Keelan: Education yes, indoctrination no

By Don Keelan

Over the past half-dozen years, there have been countless news stories about systemic racism in America followed by discussions on diversity, unity, and inclusiveness. Paralleling this media is several wanton killings of Black Americans by law-enforcement officials.

Folks of my generation, born in the 1930s, ‘40s, and early ‘50s, have a difficult time understanding the former, but not in the least, the latter. We had lived through decades of outright segregation, discrimination, and open hostility to all who were not white.

Don Keelan

On a personal note, growing up outside the Bronx, I did not encounter discrimination, not to say it did not exist in Westchester County. It certainly did but was more subtle. It wasn’t until my time in the Marines and working for an international CPA firm that outright forms of segregation and discrimination came into full view.

It was unreal to a 17-year-old from Mt. Vernon, New York, to witness the four Black Marines of my 24-Marine platoon who could not leave the bus for the diner in Frederick, MD, an hour before going on guard duty at Camp David (President Eisenhower was in residence.) Nor was it comfortable, when auditing the large shipbuilding company in Newport News, Virginia, to see the signs, “White Fountains” and “Negro Fountains.” Moreover, the Black shipyard workers were only allowed to do rigging and maintenance until 1969, when the rules changed.

A few weeks ago, a column in the Manchester Journal noted, “About the only thing that has changed since 1619 is that whites are no longer allowed to own Black people, but we are still doing just about everything we can think of to hold Black people back.”

Only the ignorant would say that discrimination is non-existent today. It is ever-present. Not only towards people of color but also in sexism, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, economic and educational status, and so on. However, it is also incorrect to advance the notion that nothing has been done in America to remove institutional discrimination and segregation — the most egregious forms of racism.

In my lifetime and that of my peers, we saw the adoption of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802 in 1941 that ended the Marine Corps not enlisting Black and Native American personnel. Five years later, in 1947, a man became the first Black player to enter Major League Baseball. The doors of the NFL, MBA, and NBA were thrown wide-open.

Under President Truman, the U.S. Armed Forces ended a centuries-long tradition of segregation with E.O. #9981, followed five years later by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Topeka. President Eisenhower did not hesitate to enforce the ruling in 1957 when he sent elements of the 101st Airborne Division to open Little Rock, AK schools to Black children.

While the above was progress, it was nowhere near the progress and change needed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this abundantly clear on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. His speech motivated the country to change, and change did come with the 1964 Civil Rights Act followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Sealed doors were finally opened for Black people to participate in government service, medicine, entertainment, commerce and sports, at all levels. This culminated in November 2008, when, for the first time, American voters decided that they wanted a Black leader for the country. And they did so again, in November 2012.

And let us never forget, between 1861 and 1865, 360,000 Union soldiers gave their lives to end the scourge of slavery.

Has there been progress in correcting the injustice of what took place on the shores of Virginia in 1619? Yes, but it was not accomplished by having classes on indoctrination defining Critical Race Theory. Much was accomplished through education and example. And the collapse of segregation/discrimination was in great part due to the absence of the curtain of social media. It wasn’t there to hide behind.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/The All-Nite Images

9 thoughts on “Keelan: Education yes, indoctrination no

  1. In 1619 there was no United States. There were only British, Dutch and French Colonies.

    • Don’t forget the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the Danes.

      It was the Portuguese, after all, who began and expanded the Atlantic Slave Trade in the early 1400’s – long before the Columbus voyages.

      And while the Danes didn’t get into the African slave trade until the 1600s, they did (as Vikings) enslave and trade white Europeans in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries, and bring some of them to Greenland.

      It should also be noted that there were, apparently, more white European slaves in northern Africa, traded by the infamous Barbary Pirates, than there were African slaves in the U.S. at its founding in 1776. And it wasn’t until the Abolition movement began to accelerate, engendered most famously by the Declaration of Independence (signed by many who were themselves slave owners), that one last surge in the slave trade occurred before the importation of slaves was made illegal just 20 years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

      Of course, we all know what happened in 1860 with the Civil War, and the following 100 years of civil rights struggles in the U.S.. But considering that the ubiquitous institution of slavery, that was standard fare around the entire world for thousands of years, ended less than 80 years after the ratification of the United States Constitution is, in my humble opinion, a wonder to behold.

      The point being – human history is a wide and complicated mosaic. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been taught in our public-school monopoly for decades and we’re now reaping the benefits of our ignorance.

