Whenever there is a discussion about race, I begin to think about a seesaw, yes THAT playground apparatus. It is the perfect visual for what happens. In the middle of the seesaw sits the fulcrum, that point of support that allows both sides to move up and down. At some point each of the ends of the lever goes higher or lower depending on the force generated by the person pushing against the ground, weight of the individual, and the length of the lever arm. The taller the fulcrum, the higher and lower each side can go. It is physics at “play.”
Race acts as that fulcrum when any discussion about it arises and a very tall one at that. The mechanism
teeters back and forth, continuously seeking some sort of equilibrium, which it always seems unable to do.
Much of the action follows the “what goes up must come down” rule. It never just balances out.
Allow me to rewind the clock in my mind back to the late sixties and give an example of how this seesaw works. My intent is not to oversimplify a very complex situation but rather to try to have both sides of the “seesaw” understand. Although half a century old, the situation will serve as a perfect example of what took place then, and regrettably what continues to take place now. It almost seems that we, as a society, have just never learned to get beyond our playground days.
San Fernando Valley State College, Valley State, (now Cal State University, Northridge) is my alma
mater. It was a four-year institution that was basically a commuter school nestled in a mostly white middle
class bedroom community. At the time Northridge Hall was the only dormitory. My girlfriend, now wife, was a resident advisor (RA). The dorm was a modest, relatively clean and quiet place to live. Suddenly, the
Educational Opportunity Program, the EOP, arrived. Someone or committee decided that in order to integrate the mostly white campus, they would go to minority neighborhoods, seek out youth of promise, enroll them at Valley State, give them twelve units of pass-fail classes, select the instructors, pay for all tuition, books, room and board, and go on their merry way. Those in charge thought it should be relatively easy to just shuffle the white cards and the black cards together and have a deck that was integrated.There were no mechanisms to guide the situation along. It was a setup for failure.
Allow me to start with the results and then work backward. After the inception of the EOP program fountains and urinals were ripped off walls, carpeting was torn up, and walls began to have holes in them in the dorm. One night there was a knock on my girlfriend’s door. When she opened it up, there was a white girl crumpled up and bleeding on the floor with two black (the term back then) girls standing over her. One of the two said,” We told her to leave our men alone.” The dorm hired security guards to police the floors, but incidents continued to occur.
As a football player and member of the Varsity Club, it was my rotating responsibility to take tickets at
basketball games. At one such game I was standing at the door when five black students came in. I asked for tickets but was greeted with, “F-k You!” While it would have been easy for me to call on several football teammates close by in the stands, instead I asked one of the campus police standing about 50 feet away to come over. I explained the situation and pointed to the five black students in the stands. I anticipated he would escort them out, but instead he just nodded his head. I looked at him and asked, “What are you going to do?” He responded that the campus police had been instructed not to confront any such situations. I took my badge off, threw it on the table, and never took tickets again.
Probably the most significant incident was when members of the athletic department, our coaches and athletic director were kidnapped and taken to the administration building. It made national news. I put out a campus-wide call to my teammates. We were going to get our helmets and baseball bats and free our coach and athletic director. One of the assistant coaches talked to me. He said that while our support and loyalty were much appreciated, the incident was much bigger than what we could comprehend at the time.
He was so right.
The National Guard was called in.
Race as a fulcrum was in full force, the ends of the lever arms were going further and further apart, and
one end of the seesaw was going up rapidly.
I am a white, Jewish male. My sister and I were raised by parents who treated everyone with respect. We weren’t affluent by any means. When I was a little guy, I went to work with my father in the 50’s. He was a manager in a large women’s apparel store. My favorite thing to do was to go down to the basement and work with Joe. It didn’t occur to me that Joe was a janitor, a black man, and considered by others underneath the other employees. I remember another employee asking me why my dad gave donuts to Joe from the same box he gave donuts to them or why my dad would sometimes come down and have lunch with us. I didn’t understand why that would be a problem.
In another incident in the 50’s, I was walking home from school and happened to come across some men working with shovels on the side of the road. They were all in striped uniforms. I was taught to always greet my elders, so I said hello to the first man. A big burly policeman with a larger than life shotgun came over to me and said, “Boy, don’t you be talkin’ to my n-grs!” I went home and had to ask my mother what that meant.
My point is that all of this tension was very unfamiliar to me because it’s not how I was raised. I was very upset with many in the EOP program, and I’m sure they were very upset with me. THEY were ruining MY school – the seesaw effect.
Now let’s look at the other side of the seesaw. Those other students in the EOP program were never made to feel welcome. There was no introduction. There was no transition. Those students were being asked to assimilate into another culture but were never told it was different nor were they given any means of adjusting or means to compete in the academic arena. There was no mechanism to have their voices heard. My teammates who were black had it somewhat better, but in looking back there were always elements of prejudice present. Many of these black students got just as much flak from whites for dating other whites as that poor, unfortunate white girl did for dating black men. I was ruining THEIR school experience- the seesaw effect.
Many came with the scars of the “black” experience. Whether it was housing discriminations, profiling by law enforcement, dangerous gang infested neighborhoods, poverty, absentee fathers, etc., our life experiences were markedly different. My father never had to sit me down and explain how to act to survive if I were pulled over by law enforcement. But somehow I was expected to understand.
In essence what was happening was the further out the lever arm of the seesaw each group moved, the further out the other side moved until the seesaw began to crack. There were explosive situations. Whenever a person or group feels alienated, they will eventually band together for protection. It’s called self-preservation.
Those in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement get upset when others say that all lives matter, and the others are resentful and think that members of the BLM movement are selfish and feeling entitled and don’t care about them. The non-minority population is tired of hearing about all the injustices and feelings of entitlement to make up for centuries of discrimination. The BLM people are tired of being ignored. The BLM people are upset with how police treat minorities. And the “All Lives Matter” people want to know why the BLM people don’t first address the issue that most minorities killed are at the hands of the same minority. Everyone wants to be a mouth, but no one wants to be an ear. Of course, then the white population begins to feel like no one cared about them.
When one is a purveyor of ignorance and prejudice, it is only a matter of time until the seesaw moves in the other direction. When people listen but don’t hear, the results are further alienation from each other. When people cover their ears so they can shout louder, no one can comprehend anything. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity. Clearly, we all desperately need some help. The racial seesaw continues to teeter-totter back and forth to this day.
And now we can throw Muslims and immigrants onto the seesaw. It seems like all sides have to have a foil, someone to blame, in order to feel vindicated about her/his actions, words, and behaviors.
Regrettably the only beneficiaries of the seesaw are the fear mongers, and make no mistake about it, all sides have them. They operate by stoking the fires of fear and despair. They push everyone into “fight or flight” mode to serve their own agenda. When people are panicked, they are much more easily led in a
direction of safety because self-preservation is one of the highest priorities of any organism. It is in these perverse creatures’ best interests to make the fulcrum as high as possible because as long as the seesaw cannot be balanced, the fear mongers remain in control. Make no mistake about it they will use everything in their means to continue to hold the power. Divide and conquer works quite well for them.
There is a passage in the King James version of the Bible, Matthew 7:15, that reads,
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves”.
Very clearly it can be applied to fear mongers. Regardless of your religious bent (or even if you have no religion), EVERYONE should take this seriously.
Let’s all get off the seesaw and stop acting like children on the playground.
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity.
Tikkun Olam- heal the world. Leave it a better place when you leave.