“Paternalism strengthened the system of white supremacy by softening its sharper edges and covering its patent injustices with a patina of friendship. ” This quote from page 25 of Tycoon’s book appears, on the surface, to be his most accurate assessment of the “civil rights era” of all his statements that are not reflections of his personal situation. On deeper examination, however, this doesn’t stand up. I’m not sure paternalism is the right word, but since he used it, we’ll go with that.
I lived my early years in a suburb of Chicago (LaGrange) that was all white, as far as I knew. There was a part of town that was literally “across the tracks. ” I’m not sure of the racial make-up of this area (l was eight when we move away) but it was either inhabited by blacks or lower income whites to the best of my memory. The ethnic factor was whether someone was of Polish descent; that’s the only thing I remember. Not that the neighborhoods were ethnically segregated; I Just remember that some people were Polish and some were not.
We saw black people when we went to midtown Chicago, to Chomsky Park to see the White Sox play, or to Brookfield Zoo. My family moved to Atlanta in 1961. I can remember seeing lots of black people a lot more often; we went downtown Atlanta more often than we did downtown Chicago. The immediate neighborhood was all white, but when I went to high school the area included a few pockets of black families. I recall that many of the blacks at the high school were among the most popular of all the students. I made my first black friend in 9th grade chorus class of all places.
This was the school year 967-1968. On that day in April, I remember Marvin saying,” Atlanta’s goanna burn tonight. ” That’s all I remember him saying. He and I and two other white kids spent the rest of the class cutting up in the back of the room as usual. I don’t think he said another word about it. At the time, I had no concept of “paternalism. ” I would not have been able to define it. Marvin was a friend. I realized he was black, Just like I’m sure he knew I was white. I wasn’t trying to impress people by having a black friend. I certainly wasn’t “blessing” him with my friendship.
We didn’t stay close the remaining years of high school; I suppose because I don’t remember having any more classes with him. I’m saying all this to get around to the “blues and gospel” aspect of the theme of “Blood Done Sign My Name. ” The fact that much of America, including the South, was segregated in the sass’s and sass’s is not in question. I can only try to imagine how life was different for blacks in those days compared to today. I’m sure the “the blues” describes way more than a musical style for blacks during this period: employment, housing, etc.
They were mostly second class citizens. Given. I really don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said. Tycoon’s book includes many segments where he describes their second class way of life in terms that leave lasting impressions. What I can address is “the gospel” aspect. The way I see it, there are three groups mean whites who are not bigots. In the South during that era, church was, and still is, a huge part of life. I’m generalizing, I know, by assuming that blacks go to church and are Christians, but there is a lot of truth in that statement.
They wanted change, served change, and were tired of waiting for change. Their gospel was a gospel of hope. The true gospel of the abundant life, free of bondage. I was taught to be “good. ” Do the right thing. Stand up for what I believe to be right. We were “good whites. ” We went to church with a lot of white bigots. I would have called my family “liberal” as Tyson called his, had I an understanding of the concept . I remember hearing long ago, not sure of the source, that Northern whites loved the black race, but did not want to have anything to do with black individuals.
And in the South, whites hated the black race, but could easily love black individuals. There are countless examples this. But this where I’m not sure paternalism is the right word. My wife tells of a poor, old black woman that lived near her family farm in Athens, Georgia. My future mother-in-law would give her clothes out of the closet and food out of the garden. To me, these were acts of kindness and Christian up-bringing: to help those in need. When the Cuban missile crisis was at its height, my father hired a black man to hovel dirt on top of a fall-out shelter he built in a corner of our basement.
This man had a large family and needed to put food on his table, Just like my dad did. It would take an over-educated academic to call these two cases of “paternalism. ” mire’s keeping the black man down, hiring him for menial Jobs! ” Was my dad supposed to ignore this man and look for a white man to shovel the dirt? “l bet that makes you feel good and ease your conscience, giving things to a poor black woman. ” Should my mother-in-law rather have kept her things and ignored the plight of her gibber? These acts were not those of paternalism.
Paternalism suggests a relationship between one who can do and one who cannot do . They were acts of kindness and economics. The old woman didn’t suffer in want because she was black, but because she was old. The man didn’t need money because he was black, but because he had a family to feed. I cannot fathom too many situations where motivation would be any different in that era when good whites and blacks had contact with each other. They were trying to live in harmony with each other. A white got would certainly find different ways to interact with blacks in those days.
So if the reasoning to follow is that kindness and goodness strengthened the system of white supremacy, then that’s a pretty weird twist on things. The things that strengthened the system of white supremacy were white hatred of blacks trying to exert their rights as American citizens and reactionary race riots by blacks . Tycoon’s closeness to the events he described in combination with the vicarious frustration he felt of his father not having a greater impact in their town’s race relations, have manifested themselves in what appears to be vast quantities of racial guilt.
Nothing more, nothing less. He apparently has not been able to celebrate advances made by blacks in our society. Tyson asks us to confront our past. Fine. Let’s do it. What’s next? Do we stay in that mode? For how long? Or, is there anything at all that comes next? Some would have us dwell on this forever; indeed, some seem to have made a career out of prolonging the divisions between blacks and whites. I thought the point was to thoughts.