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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Too Happy To Post

It seems that I am more engaged as a blogger when I am angry rather than happy.  The combination of venting in regard to the abortion controversy, Creationism and Intelligent Design (which is anything but intelligent), the Bush Administration, Bush himself, retarded views of language, deceptive advertising, deceptive and illegal practices in the prosecution of death penalty cases, racist, misogynist, and other offensive uses of language, etc. and the results of the last general election have perhaps made me too happy to post. Election night itself brought me to tears because of the election of Obama, which meant we would not have Bush III, the large Democratic majorities in Congress, and the comments of an African-American of my generation who remarked that he could remember demonstrating to open up lunch counters in the South to African Americans by way of contrasting how things were to how they are. I was brought to tears because I participated in a demonstration to desegregate lunch counters in downtown Houston in the late Spring of 1960, a demonstration that appears directly to have caused them to open up.

Houston at the time had the most segregated large school system in the South, which should indicate the nature of the situation there at the time. I went to the all-White Rice University and hobnobbed with wealthy racists at debutante balls (an amazing social institution, but one that did provide free booze, food, and an opportunity to dance) though I was more or less penniless. I developed a distaste for rich people and racists which has stuck with me for 40 years. In any event, in late Spring of 1960, some 7 or 8 of us White Rice students went over to Texas Southern University, an all-Black  school, and volunteered to join them in the upcoming afore-mentioned demonstration, a march around the City Hall building. It occupied a relatively small square of land and we managed to stretch all around it.

Shortly after we began our demonstration, some 15-20 motorcycle cops showed, which alarmed me somewhat. We were, after all, being quite peaceful.  A very large number of cops showed up in the first hour, a hundred or so.  I suspect they were there not to protect our right to freedom of assembly, but to protect the building.  In any event, it was intimidating to say the least. There were TV crews there, of course.

The right wing uncle I lived with (free room and board to go along with Rice's free tuition for all is why I could go to Rice, so I was grateful) saw the demonstration and TV and I was marked in his eyes as a radical in training if not a radical already. My voting for Kennedy later on cemented his theory that i was at least pink. But his loyalty to family kept him from tossing me out.  I am still grateful for his help.

The funny thing about this story is that the following summer, either Newsweek or Time ran a story praising one of the two big Houston papers for its journalistic excellence in some respect or another. A week later, as I recall it, Time magazine ran a story Blackout in Houston, which described a late summer agreement of African-American and White leaders to cause the integration of downtown lunch counters and an agreement by the press to embargo the news about this for a week. It was the news embargo, a phenomenon not in keeping with high journalistic standards, that upset Time. It was probably a good idea however, since, though the story does indicate word got out to some degree, it did make the integration of these lunch counters a fait accompli and so no counter-demonstrations resulted.

Why lunch counters? It seems like such a trivial thing. But as I noted above, this was a racist city and I suspect it is still is with the shift of focus being from African-Americans to Latinos (or Hispanics, whichever is now correct). There are parts of Houston now that have Thai or Vietnamese street signs (don't recall what language), so those Whites who busy themselves hating people different from themselves have a lot of work cut out for them. The lunch counters were important because a lot of African-Americans worked downtown and there was nowhere they could go for an inexpensive hot lunch. Buses and lunch counters were the first targets of the civil rights movements because they were of greatest importance to the poor.

It is my guess, with Texas Southern and Rice being about to open their doors for students for the new school year, White leaders in Houston decided that the best thing for White Houston was to get rid of the source of radical agitation so they did. Rice, by the way, is no longer all White. It is my understanding that to break the charter created by William Marsh Rice that caused Rice to be all White, the school argued, falsely I believe, that it would go broke as a no tuition school and thus needed the charter to be broken. The courts agreed. Apparently busting one provision of a charter busts the whole thing.  So, Rice integrated.

Rice was very important to my social, intellectual, and political development because of the very bright students I got to know and talk with and some very smart, good professors, not just good mentors but good people. I learned about DWB (Driving While Black) from the psych professor Trent Wann, the most influential man in my life, from his stories of the travails of a good friend who taught at Texas Southern. So Rice was all White but it wasn't all bad. The students were almost all conservative, of course, since most came from Texas, a state that didn't know yet that it was a Republican state.

I apologize for this pretty self-flattering story but I assure you I was not and am not now all good. What I hope young people will take from it is the fact that though we have much that we need to do to combat racism (and the other -isms), we have come a very long way.  I hope you will also take away from this the fact that protesting injustice can be effective.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

I was also getting all teary-eyed when Obama announced his victory. For me, living in Germany, it's as if I was suddenly disburdened of all the feelings of shame for my country that I had carried around with me for years. (That the gay marriage amendment passed in California still leaves something to be fought for, though.)

I'm also so glad that the first black president is a Democrat. It always upsets me that a party which does absolutely nothing for the lower and middle classes often claims Lincoln as one of them...

On the other hand, under Obama, the quality of public discourse will suffer. Late-night talk shows and Saturday Night Live will suffer. The professors at universities will no longer be sarcastically brilliant.

If you want to get angry though, just do what I do: watch a little Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. Fox News will keep us all on our toes. The class of anti-intellectuals that elected Bush haven't died out yet.

5:51 PM

 
Blogger concerned citizen said...

protesting injustice can be effective. Yes it sure can. I have no problem with you giving yourself a pat on the back.
Standing up for inalienable human rights is the most noble cause a person can take up, IMO.

We have a golden opportunity at the moment to further that noble cause.
I am jumping on it.

1:23 AM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

Fixed News, aka Fox Noise, is a Toxic Zone. I fear it. Just hearing about it from Olbermann is enough for me. Le Vent, I know how you feel about feeling shame for the country. In 1970, my wife and I spent a summer in Scotland and felt a great load lifted from my shoulders. I am not sure that the Euros have much to be said for them. They (with the exception of the UK) have basically turned their backs on the world. I am hopeful that with Obama we will be even more engaged but in not so violent a way.

In the morning paper, I read a column saying that Gates and Jim Jones both believe in the projection of "soft power," i.e., the use of the foreign service, which Hillary will have to rebuild, foreign aid, and diplomacy. Won't that be nice?

Concerned, I applaud your efforts which seem to be relentless.

And thanks both for commenting.

9:24 AM

 
Blogger concerned citizen said...

"Relentless", yes, & not a little self serving.
This means understanding that one has a personal stake in furthering causes of justice for humankind in ones own sphere of influence, & capitalizing on ones political (or academic, in your case) skills to achieve those ends.

Unfortunately, not everyone understands that rationalization.

10:10 AM

 
Blogger handmaiden said...

"Too happy to post" is not necessarily a good idea, IMO.
I for one would rather have you post.

8:08 AM

 

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