white and colored drinking fountains

Linguistic subterfuge is in vogue. In these newly dis-United States, we have evolved. No longer, in the well of the all-white-male Senate do they rail against the need of lynch-law protection for Nigras. Those laws never were enacted – despite the fact that the first two decades of the last century were rife with the unlawful seizing, public torture and execution of African Americans in the South. This writer grew up in the North and South of that Apartheid America. Language was plain and outspoken, be it political or otherwise. Race was not a problem – it was controlled.

The South was more honest than the North. True to southern hospitality, it was courteous enough to provide signs. If one forgot one’s place, no problem; there was direction: Colored Men/White Gentlemen; Colored Women/White Ladies. For the less literate, there were two drinking fountains of shiny enamel – one white, one black. With public conveyances, it was a bit more complicated. There was a painted dividing line; however, in overcrowding, all seats were reserved for Whites. Movie theaters were simpler. They had an exclusive section – the balcony, with its own ticket window and entrance in the rear.

In the North, however, they were less straightforward. There were no signs, posted, that is. Signs in the North – throughout the country and anywhere else in the world where the U.S. flag was planted – were pointed and plentiful. In case their subtlety were lost, there always was a gentle reminder: “We don’t serve Colored.”

As late as 1948, three years after racially segregated U.S. armed forces saved the world from a racist menace (whose tactics in that regard were learned from the U.S), President Harry Truman finally was shamed into issuing a desegregation order for all of the armed services. It was slow to take hold. For some time thereafter, recruiting was still done on a segregated basis, with White officers commanding Colored basic-training and other units. All on-base activities were segregated around the clock. Travel throughout the country in uniform was as discriminatory as that experienced by civilians. For historical perspective, there had been no change since Abraham Lincoln created the racially segregated Union army!

When the Supreme Court finally decided properly to interpret the Constitution, nothing was more lamenting than the cris de coeur emanating from the South and Boston’s Southie, when desegregation was instituted. Those cries presumably could be construed as the accompaniment to yet another Birth of Freedom. As we now know, that birth produced a handicapped child. According to old practices, it was kept hidden from view. With the advent of a president of mixed heritage, the fact that only one heritage is recognized is indicative that we have not as yet divested ourselves of our national shame.

Our tendency to dismiss our devilry with silence dates back to the beginning of the republic. The glowing sentiments of the Declaration of Independence were forgotten by the time the Constitution was signed, more than ten years later. Actually, not forgotten, rather submerged in the disguised, racist wording of the constitutional text. Shamelessly and pusillanimously, they substituted other persons, in place of the two other great swaths of humanity then occupying that same portion of the North American Continent. Their iniquity resulted in the schism that would occur Four Score and Seven Years later.

In the next millennium, still weighted down with the original pre- and post-Revolutionary sin of hypocrisy, as well as the resulting ante- and post-bellum continuation thereof. We are controlled by the double whammy of being ashamed of our past and the annoyance of being reminded of it. Others, though, still believe in it, and are peeved at having to submerge that belief. Ergo, we are in the Age of the Dog-whistle. Presidents Nixon and Reagan, through their dog-whistles, managed a political polar-shift of the major parties. Thus do today’s extreme, right-wing politicians effectively emit their racist messages -- only partially disguised!

 

*****     *****     *****

 

There was an old dog they called Lee.

He lay there and saw what he’d see.

A whistle he hears,

He pricks up his ears –

 

Then, says, “Hell, that ain’t for me!”

 

 

Curtis W. Long

Curtis W. Long

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