Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I've about given up on the kind of "news" programs than come through the teevee. It's been obvious that the so-called middle of the road network fair is distorted when it comes to this election (and much else for that matter). We used to watch a lot of Ed Schultz, and we used to think Rachel Maddow was great, and that Rev. Al offered a voice to black citizens. Rachel is this spring a "star," and pretty much unwatchable if you want the truth. Schultz and Rev. Al have been entirely swept away. PBS, of course, offers us the stylings of David Brooks on a weekly basis.

This is all by way of explaining that last night I watched a fine hour-long documentary about a Southern Pacific steam engine (#4449) hauling a bunch of passenger cars up into the Cascades of Washington for a centennial winter games event. Beautiful shots of these great iron machines in operation, in a snowy February landscape. And it wasn't so long ago really: 1989. After than Ken Burns' documentary about Jackie Robinson came on. There's one more part to it, coming up tonight. You should watch. It's a reminder of how evil and deep American racism really runs, and how white America's ability to deny never flags. The Peewee Reese-Robinson statue, Reese with his arm draped over Robinson's shoulders as though it was his friendship and support that finally carried the day, the one "good" white man; the statue sits in front of a ball park even after Robinson's widow objected. Historians quoted on the documentary objected too. Because the incident depicted never happened. (This is not to say that Reese and Robinson never ever embraced, or didn't share some sense of being teammates.)


[photo by Gary Dunaier, http://www.baseball-fever.com/showthread.php?91623-MCU-Park-Keyspan-Park-Brooklyn-NY/page2]

As the documentary points out, it's not like this image is somehow "bad." Rather, the image enhances the myth that Robinson needed white help to complete his marathon through hate. After all the appalling racism he had to wade through, from his birth to the end of the '47 season (and of course beyond, through the rest of his life as well), Peewee, from Louisville, KY no less, reached out a hand from the top of the mountain and helped Mr. Robinson up.

There's another image that burned itself into my consciousness as I watched the documentary. It was a photo of how public waiting areas were set up in those days, and how every black person had to deal with this. I remember it vividly growing up in Raleigh, NC. Any public place you went in the '50s you'd find things like "White Waiting Room/Colored Waiting Room,"--two whole different rooms to wait for the damn train or bus. Bathrooms the same deal, and the picture in the Robinson documentary was particularly remarkable for it's contemporary resonance here in NC. There were a series of bathroom doors in some train station, all captured in one shot: "white men," "white women," "colored."

It kinda jumped out at me that here in 2016, sixty plus years after this old segregated world is alleged to have vanished into the dust heap of history, damn if we're not still back in it. This time it's not official racism. It's official sexism. Here in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago our Legislature, in "special session," passed a fresh new bathroom law which singles out persons of complex gender and pretty much tells them they'd better not go into any public restroom for fear of some police reaction or other, from pretty much any random person of either gender who happens to labor under their own misguided phobias and prejudices. God help you if you happen to be black as well. And eleven Democrats voted for this abomination and embarrassment. Here's who they are, if you happen to want to vote them out next November:


One guy said it was a "mistake." He's opening himself up for interviews even. Must be he detects a slight shift in the wind. He's not in my district, but if he was I wouldn't give him a pass.

What is it with this need, this ache, on the part of the powerful, to mess with the bathrooms? It's hard to believe it's even conscious on the part of many of our lawmakers, although that's not a pass either. If you're unconscious of your own blind spots, don't fergawd's sake run for office! Go to a shrink. (Mr. Trump may in the end have this lesson from reality; one can hope.) We get past our horrible, racist past here in NC, at least to some extent relative to say 1955, and here comes the right wing powers-that-be, now Republican rather than Democrats thanks to Nixon and the Civil Rights Federal Legislation of the mid-'60s, doing it all again, still aching for necks to step on, for heads to press into the muck with their shiny jack boots. And of course our limp Governor, who had yet another opportunity to save his Administration from itself, signed the damned bill as quick as it got to his desk.

Now I see other Southern states are leaping to the same sort of legislation. Tennessee is next apparently. A great and horrible "trend," with North Carolina at the head of the parade.


