The subject of racism continues to make the front pages of our nation’s newspapers and the internet. This is not surprising, it has been a blight on “the New World” for more than 400 years. However, one thing I can tell you about our nation’s biggest problem is that if you want to know the truth, you must talk to a Black man or woman who grew up in a predominately Black community in one of our major cities.
I grew up in Los Angeles but knew little about my city until 1962 when I was 16 years old. The change was the result of my being allowed to leave Catholic high school and attend Venice High School for my junior and senior years. I knew several of the young, Black men in my classes, I had played baseball with them. It took just a single conversation for me to realize I never really knew any of them. My life had been far different than theirs.
Just a few years later, I made friends with a Black man who was a few years older than I was. He lived in South Central Los Angeles, near Watts, where the 1965 and later 1969 riots took place. He invited me to play basketball on a Saturday. We went to a large gymnasium. When he opened the door, there were about 400 black faces staring at me. For the first time in my life, I understood their side of the situation.
My friend was well-respected and I was reluctantly accepted, although I must admit that I changed my usual style of play. I learned a huge lesson about how little anyone knows anything unless they live in that situation.
I grew up in a time when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. I was stationed in Mississippi in 1965 while serving in the USAF. The passage of the Civil Rights Act meant nothing to the white men and women in Biloxi.
When I returned home, I watched the man I admire most to this day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., hold peaceful marches while he struggled for not just the rights of Black men and women, but for human rights in general. His words continue to inspire me. I cried when he was murdered by a Neo-Nazi in 1968. Our nation suffered a great loss. Other leaders followed, but none were as adamant as Dr. King about keeping protests non-violent. Real heroes are few, and I am proud to revere one of them.
I learned even more as I moved from Los Angeles to San Diego. They were two extremely different cities and completely different environments.
I moved to Reno, Nevada, in 1986, and I learned why the Reno area was once called “the Mississippi of the west.” Northern and southern Nevada was like two different states. I’ll simplify my explanation by saying “rednecks in the north and liberals in the south.”
Like most patriotic Americans, I was excited when Barrack Obama won the 2008 election. Surely things were changing in my beloved country. And for the next eight years, I did see some change, or so I thought. However, when like-minded men and women elected the worst man in the world in 2016, I was literally stunned. My heart dropped into my stomach. The world soon learned that not only was this obese, old man, was a sexual predator and mentally deficient, but he was also unquestionably the leader of the white supremacy movement in America. Soon, every aspect of his beliefs in fascism were exposed, and on January 6, 2021, he proved once and for all that he had never been an American president.
Millions of our nation’s people came out of the shadows in support of their leader in the White House. Trump and his party entirely erased 60-plus years of progress.
It is an undeniable fact that all forms of prejudice are forms of ignorance. It is also a fact that much of that ignorance is a choice. Being a loyal American removes that choice. The Constitution guarantees complete equality and the protection of human rights for all Americans; no one is allowed to “pick and choose.”
After the votes were counted in 2020, I was shocked and saddened that more than 74 million voters chose Trump to repeat his intentional destruction of our democratic principles. Each of these men and women, by a single act of casting a ballot, proved that they prefer racism and bigotry and are opposed to the core beliefs of our Founding Fathers.
I believe the battle has just begun. The soul of our nation is under assault by the evil and dark forces on the right. When the truth comes into the light of day, evil is forced to hide, waiting for another opportunity to destroy all that is good and “American.” Evil must be destroyed once and for all if the dream of our Founding Fathers is to survive.
Op-ed by James Turnage, Novelist
Pew Research Center: Black Americans Have a Clear Vision for Reducing Racism but Little Hope It Will Happen
BBC: America’s struggle with racism, as told by immigrants