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Racial Meditation

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Sgt. Mom

March 11th, 2018

For me, the very first – although not the most momentous disappointment in the accumulated collection racked up throughout the Obama administration – was the realization that there would be no line drawn under the old bug-bear of racism with regard to those of us – as a friend of mine during my assignment to Greenland in the early 1980s put it – with the year-round dark tan. Yes, said friend was black, Afro-American, a person of color, or whatever the approved term is these days. (You kids, get off my lawn! Oh … I don’t have a lawn.) My friend was a totally middle-class young woman, the daughter of professionals, who like me, had grown up without ever personally observing much in-your-face unmistakable racial antagonism or prejudice. It was merely something that had happened to other people, a fair number of decades ago; at worst howlingly illegal, at best, rude. We were in the habit of walking together every Saturday, around the end of the Sondrestrom AB runway to the Danish side of the base, there to enjoy a cup of tea and a pastry in the SAS air terminal cafeteria.

North of the Arctic Circle, you take your diversions where you can find them; in this case, the air terminal cafeteria was A) away from the base, and B) actually had rather good food, since it was entirely run by Danes; masters of pastry and good solid comfort food. One Saturday, the cafeteria was empty save for a large party at another table, who stared at the pair of us in a manner most disconcerting. It freaked both of us out, as soon as we noticed. Had we each suddenly grown another head? Were we trailing toilet paper stuck to our mukluks? It wasn’t an American uniform – both of us were clad in the customary Sondy winter mufti, of jeans and plaid shirts, with the addition of dull-green issue parkas and mukluks – why were they staring at us? Finally, I ventured – “Is it because you’re black and I’m white, and they’re from South Africa or something, where it’s illegal to sit at the same table?”

She agreed that it must be something like that; it must have been the only explanation, and we returned to enjoying our tea and pastries, marveling at how things had changed so much for the better, from the times of violent civil rights demonstrations twenty years before.

At that point – and especially in the military – systemic racial prejudice appeared to be something from the bad old days. It was so far off the table, it wasn’t even in the same room. No one turned so much as a hair over a commander, supervisor, NCOIC being of another race, and if racial prejudice were a factor in the dating and marriage scene, it was one of the best-kept secrets since the Enigma coding device. So, twenty-some years after that tea-time in the airport terminal, I had some thin and comforting hope that the election of B. Obama to the highest office in the land would at the least put a dagger in the heart of the myth of the USA being Teh Most Racist Nation Evah! – even if he delivered on nothing else of note. And this, even after the “G*d Damn America” sermon stylings of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright came to light among the conservative side of the blogosphere. I’m at heart an optimist … surely the chances of a light-weight Chicago machine pol, with not much going for him other than a mellifluous voice (when reading from a teleprompter) and a slightly unusual personal background couldn’t do all that much damage … could he?



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