The gospel according to Jerry: Confessions of a recovering racist

Commentary by Jerry Sternberg Image courtesy of the author

I received an email article from a couple of my right-wing friends who are constantly trying to validate their extreme positions especially on racial issues and hatred of President Obama.

The author of the article “Socially Confused Lawyer” is a public defender in a Southern metropolitan are who admits he is a Liberal and is totally confused by the actions and attitude of his black clients.

Here’s a sample from the article, which sums up his frustration:

“Unlike people of other races, blacks never see their lawyer as someone who is there to help them. I am a part of the system against which they are waging war. They often explode with anger at me and are quick to blame me for anything that goes wrong in their case.”

I find nothing to disagree with in his article.

I admit that I am a recovering racist. However, I do not remember having the same intense racial hatred that seem to possess the right wing.

Maybe it was because I was a Jew raised in the South, and as a detested minority who suffered indignities and stereotyping by the white Christian majority, I found it hard to throw rocks while living in such a glass house. Even as a child, I suffered more than one bloody nose because I did not share the same adoration of the loving Jesus as my classmates.

I was aware of the indignities of exclusions from jobs, social settings, country clubs and even some public accommodations, such as restricted hotels — including the Grove Park Inn — suffered by my family and others in the Asheville Jewish community. This did not dispel my racial prejudices and stereotypes of the black folks that the majority of white society espoused.

I was born and raised in the South, and so I thought they were all dirty, diseased, smelly and dumb. Otherwise, why would they need to drink out of different water fountains at Sears, use different bathrooms on Pack Square, attend different schools and sit in the back of the Merrimon Avenue bus?

Conservatives, liberals and even black leadership all seem very disappointed in black people. It has been 150 years (four generations) since we set them free, and yet they have not found a way to meet our white standards and they are still angry and bitter.

Let’s look at our record as emancipators.

When slaves were freed, most could not get jobs. When jobs were available, they were the last ones hired and the first ones fired. It was forbidden by law to teach a slave to read and write, so education was not a priority as it was in most other modern cultures. When we finally gave them schools, they were segregated, primitive and under-financed because nobody really gave a damn if a black could read or write, as they were too dumb to learn anything anyhow.

Yet thousands turned out to see the finest marching band in the state from the African-American high school, Stephens Lee, marching down Patton Avenue in hand-me-down, incomplete, mismatched uniforms and hats.

My memories of the 1930s and ’40s was that black men had no education or skills and could not get steady work, but the women had stable jobs as house servants, and this morphed them into a matriarchal culture, destroying the men’s dignity and sense of responsibility.

My father put me to work in our hide and scrap-metal business, and by the time I was 12 years old, I was sent along with the black men to pick up metals and hides to weigh the merchandize and figure the bill because they could not read and write. It wasn’t unusual for men three times my age calling me “Mr. Jerry.”

When the black soldiers came back from military service in World War II (you remember, “The Greatest Generation”), they were still relegated to the black part of town, and they were refused service at the Woolworth’s counter and forced to sit in the balcony of the Plaza theater.

At 16, I drove to The Block (Eagle-Market streets) to pick up occasional labor. I would hold up two or three fingers. Many of these men were veterans, even some who were disabled, but they would scramble to get in the truck bed just to get a day’s pay at hard labor. At lunch time, I would often have to go inside the Atlantic Quick Lunch on Depot Street to buy their lunch while they stood out back, even though blacks worked in the kitchen.

This had not changed when I came out of the Korean War, but after years of bitter protest and racial strife, we white folks, in our great beneficence, reluctantly partially did away with Jim Crow laws, segregation and job discrimination.

We even grudgingly enforced racial quotas in government jobs and for entrance into college.

Most all of our great liberal efforts to improve their lot have failed. Maybe it is because our hearts were not in it.

We certainly have failed to find ways to encourage them to get an education. We assured them that if they would only study hard and work hard they would be as successful and as affluent as we were.

I ask you conservatives: Would you hire a black accountant, lawyer or heart surgeon if you had any choice?

A black man has risen to the highest office in the country, yet you conservatives daily bombard the Internet with racial slurs, cartoons and not-so-subtle dog-whistle emails. I am sure you are convinced that a black man is not capable of governance.

Believe me, this is not lost on black teenagers who have decided that education is for “whiteys” and there is more money to be made stealing and selling drugs unless they have the rare exceptional talent of being able to run and catch a ball or sing and dance.

Many get their education in the prisons, which seems to be their rite of passage, and they father children as a badge of honor and respect with no intention of honoring the responsibility of fatherhood. For the sake of argument, the liberals in this country have killed incentive with welfare, food stamps, free housing, school lunches  — oh, and don’t forget — flat-screen TVs.

We have fought for better ways to improve their education, but that seems to take more and more of the taxpayer’s money and probably requires serious integration of schools and housing, which you conservatives deem a very bad idea.

We also think that not only black women, but all women, should have access to family planning, sex education birth control and abortion, but you are doing everything in your power to curtail these activities by shutting down Planned Parenthood clinics, straightforward sex education in the schools, and overturning Roe v. Wade.

Watch out, right wing. We must be careful that we don’t lose the battle of the womb. If this irresponsible overbreeding continues, we may very well become outnumbered by hordes of hungry, angry people who might start a very unpleasant race war that would make the Watts riot look like a walk in the park.

I know you feel comforted by your extensive personal arsenal, with which you plan to protect yourself and your family, but keep in mind that you have made gun ownership so convenient that these people might also have access to all kinds of arms, which might really make for a messy situation.

I take credit for my responsibility as a liberal who has bungled this situation very badly. You conservatives are rapidly moving into a position of total power in this country.

Please respond with your superior solutions in black and white.


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2 thoughts on “The gospel according to Jerry: Confessions of a recovering racist

  1. Richard Pigossi

    Bravo, Jerry. You’ve delivered the right message at the right time. Thank you.

  2. arthur einstein

    I find it hard to swallow the characterization of black Americans in the article you’re responding to – just as I find it hard to accept a blanket characterization of white conservatives as white supremacists. Each group has some of the types we’re talking about here. (There are also some Catholics, Jews, Cubans, Arabs, et al I don’t much admire, and some I’d buy lunch for any day in the week). Having said that, I absolutely agree with what you say, and you’ve said it very persuasively. Go Jerry!

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