[Marxism] whites only towns
mikedjyates at msn.com
Tue Oct 25 18:49:48 MDT 2005
I lived in Johnstown, Pensylvania from 1969 until 1988. I taught at a
college there. Johnstown was an inordinately racist town. You couldn't go
into a bar without someone making a racial slur within ten minutes. One of
my colleagues, a white woman, was dating a black man (whom she later
married). She had taken a small apartment in the downtown of the city. Her
boyfriend had made a couple of visits to see her, and soon after someone
torched her apartment.
I tried to learn as much about the history of Johnstown as I could. There
were lots of interesting things to find out. William Z. Foster was tarred
and feathered when he came to town to help build support for the 1919 steel
strike. Durign the "Little Steel" strike of 1938, black steel workers at
the Bethlehem Steel Company plant remained in the mill. They had faced
brutal discrimination and had been ignored by the unions. There are photos
from Newsweek showing black and white workers engaged in violent fights
outside the mill gate.
There are very few black people in Johnstown. There were some there before
WWI, but after the war more arrived, pushed out of the south by mechanized
agriculture and pulled north by a desire for a better life. The new arrivals
were sometimes recruited as strikebreakers. Johnstown's black population
grew considerably after the war and in the wake of the 1919 strike. With
their coming, the KKK perked up (Pennsylvania has always been a hotbed of
Klan activity). There were cross burnings and threats to blacks. Then
after an incident in 1922, the town's mayor issued an infamous proclamation,
ordering all blacks out of town, out of the county, and out of the state by
a certain time. A very high percentage of blacks left, although exact
numbers are not known. They didn't come back, no doubt because Johnstown
was now known as a white town.
In the 1980s when I taught labor education courses to workers there, a
student complained on the course evaluation that there were too many blacks
in the class. There was one black student in the class. I had
confrontations about race several times, usually in bars and bowling alleys.
At the college black students faced terrible harrassment, including
bullets through their dorm room windows.
Here is story of an encounter I had:
It was a mid-Sunday afternoon in late Winter. We had just finished our
match, and I was disappointed with my poor performance. For some reason I
could not prevent my left wrist from turning over when I released my bowling
bowl, and this caused the ball to hook disastrously to the right. My
teammates groaned as my scores plummeted about 40 pins below my average and
our chances of winning the league championship melted away. Luckily it
wasnt a cutthroat league, so they commiserated as I packed away my
equipment and put on my coat to leave. As I passed by the managers desk, I
glanced up at the television set on the wall. A professional basketball
game was in progress and since I am a basketball junky, I stopped to watch.
The Chicago Bull were playing the Boston Celtics. I hated the Celtics and
their rabid fans and arrogant general manager and former coach, Red
Auerbach. I was gratified to see that the Bulls star, Michael Jordan, was
playing a spectacular game, on his way to scoring more than 60 points in
what turned out to be a double overtime Celtics victory.
Another man was watching the game, along with his young son. I recognized
him as an average bowler and delivery truck driver, something of a loudmouth
with a higher opinion of his bowling skills than his ability warranted.
Normally I would have ignored him, but Jordans great game was so exciting
that I just had to say something about it. So I remarked, Boy, isnt he an
amazing player. This innocent remark sent the man into a tirade. That
niggers not the best player. The best player is that white guy, Larry
Bird. Now Johnstown is a racist town. It is impossible to go into a bar
in a white neighborhood and not hear the word nigger within 30 minutes.
While warming up before a basketball pickup game, one of my students
commented that he liked the Boston Celtics because they were the white
team. In 1922 the mayor of Johnstown actually ordered all black residents
who had not lived in the town for at least five years to leave. Black men
had been recruited to work in the city by the steel companies in the wake of
the bitter 1919 strike, and the mayor issued his order after an incident
involving a black person and the police. It is not known exactly how many
African Americans left town, but the growth of the black population stopped.
Today blacks comprise less than 3% of the citys residents.
Yet even though I have experienced open racism numerous times in Johnstown,
I was startled by the this mans vehemence. His face had turned red, and
the veins on his neck were showing. I said, What difference does skin
color make; Jordan is a great player. --Period. He glared at me and
yelled, Dont tell me about the niggers. I lived near them. I know what
theyre like. Theyre no fucking good. I looked down at his son and said,
Hey, youre really setting a fine example for your kid. Hell grow up to
be a bigot just like you. At this, he lost his composure completely and
said, Listen, four eyes, Ill knock your fucking glasses off. I dont give
a fuck who you are . I noticed that no one at the desk was making any
effort to defuse this situation. So I just said, Go ahead and hit me if
you want to. He didnt, and I picked up my bag and left.
These days there are those, especially on the right, who say that we have
overcome racism, and it is time for minorities to stop moaning about it and
get on with their lives. I have no doubt whatever that these persons have
spent very little time in the bars and bowling alley of our towns and
cities. My antagonists racism was disgustingly blatant, but no more so
that of millions of others. A faculty member at my school once complained
in the faculty dining room that it was a shame that his daughter could not
get free dental care at the Universitys dental clinic when all of the
niggers could. At least I helped to deny this man tenure.
Of course, most racism is more subtle, so woven into the fabric of
everyday life that most whites just take it for granted. It crosses all
classes, but that of white workers is the saddest and says the most about
how this economic system deforms our personalities. The man who confronted
me in the bowling alley was a delivery truck driver, doing menial labor at
low wages. He obviously had been poor as a child. Yet he hated the poorest
and most exploited of all workers. He had been led to believe that black
people are the lowest of the low, and since he grew up with them, he must be
awfully low himself. This filled him with shame, but he dealt with this
shame by coming to think that black persons must in some sense be
responsible for not only their own misery but his as well. His hatred
transformed shame into superiority, a feeling encouraged by other whites,
not least of whom were employers who used racism to drive a wedge between
those whose alliance would be most dangerous to their power.
It is hard for me to think of the incident in the bowling alley without
remembering the minstrel show and all of the other examples set for me by
teachers, friends, clergy, and other adults. My college biology teacher,
for example, said that if a white woman had a black child, there must have
been a nigger in the woodpile. The very geography of my hometown was
imbued with racism. I wont deny that progress in race relations has been
made, but the white suburban kids who fill my classes are still writing
racist graffiti on the bathroom walls and still fuming about welfare as a
code for racism in their essays. Just how different is their upbringing
from mine? White people are raised to be racists, and it takes a mighty
effort to overcome this. I know. Im still trying.
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