Want to know the quickest, easiest, best way to end racism? Have everyone in the nation enlist in the military!
Spending a week in South Carolina with a mixture of civilians and military, officer and enlisted, active duty and reserve, blacks, whites, Muslims, Hindu, Pennsylvania Dutch, Christians, Jews, rich, poor, educated and not so much, South Carolina native and tourist to name a few, they all had one thing in common. Color doesn’t mean a damn thing.
It all reminded me once again a lesson I learned decades ago. It was the time my son, a fourth grader, let me see that albeit unknowingly, I was teaching him to be a racist. Fortunately, it was a lesson he did not learn, but it taught me that racism is indeed a learned attitude.
I had known since before we were married that my husband, an Army veteran, was not racist, I suppose, but it simply wasn’t something we talked about. I knew there were few, if any, Blacks living in Highlands, but then, I came from Union, and other than the Vauxhall section, there weren’t many blacks there either. And that was just a section like another section where so many Irish lived, or another where all the Italians lived. And so on. Families moved close to families, friends moved closes to friends, that’s all.
These were just things you noticed, like when the daffodils come up in spring or the lilacs bloom on the highest branches first. But it simply wasn’t worth mentioning. And it wasn’t anything to talk about.
But watching the interaction this week of college kids and Sailors and Marines, with a few soldiers and airmen as well, it was so obvious that color is probably the last thing they noticed about each other. And if they did, it was only to better describe a new friend, or an old buddy.
There was the party a group from the Navy ROTC graduating class had at Steel Hand, an outstanding brewery, one of many, in Columbia. In addition to featuring dozens of varieties of beer brewed right on the spot, it also had both indoor and outdoor areas and tables for families and friends to gather, in groups large and small, for horseshoes, other games, music, dancing, and of course food and drink.
There was a group of casually clad folks ranging in age from late teens through senior citizens celebrating some event of a couple of folks among themselves. Hearing the laughter, seeing the joy, loving the outbursts of music, it was easy to grab a table near them just to hear the sheer happiness around the bar. But that wasn’t good enough for these folks. They quickly gathered us in, asked where we were from, and when they heard the military ties in our group, one of them called out to stop the music, stop the chatter, and said, “Hey., here’s a Chief! This is Chris!” And immediately the cheers started ,the fists bumped , the women run over and hugged and congratulated him, and the party instantly spread to our table. Then beyond. Then when they heard there was also a Marine in our midst, it started all over again. Young guys swapped stories of their service years with the old, experienced ones; all talked about the ships they served on, the places they were, the things, they did, the fun they had. Color didn’t matter.
Outside in the roofed in open area, it was the same way. No one cared about color, no one cared about what sex people were, no one cared where you came from or what you did for a living. It was all about simply liking to spend some time with someone they may or many not ever see again. We learned one of the females had just picked up Master Chief, one of the guy had just made Senior Chief. Both made it because of talent and hard work. They were two different colors.
It was typical throughout the week. Easy to see people of all colors and dress hugging each other, laughing together, eating in some of Columbia’s great restaurants, or shopping in their stores.
They say the Civil War is not over in the South, Nor will it ever be to some people. But put it all in the hands of the military where people of all colors work together, where their lives sometimes depend on each other, where each knows he has to carry his own load and be ready to share the load of someone in need.
It’s a great lesson the US military teaches without even realizing it. Just like the lesson I almost, but fortunately never taught, without even realizing it so many years ago.
Jimbo had a new kid in his class at OLPH. For weeks, all I heard about was Byron. Byron was wonderful, Byron could do anything, Byron could jump higher, run faster, had more fun, learn more than anybody. Byron and Jimbo obviously became fast friends. I knew Byron’s dad was in the Coast Guard at Sandy Hook, so at Jimbo’s request, I called Bonita, his mom, and made arrangements for him to come to our house after school for an afternoon of play, then Bonita would pick him up later.
The afternoon was wonderful; Jimbo and Byron played in the backyard, Jimbo showed his friend all his pets, they got together with Jimmy and Bobby and Chris and played ball in the school playground. At the end of the afternoon, when Bonita picked up Byron there were shouts and claps and backslaps all around as the kids knew they would do this again and again.
At supper, rehashing the fun time they had, I casually said to Jimbo, “I didn’t know Byron was black.” Jimbo didn’t miss a beat, didn’t stop eating, he simply responded to me with “is he?” I swallowed hard with shame at what I had almost done.
As for Jimbo? Of course he carried his same nonchalance at a person’s color with him into the Marine Corps where he found just about everyone else with whom he served felt the same way.