than seven decades on earth. What I prefer to do here is to show from my own experience how to realize that life is beautiful as God intended it when everyone lives together in harmony without thinking about race and ethnicity all the time. This is not to say that any of us should lose our respect for our ancestry and heritage. But it is to say that in dealing with others, it should never provide an obstacle. It shouldn’t even be a matter of conscious thought.
But, as a retired federal law enforcement officer, I can tell you that if we get to the point of putting out a Be On the Lookout Notice [BOLO] and just say that the suspect is a person without indicating gender, race, height and so on then political correctness could endanger lives by being overly generic. However, any prudent officer would realize that each of these factors is a matter of perception.
With that caveat, I will now turn to my own experience in learning that people are just people and should not be categorized or stereotyped. Lt Col Allen West has said that a minority conservative is a liberal’s worst nightmare. I can vouch for that. It applies to Asians and Native Americans as well as blacks. No race is monolithic and politics are not part of our DNA.
My mom and dad were married during the Great Depression in Oklahoma in 1935. He was part Muscogee (Creek) Indian and she was European ancestry. He was working in a CCC camp near her hometown when they wed. They were together for 66 years until Dad passed away in 2001.
My great-grandmother was full-blood, so my dad was 1/4 blood quantum and I am 1/8. He was dark-complected whereas I took after my mom’s side of the family with blond hair [mostly grey now] and blue eyes. So, my experience has been different from his.
When I think about how hypersensitive people today are about racial terminology and avoiding anything that would be termed racist, I think back about the nicknames that people used for my dad in his presence and he was never offended. One was “Nig”. I did not truncate that. It was the three-letter term “Nig”. Another of his nicknames was “Blackie”.
When he worked for many years at McDonnell-Douglas in Southern California, since they knew he was American Indian, they called him “Chief”. Not every Native American is Chief of their tribe, so obviously that was not accurate. When he used to sell things at the swap meet in Orange County, people frequently came up to him thinking he was Mexican and were surprised when he didn’t understand a word of Spanish.
Anybody who doesn’t know me or my family would look at me and just consider me a “white guy”. When I was stationed in the U.S. Air Force in the Philippines a half-century ago, Filipino kids would put the two-finger victory sign on their hands in the air and say “Hey, Joe”. That was 25 years after World War II and even the younger generation knew about the friendship between America and the Philippines.
While the overwhelming majority of Filipinos were friendly, there were exceptions. I remember on one visit to Manila at Rizal Park, also known as Luneta, when somebody saw me and started giving me a lecture about how the United States should get out of Vietnam. I have always loved the Philippines and still do, but I always wished I could walk down the street without being the center of attention all the time. Kids playing basketball outside in one of the barrios once actually stopped their game and came up to me to check the light colored hair on my arm. Now, they initiated that, so we’re not talking about a Biden situation. Some of the older folks who remembered the war said I was the first American they had seen in their small village in the intervening quarter-century. The term they used was The long noses have returned.
A few times I have smiled and thought that if I had looked like my dad, I probably wouldn’t have drawn nearly as much attention there. So, what I’m saying, really, is that race, ethnicity, and heritage are too often obscured by perception over reality.
Like my parents, I am also a member of an interracial marriage. My wife is Filipina with 1/4 Chinese ancestry. Considering what I’ve said here, if anybody was to fall for the idiocy of white supremacy, it would not be me. But, I am also concerned that nobody fall for any kind of racial supremacy. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr would be horrified at the concept of black supremacy. I am also concerned about movements within the Native American community that align with radical movements that do not respect our own indigenous rights, but simply promote divisiveness for their own ulterior motives. I’m not going to go into details about that right now because I said I want to remain positive here.
FILLING IN THE GAPS
I skipped ahead a bit to follow my train of thought into adulthood comparing my generation to that of my parents. But, there were some incidents during my younger years that taught me to respect others for who they are and not to prejudge them as members of a particular race, religion, ethnicity or social group.
Living in a small town in Northeastern Oklahoma, most of the people I knew and went to school with were Caucasian with many also having Native American blood. I really did not come in contact with any blacks at that time. Even Dr. King often used the now unfashionable word “Negro” and that was the one that I grew up hearing. The term “African-American” really is no more descriptive than the not so common term “European-American”. In fact, it is better to avoid hyphenating Americans anyway.
Terminology changes over the years and now we are becoming more sensitive. I always grew up saying that I was part Creek Indian. However, the indigenous name which our tribe uses for ourselves is Mvskoke, or the English spelling of Muscogee or Muskogee. The term Creek was one used by English colonists prior to the establishment of the United States of America. It was just because our ancestors often lived on their lands along streams of water in the southeast before the forcible removal to Indian Territory over the infamous Trail of Tears.
Most of my classmates in Oklahoma had some Native American ancestry. There was a joke going around in 7th grade where someone would come up and ask: “Do you have a little Indian in you?” When you answered “Yes”, then they would ask: “What are you going to name him?” I think the only reason I bring this up is that in that era, people were not so hypersensitive as they are now. Those kind of jokes in school and the nicknames that my dad had would have serious repercussions in our current day and age.
