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Columnist: The issue of “race” continues to raise its ugly head

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

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It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican, Democrat or an Independent, you would have to have been on another planet to not realize that the issue of race has fast become a major issue in the 2016 presidential elections. Except for our war on terror, the political debate is pretty much the same as it was back in 1968.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum for the April 2016 cover story recently published (http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html).

Nixon’s focus almost exclusively on white voters, the so-called Silent Majority, was characterized as a political assault designed to help him win — and to keep — the White House.

Nixon tried to blame minorities for the war on drugs. Heroin was creating a crisis in the country in the late 1960s as it is today. Ironically, blacks by some political leaders are blamed for the current day heroin epidemic.

Race was predicted to be the issue facing the United States in 20th century; should it be a major issue in the 21st century?

It was W.E.B. Dubois, the famous African-American, Pan-Africanist, who said at the beginning of the 20th century that the major problem facing the world is the issue of “race.” His same prophetic sentiments have been expressed to describe the racial climate beginning with the 21st century.

How do we learn to hate or dislike people who are not our same color, racial origin or whose religion is different from our own? Sociologists believe that each person is a product of his own culture.

We learn to inculcate what we are to believe in many instances, when we are young. It is not uncommon to find persons, therefore, who dislike other races or ethnic groups for no apparent reason, other than the fact that they inculcated the behavior, which is distinct to their family or ethnic group. This is called by some behaviorists as “sociological stamping” or imprinting.

We know of the historical conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, the Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, the religious conflicts between and among ethnic groups in many other countries, and of course, the racial tensions which flare up between blacks and whites in the United States.

Do we really begin the process of teaching prejudice, hatred and bigotry to our children at an early age? If we do, what is the rationale? Is it to protect our children in order to ensure that our own suspicions of others are recycled?

A few years ago I was asked to assist a major airline in reducing tensions and the possibility of violence among its employees. The senior management of the airline was honest and advised me prior to my working with the employees that the tensions and conflicts were, in fact, racially motivated.

They also informed me that they did not know how the staff would take my presentation, knowing that I was not an employee. When I finally met with the 159 airline employees, my opening statement was that “a company cannot remain in business when it allows employees to develop a culture in the course of its business practices which sends a message to the public or consumers that it is intolerant or disrespectful to others predicated on race, religion or sexual preference.”

I went on to define my own “sociological stamping” to the group and requested that they do the same during my presentation. I stated that my father was a major distributor of moonshine liquor in Georgia in partnership with some of the most dangerous white and black men from a three-county area. I knew for a fact that my father did not care for any of the white men he partnered with and they disliked him as well, outside of the moonshine business.

My father, by some, would be perceived as a covert racist. He would often say to us that when we became adults we should keep our children from around white men. He believed that all white men were potential pedophiles.

I confessed to the group that I believed what my father said until I became an adult. When I became an adult my friends began to include many persons from different backgrounds, ethnic groups and colors.

As an adult, I became a single parent of three children. I stated to the airline employees that my children’s babysitters, as they were growing up, included white men and women. I loved my father, but I quickly realized as a young adult that you cannot characterize a race or group of people as all bad or all good.

I learned a lot that day in talking with the airline employees. Yes, there are whites living in the 21st century who still believe that all blacks steal and given the opportunity will rape their daughters and wives.

Whites and blacks believe that the other is given preferential treatment when it comes to hiring and promotions. Is there a line of demarcation blacks and whites have when they transmit information to their children about each other? I’m afraid not.

Will we ever get beyond the issue of race? What do you think?

By the way, the employees enjoyed my presentation.

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at glenn.dowell@gmail.com.