Monday, February 12, 2007

A Day at the Races

On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, was born at Nolin Creek, Kentucky, in the southeast part of Hardin County, what is now part of LaRue County. Exactly one hundred years later, as if to remember "the man who freed the slaves" (although scholars might consider it more complicated than that), The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded.*

It seems appropriate that February be designated as African-American History Month, and that we remember the contributions made to society by a proud and noble race.

Then again, lest we forget...

Cynthia McKinney lost the bid for her congressional seat last year. She was the congresswoman who decked a US Capitol Police officer for laying so much as a hand on her, after she failed to stop for proper verification, only after being asked three times to do so! Now, most of us who enter a Federal building know the drill; you empty your pockets, you go through the metal detector, you might have to go through again, you might be reminded by the contract guard that you're holding things up because you have to put your belt back on so your pants won't fall down because they're too damn lazy to use the wand... all of which is to ensure the safety of the Federal workplace, but none of which will impede the progress of a commercial jetliner.

Or a public official of the appropriate demographic.

Michelle Malkin of Hot Air, from a webcast of August 2006.

There is no question that Americans of African descent have had to contend with a form of second-class citizenship until recently. As an American of European ancestry, I cannot claim to be an expert on being Black in America. But mere observation after over a quarter of a century on the Federal payroll, has shown how some members of a younger generation are seeking "the dream" for which their parents and grandparents marched, suffered, and in some cases, died.

And so, I will present two examples from the Federal workforce. Their names are changed, but their stories are true.

Leon was hired while an art major in college to intern at a design office of a Federal government agency. As an exceptionally bright and talented young man, he showed great promise at the offset. Without a college degree, he was classified as a "clerk-typist" at a lower pay grade. Upon graduation, he petitioned to be reclassified according to his proper duties, and at a higher pay grade. His supervisor, a white male, kept putting him off. So Leon took matters into his own hands and filed an EEO complaint. In the meantime, he refused to do anything other than strictly "clerk-typist" duties. After increasing the workload of his co-workers, as well as the tension in the office, he lost the complaint, but managed to get his promotion. In the years that followed, there were other incidents of latitude. At a general meeting with a top-level agency official, Leon acted disrespectfully toward her in the course of a disagreement, in front of the entire staff. Nothing happened to him. A few years later, he was even considered for a promotion, on equal footing with a white male with twice the experience, and no such record of behavior. (Both lost to an outside appointment.)

Lawanda was a very capable procurement agent and contracting specialist. There was some loose talk that she had "an attitude problem," thus was fair to say that she was no shrinking violet, but in any case was transferred from elsewhere in the same agency, to the same office as that of Leon. Lawanda certainly got the job done -- when she showed up. This was usually up to two hours past the appointed arrival time, followed by leaving at least one hour early. This went on nearly every workday for several years. Yet she proved invaluable to her supervisor, by this time a black male, who appeared from the outside not to hold this shortcoming against her, beyond lip service at staff meetings. It certainly was not an issue when, upon being transferred out of the office in question, she was promoted to a rank over her former co-workers and given a private office. There is reason to believe she presently keeps a more responsible schedule. (We can only hope.)

In their glory days, both would stand by their cubicles, complaining of the injustices imposed on them in their careers on account of their race, bellowing in a manner loud enough for everyone to hear. In recent years, the outcry has ceased. Perhaps there was no one left to listen. These days, Leon appears to keep his own hours, coming and going at irregular times, no doubt putting in an honest week's work, if on his own terms. Lawanda is now an important person in her organization. Inasmuch as false reporting of time and attendance in the Federal workplace is a felony, you'd never know of her humble beginnings.

An African American drinks out of a segregated water cooler designated for 'colored' patrons in 1939 at a streetcar terminal in Oklahoma City. (USDA Photo)
An African American drinks out of a segregated water cooler designated for "colored" patrons in 1939 at a streetcar terminal in Oklahoma City. (USDA Photo)

For both of these young people, whose parents and grandparents suffered indignities that they could not imagine, there could be mitigating circumstances. Perhaps there always has been. Then again, perhaps there never had to be.

It has to be tiring after awhile, for everybody. That guy you've been working alongside for years, through thick and thin, stops being a black man or a white man, and is simply a man. He earns a just wage at the end of the week, and deserves the prize for going above and beyond. If he's the man in charge, you'd follow him anywhere. He'd do the same for you. That's how it should be.

But then, just when you feel that we, as a nation, have "overcome, you discover that one double standard is replaced by another. It's perfectly alright to call a white man a "cracker," whether in the office, or on television. But we can't use "the 'n' word" anymore, even though young men of color use it among themselves. (Ever have to sit through a lab session at school and listen to "n" this and "n" that for ten or fifteen minutes?) It's also perfectly alright for Ms McKinney's security detail to use ethnic slurs against whites and Jews. It gets them on the news, so it must be perfectly respectable, right? Is this what the Freedom Riders died for, so people could act like slobs in public? Is this why Dr King risked his life, so that others could behave as if they were raised by wolves?

Don't believe me? Click on this.

I do not doubt that a successful man or woman of color might have more difficulty than their white counterpart, with flagging down a cab in the Nation's capital. In twenty-six years, I have come to know and respect quite a few of them. But if what I've described above is how some have learned to get ahead, what is to be gained by any sympathy toward them? Has "the dream" been realized, or merely replaced by a fleeting and hollow victory? Meanwhile, as the Federal workforce becomes more diversified, not only will there be less need to resort to "playing the victim," but we can hope that such connivance will be stopped in its tracks, by those who overcame the same obstacles... honestly.

Obviously, the voters of Georgia's 4th Congressional District decided their time had come. Like the song goes: "Free at last, free at last..."


* Contrary to popular belief, the NAACP was originally founded not only for the advocacy of African-Americans, but also Asian-Americans, Jews, and Native Americans. I looked it up at Wikipedia. Anybody got a problem with that?


Beanie said...

PEACE.Words from a man you dont know... Also from a man who's people were labled black, colored, latino, niggers, African-American, or what ever they go by this week. Please do not take an of this information threatening, or dis respectful, because I understand you honor your mother and father by proclaiming your nationality. But as a nation of people who have been stripped of their nationality, we cannot honor our mothers and fathers. Black, African-American, Hispanic, etc. are not nationalities but mere brands. To further prove this, the Family of Nations/United Nations do not and will not recognize these to be a nation of people, or nationality. Also when Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for President he was not recognized by the Senate or The House of Reps. For that reason. And I also want you to follow Barack Obama in his quest to be president as an African-American, watch carefully and he will prove the point that I present.PEACE,AND LOVE BROTHER.

David L Alexander said...


You don't know me either, by the way.

Throughout history, people have been subject en masse to exile. It does not excuse the illegal, immoral, or improper conduct of their descendants. Nor will such behavior provide the remedy to any very real bondage. Nor am I required to listen to a bunch of crybaby $#!† from a generation of coddled youth, whose forebears risked their lives so they would be free to whine in comfort. Sooner or later, we don't have "my ancestors made me do it" to fall back on.

"Keep your eyes on the prize." This, as opposed to looking back. It's not fair, but in the long run, it succeeds.