While my dad worked for the Georgia-Pacific Plywood Mill in Coquille, Oregon in the late 1950s, I started Elementary School and went through the first five grades there. It was a homogeneous little town where there really were no racial minorities at that time. I used to sit in the balcony of the local movie theater every Saturday when I walked the few blocks to watch the matinée. That produced some interesting experiences when we moved out of state.
When my big brother was stationed in the Air Force in the Show-Me State, my mom and I went up there for a few months at the time that my nephew was born. I remember once walking about a mile to a movie theater in downtown Sedalia. According to my usual custom, I wanted to sit in the balcony. I noticed that it was roped off but I just stepped over it and went up anyway. It was only then that I realized that the balcony there was segregated seating. But, it didn’t matter to me, so I just sat there in the front row of the balcony and watched the whole movie there. Nobody from the theater and nobody in the balcony asked me why I was there.
Again my dad and mom followed my big brother out to California while he was attending UCLA. For me, that was my first time in an ethnically diverse cosmopolitan environment. About 95% of my classmates at Palms Junior High School were Jewish. Most of their parents had come from Austria and other parts of Europe after World War II. Many had lost grandparents and aunts and uncles during the Holocaust. It was there that I began to have a respect for others who were from very different backgrounds from my own.
My own openness, however, was not always reciprocated. I had one very good Jewish friend who lived right next to the school that I used to visit in his home frequently. But many of the other students were not so accepting of me. At that time, there was a situation comedy on television called The Real McCoys about a hillbilly family that moved to California and I was often called Little Luke. If you’re too young to remember that show, check it out on YouTube. Then, when the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies came along, whenever I pronounced cement as seement, kids used to tease me about sounding like Granny Clampett referring to the swimming pool as the seement pond.
I just let those things go, but it reminded me that there were some who wanted me to feel like a fish out of water in the urban jungle. I continued to be the token goy at high school. It all just caused me to realize that the us versus them mentality is all too prevalent. Many of the other students were from upper-middle-class families who got their first sports car at age 16 and took vacations to Europe with their families every summer.
I still remember when we were required to read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and that book still irritates me to this very day. It created a stereotype of “Dust Bowl Okies” by which I was prejudged. The positive thing that I got out of that whole experience in West Los Angeles is that ostracizing others because they are from a different social group is a really terrible thing.
My Filipina wife and I spent nearly a year on the island of Okinawa where our late son was born in the Camp Kue Military Hospital. That was just a quarter-century after World War II and many people there remembered the war and were very hostile about the American occupation of their island which continued until a few months after I returned to CONUS. Taxi drivers were rude and would slam on the brakes claiming they couldn’t understand the directions and nearly throw the passengers over the seat. Buses had signs that were written in Japanese and would not stop for me at a bus stop unless there was an Okinawan standing next to me. But, as everywhere, there were also good and decent people who did not consider us the enemy. We lived in an apartment about a mile from the base on the second floor above a cosmetic store. The Okinawan couple who owned the store and their young children were very friendly and invited us in to visit and to eat with them. The key here is that people do not all buy into stereotypes of others. That is true wherever you go in the world.
I said a bit in the section above about my time in the U.S. Air Force in the Philippines. But the racial tensions while I was at Clark Air Base were not between Filipinos and Americans. I hate to say it, but it was between black GI’s and white GI’s. There was a section of Balibago in nearby Angeles City which the black military members considered off-limits to their fellow servicemen. It was called The Block.
Even in uniform and on-base there were special handshakes and pounds that the black military guys gave to each other. There was more racial tension there permeating the atmosphere than I have ever experienced in my life. I had a good friend whom I met at a Pentecostal church just off base. He is the one who invited me to attend the Assemblies of God Church downtown where I met my wife to whom I have been happily married now for over 50 years. One day, we were riding the military bus from the Main Gate of Clark about four and a half miles to where all of the dormitories and offices were located. As he was sitting by me, another black GI came up and said to him something to the effect of: “Why are you sitting by that white dude? If you fell into a ditch, he wouldn’t pull you out.” My friend Harvey turned to me and calmly said: “Just don’t say anything and let me handle this.” I deferred to his excellent advice and let him, as a Christian, try to defray the animosity that led to that unprovoked confrontation.
I have lived here in the 50th state for most at the last 43 years. We came here in 1978 with my intention to study linguistics and return to the Philippines as a missionary. God had other plans, and I was hired by U.S. Customs and began the civilian portion of my federal career which totalled 42 years before I retired in 2015.
I have always found the good people of Hawaii friendly and accepting, though as with everywhere, there are exceptions. The Asian and Pacific Islander milieu here is very familiar and comfortable. The first time I saw the word haole was actually in 1962 in Southern California and I didn’t even know what it meant for many years after that. Only once here in Honolulu when I made a dumb move driving in traffic in all these years was that term ever used against me in a derogatory sense. As I get older, most locals here on the island just call me uncle. That is a term of respect and I appreciate it.