And of course there's another aspect of this bill that, because of the bright flames generated by this part, goes pretty much unnoticed except for a few liberal bloggers with some interest in the details. Turns out that down in the bill are dictates asserting that municipalities can no longer establish nondiscrimination ordinances, or higher minimum wages, no can anyone anymore sue an employer for alleged sex discrimination. All of this will of course now go to court, with nothing decided until some time well past November. As our Democratic Attorney General has already said the law is unconstitutional and he will therefore not defend it, the Legislature and Administration will pay millions more in tax dollars to private attorneys hired to defend the law.

Libby had a better and cheaper solution to all this, ummmm, crap. If you, Mr. or Ms random citizen, has some idea that a given public rest room might be occupied by someone you are suspicious of, for any reason, well, don't go in there. DUH. Libby, as usual, possesses more commmon sense than any Republican holding elected office. Meanwhile, a cursory Google search yields this bit of wisdom and common sense:

And as to the bathrooms? The provisions affecting public schools violate the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX, which could cost the state billions if OCR brings an enforcement action. Moreover, the bathroom-panic strategy is old and tired. Although Phyllis Schlafly denies ever speaking of unisex bathrooms, her anti-ERA strategy fueled a bathroom panic that might well have been the straw breaking the camel’s back in the 1970s when an insufficient number of states ratified the proposed constitutional guarantee of sex equality. Could we just agree to stop using bathrooms as a pretext for discrimination? https://verdict.justia.com/2016/03/31/17051

"... cost the state billions..." That has a certain ring to it.


I watched the second part of the Jackie Robinson/Ken Burns documentary last night. It's remarkable how in the center of the '60s he stands. He went to the flaming south during some of the worst of times, Birmingham, Spring, 1963. His son, Jackie, Jr., joined the Army and found himself in Vietnam early in the escalation, and was in the end broken by the horror of it. It makes me think of Merle Haggard's line: "back before Nixon lied to us all on TV." It wasn't just Nixon, it was Johnson too. Jackie Robinson, Jr., had the absolute best of families--of "homes" if you like. He was thrown into heroin by Vietnam, then, tragically, died on the highway after he'd just finally gotten away from drugs, just a damn accident in the night.

This was just one heartbreak for the Robinsons. Celebrating Peewee Reese's birthday, they flew the confederate flag at Ebbet's Field. Robinson decided to support Nixon because he thought Kennedy wasn't interested in civil rights. Neither was Nixon, and in the end the Kennedys at least interceded on Martin Luther King, Jr.s behalf to keep him off a Georgia chain gang which would likely have killed him. And then, by the mid-'60s, the black press was calling Robinson an "Uncle Tom" because he was a friend and political ally of Nelson Rockefeller, and believed (surely rightly) that a black armed rebellion such as the Black Panthers were advocating would lead to thousands of black casualties and terrible defeat for the Movement. Jackie Robinson was clear-eyed start to finish. He saw the world aright. He died, we must conclude, of a broken heart, like a great workhorse who never quit. What a life-story. What an indictment of white America.

I was reminded of how I felt during the early months of 1963, and why I became engaged in my tiny way in the Civil Rights struggle. I was reminded of the terrible turn Lyndon Johnson took when he waded into Vietnam, destroying in the end all the tremendous credibility and good will he'd built up after he became President in November, 1963. People who correctly see the choice between Hillary Clinton and pretty much any Republican as being a choice of lesser evils (of course I'd put the Clintons over under the "lesser" column, but see, e.g., http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2016/04/13/3768430/clinton-honduras-coup/) are not seeing some new phenomenon in American politics, domestic and foreign. I saw a piece yesterday by a woman who is the daughter of one of the Berrigan brothers, who stood against the Vietnam war in the '60s. She opts for the Green Candidate this time around. I entirely understand, although I think that's a kind of mistake. At least her dad and uncle pointed the way to that path, right or wrong. There's so much blood and hate, then and now.


  1. Bill, kudos to you for--as usual if not always--pulling together a few threads that initially seem disparate, but ultimately cause me to,make connections I would not have on my own.

    As Bette Midler once said, "Did you ever know that you're my hero?"