  2. Mr. Keelan,
    Thanks for another thoughtful commentary. I got myself in a little bit of hot water with some this past year challenging proposed school policies that narrowly defined racism as something being perpetrated solely by the dominate while culture. I think it is best that in law we stick to our ideals of treating all equally.

    I have always been one who believed that you should treat everyone as an individual. However upon hearing the stories from friends from other cultures I think that is not enough. We must also be willing to try to see what it is like to walk a mile in their shoes.

    Particularly instructive to me was the story of a friend who grew up in our town and became a fire captain in our local fire department. He described how hurtful it was to have to hear racial slurs bandied about by other firefighters. He also related how a neighbor who flew a confederate flag outside his house asked to go hunting on his far farm. My friend let him know exactly what the flag meant to him and his family and that there was not way anyone who flew it would be allowed in his pastures and woods.

    Racism is something we will be dealing with for years to come. We need hold to the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence recognizing we have a history of falling short and while we have made much progress ( as you write about so well in your commentary) we still have a ways to go.

    • Re: “We must also be willing to try to see what it is like to walk a mile in their shoes.”

      Two questions for you.
      1. Who are you addressing?
      2. What makes you think they don’t already know what it’s like?

      • Hi Jay,

        I am addressing people like myself who have tried to live life treating all equally and without regard to race. What I have been realizing recently from the examples I gave is that this is may not be enough.

        Unfortunately grievance appears to be a very strong human emotion and when one has been wronged it stays with you and is hard to let go. It can also be played upon by unscrupulous politicians and those with their own grievance issues. This can lead us down a dark path.

        How do we deal with those with legitimate grievance issues which, if we have lived any length of time, we all have, but for some can occur simply because of the color of their skin? The Christian tradition puts emphasis on the need for forgiveness, both for ourselves and for others. While holding to our political ideals and the need for rule of law, I think listening ,trying to understand the other’s perspective and at times a bit of forgiveness for others and our own missteps is not bad to apply to the secular political realm as well. I think Mr. Keelan’s commentary was helpful in providing some personal historic perspective on racism and pointing out better ways of going forward than are currently being proposed by some others.

        • Regarding question 1: I appreciate your ‘mea culpa’. But when your commentary is expressing personal misgivings, you should say so and not presume the rest of us have gone down the same ‘dark path’ – which explains why you couldn’t answer question 2.

          “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster, and if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche

          • Jay,

            I have always found while holding to ideals, attempting to increase understanding and compassion for others has led to more light than darkness.

            Wasn’t Fredrich Nietzsche the philosopher who famously said, “God is dead” and then went insane? I believe he was also the favorite philosopher of the Nazi’s. Now there is a dark path to the abyss.

  3. Context. Where is the context?

    “Focusing on the English colonies omits the global nature of slavery – From an Anglo-American perspective, 1619 is considered the beginning of slavery, just like Jamestown and Plymouth symbolize the beginnings of “America” from an English-speaking point of view. But divorcing the idea of North America’s first enslaved people from the overall context of slavery in the Americas, especially when the U.S. was not formed for another 157 years, is not historically accurate.”

    And why the dismissal of that ‘other’ colony, a year later in 1620 – Plymouth Plantation? Does anyone out there understand that, at the same time Jamestown was following the socio-economic tenants of the time, the Pilgrims figured out ‘socialism’ doesn’t work, and then instituted the first known free market economy?

    Focusing on the Jamestown Colony in 1619, at the expense of what was happening around the world at that time, is political theater. And bad theater at that. Hillary Clinton’s VP running mate, Tim Kaine, contrived this politically expedient ignorance years ago when he said: “The United States didn’t inherit slavery from anybody. We created it.”

    For goodness sakes. Read the history. Slavery has been a ubiquitous institution for thousands of years. It still is. I challenge anyone to name a place on earth where there weren’t any slaves in 1619. And no, that doesn’t make slavery okay. But it doesn’t make me, and old white man, a racist slave owner either.

    Does racism exist? Yes. And it likely will in the nooks and crannies of the American psyche for years to come. How can it not when so many are throwing it in our faces every day? But because some people are racist, even these history-ignorant, fringe elements trying to exploit racism, doesn’t mean we’re all racist. If anything, the United States is the most diverse and tolerant country in the history of the world. No. we’re not perfect. But show me a better place and I’ll be happy to go there and leave the rest of you to your misery.

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