DRAWING IT ALL TOGETHER
My purpose here was not just to provide an autobiographical sketch. That was just a means to demonstrate a point. The point is that people are just people. The color of their skin should not be a dividing factor. I have always been accepted by my wife’s family just as she has been by mine. I have spent the majority of my adult life around Filipinos.
Now that I am retired, I am doing some genealogical research and getting more in touch with my own Native American heritage from my dad’s family which I never had the opportunity to do being so far away all my life. While I sometimes criticize social media, it gives me the unprecedented opportunity to communicate with other citizens of Muscogee (Creek) Nation. My wife and I will be going back for a long overdue visit just about a month from now. We will spend three weeks there so I can meet folks from the tribe and also see my cousins from my mom’s non-Indian side of the family for the first time in 21 years.
I really did not weigh in on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race riot of 1921. All I can say is that I was born many years after that and really never even heard it mentioned until I was an adult. It certainly says nothing about the people of Tulsa or other parts of Oklahoma today. We all must learn from the past and not repeat the mistakes that were made before our time.
The U.S. Supreme Court recognized in the case of McGirt v Oklahoma in July 2020 that the treaty between the United States of America and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of 1866 is still in effect, that the Muscogee Reservation has never been disestablished and still exists. Now, there is the issue of whether the black Freedmen should be enrolled as citizens of the tribe.
This is an issue that most of America has never heard of. The descendants of black slaves on Indian lands believe they have the right to enroll as citizens of the various indigenous nations. This is a very complex and sensitive issue which I will not attempt to examine here. I don’t want to oversimplify, but a person like myself who has mixed ancestry, Caucasian and Native American, as well as a person who has mixed ancestry, black and Native American, is eligible to enroll as a citizen of the tribe based upon the Native American ancestry. That never has been and never will be a point of contention. The question is about those blacks who are not Native American ancestry, who do not have the heritage and commitment to maintain the culture and language. Each Indian tribe is a separate entity and only the citizens of each one have the right to make that decision without any coercion by the United States federal government.
There is an important distinction to be drawn between the United States as a nation of immigrants and the Sovereign Nations of the original inhabitants and owners on this land. Everyone here is an immigrant other than indigenous peoples. Whether you prefer the term Native American or American Indian, the most appropriate terminology is to refer to each by their own name and recognize that they are not one monolithic entity. In Oklahoma, the five large tribes are the Mvskoke (Creek), Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee. Each speaks for its own citizens and none for citizens of other tribes.
But, just as in the United States, everyone within the boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is welcome regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. If you don’t remember anything else I said here, just remember that Native Americans are not just a race or ethnicity. We are Sovereign Nations.
FAR-RANGING BUT COHESIVE
I have covered a lot of territory here both geographically and philosophically. The common thread in all of this is recognizing every human being on Planet Earth as of equal value and equal rights for self-determination. Rather than looking at it abstractly, I just used my own experience as a tape measure for where we were and how far we have come. Mostly it’s in the right direction but we have to be careful that we do not allow a cancel culture to erase all our legitimate progress in mutual respect.
America is not inherently a racist nation. Anyone in this country can be president. Equal opportunity is not the same as equal results. Everyone has the right to decide for himself or herself what future to pursue. I cannot dunk a basketball and have no future in the NBA. I’m just a retired fed who likes to ramble on in interminable articles. We’re all different. We don’t all like the same foods. We certainly don’t all share the same musical interests, let alone talents.
So in your everyday life and when you go to the polls, consider everyone on their own individual merits. Do not get bogged down with demographics. It is not our responsibility to balance the scales. That is a Divine Attribute to which we mortals have no pretensions. If I were to run for office, which I most certainly never will, you are quite welcome not to vote for me because you disagree with my views. But, if you don’t give me due consideration because you think I’m just a white guy or even Native American, shame on you.
When I applied for a position as Supervisory Customs Inspector here in Hawaii, not being selected at that time, our Port Director explained to me that diversity had to be maintained in the workforce, including management. I mentioned to him that I am Native American. He seemed a little surprised as I had never brought that up before and he said “Oh, you’re not going to make a complaint about that, are you?” I just smiled and said “No, I’m not.” I did become a supervisor later and I wanted it to be solely on merit, not on demographics.
I have no idea whether anybody has actually stayed with me to this point. If you have, then God bless you because you are a person who cares deeply and seeks justice. If not, it has been a catharsis to get these deeply held convictions into writing.
My final plea to you is let’s please quit dividing ourselves into factions. This is something that our Founders were most concerned about that would keep our country from attaining our full God-given potential. The U.S. Constitution constrains the government from restricting our liberties. Now, we must exercise those liberties freely.
Life is a lot more livable when we treasure our fellow travelers in this life than when we are constantly at each other’s throats.
We have no better historical example than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr who dreamed that we would all live together in peace and harmony, never again to be a segregated society. But, don’t do it for me or even just in his honor, do it because we are and must forever remain the United States of America!
Article cross-posted from David’s blog.
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