Why can't we finally say, we've come a long way baby, and truly mean it?
Why can't we transcend the racial divide for forever and a day, and really live it?
For the most part, I think we do our best to treat our neighbors with respect, if that is truly what is in our heart.
Is there a way to make up for wrongs of the past, or the ungodly acts of gross negligence, bad behavior, and lifetimes of depravity and racial separation -- travesties against any other human being just for the color of their skin? After all, America wasn't the only place where slavery lived.
While to this day, it is solely upon the natural growth of our republic that created equality for all -- all be it over time and decades of pain; but it was the model the rest of the world copied -- or loathed -- over and over and over again.
Long before Disney had his way with us, America became renowned as THE destination to come for making all dreams come true. We hear the trembling of gratitude in every voice who reaches our shore, belonging to each a story of their own making -- spinning tales in living color of how hard it was to get here, how proud they are to live here, and how great the gratitude for every opportunity that only living in America can bring.
We are a success story.
Are we perfect? Heaven's no. Does the world, America in particular, still make people where racism lives and ruins? Unfortunately, yes.
What surprises me most (in this moment), is how we were blinded by the lightness of being, just maybe, finally, over it [racism] when we elected our first African-American president. That we could take that as one big shining example of "see, I told you"; we picked the best candidate for the country, and that candidate is our first black president ever. "We aren't racist -- we are not like we used to be -- we have grown some, learned alot, and have moved beyond the color of one's skin and towards the character shining from within."
I've become a reader of the Obituaries strangely enough.
Some are short and sweet, stating the obvious and making a few comments on family and life's work. Some people, if huge enough, get a rather long column -- perhaps even a spot in a nationally syndicated feature from the NY Times News Service -- such is the one I lingered over last Sunday morning.
This one entitled: "WWII's sole living black veteran to receive Medal of Honor," about Vernon Joseph Baker -- with a full color photo of him smack dab in the middle of the page.
Richard Goldstein weaved together the Army Lieutenant's life rather well, spending a fair share of time highlighting the moment on the day in the life of Lt. Baker back on April 5,1945; he was leading the way up an Italian hillside, in the town of Viareggio. As with most war stories of valor, Lt. Baker went above and beyond the call of duty, taking down German soldiers hidden in the camouflaged side of the hill at machine gun posts, covering for his men while the troops had to evacuate their location without reinforcements showing up on time, and basically doing whatever deemed necessary to save men. That day, from the start of 25 troops, seventeen had given up their lives.
Having not done enough, the next night he volunteered to lead the team through heavy fire and enemy minefields, in order to advance the troops; and for this he received the Distinguished Service Cross (the second highest Army award for bravery). It wouldn't be for another nearly fifty years before he would have the distinction of receiving the Medal of Honor -- which was given to him by President Clinton on January 13, 1997.
Why did it take so long? Chock it up to the times -- times that most Americans today are not proud of in the least bit (at least, in respect to the people I know). It would take the request of black veterans, along with the lead of a white captain, to champion the cause in the early 1990's, to find resolve. And it was left in the hands of, ironically, an historically black college of Raleigh, N.C., Shaw University, to do just that.
Lt. Baker was one of ten servicemen the study found to be worthy -- for added perspective, a total of 433 Medals of Honor were given out in WWII. It should be also duly noted, that this was a time when the military was still segregated -- most black servicemen were only allowed to be in positions of manual labor or supply units, as combat orders were few and far between. Even still, out of this list of possible considerations, only seven warranted "the Medal" -- four of these men were actually killed in action, two others had already passed on in the years following the war and were given posthumously, leaving Lt. Baker, finally, standing to receive the award.
With a family background shaping his childhood from an early age, his parents died when he was only four; with two older sisters to accompany him, little Vernon was taken in by his grandparents and was raised in Cheyenne, Wyo. This was home until the day he boarded a bus for Texas -- destination, the U.S. Army.
With a rough start, meeting racism face to face even before reaching the ultimate battlefield, he was sent to "the back of the bus where you belong". Oh my goodness, we have come so far...
Well, somebody saw something besides the color of his skin soon enough, as Baker was sent to Officer Candidate School, where he graduated as a Second Lieutenant in 1942. Grandpa must have done something right...
Anyway, the man in the picture looked really happy, complete; I don't know what it was, taking a pose with his hands on his hips, there was just something about his thumbs draping over his hammered leather belt, looking all cowboy and cool, as if somehow he didn't need anyone telling him he deserved the nation's highest honor for bravery. He felt it and knew it through and through. And if I might be so bold, he looked awfully proud to be an American.
It was the sort of picture that captured a natural satisfaction, radiating the fullness of a lifetime and days well served -- even if perhaps there were ugly bigoted days amongst them. His smile made his eyes twinkle, and no question, it had nothing to do with the lighting in the room -- the rustic, comfortable, rural cabin in St.Maries, Idaho that it was. What do you think, was fly fishing how he filled his retirement years?
Oh my goodness, did I spend a month of Sundays on Lt. Baker, or what?
But you get it now, my love for reading obituaries makes a little sense now, no? We learn so much from the lives lived through other experiences from our own -- we gain a sense of gratitude for people we do not know for what they did for you and me, who live in the greatest nation on the planet. This is just one man, named Vernon Joseph Baker -- a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, who played a small part in saving Europe in WWII, who's actions were not only brave (as in every man or woman who serve) but deserving of receiving the Medal of Honor. All this information gathered, from a man many of us would never have the pleasure of knowing otherwise -- until the day he died.
The thing is today, many of us sit knee deep in our own perspective, ranting about the ways America fails us, creating a wider gap between us over race relations, when in reality we can find all around us so many ways we can be joyful, recognizing how far we have come.
Of all times, you would think this would be it -- a time to lay down the anguish of times past, of the reprehensible behavior of generations of hatred and divide that has come before us -- you would think with the first African-American president sitting in the highest office in the land that this reality would immediately change the conversation for the better, and create real avenues for dialogue between all people, of all race and ethnicity. The irony, in that it seems to be getting worse...
President Obama -- our first Africa-American president -- is getting everything he ever wanted for America for he is in THE position to fundamentally transform her from the inside out. Polls tell us that the people are not all together pleased with the direction, a majority do not like the policy, even though most of us would agree that we very much like the man himself. Even so, this is what the man in charge has accomplished in his first 18 months:
- creating the most aggressive national health care plan, in order to cover the 30 million uninsured, transforming every aspect of how we cure our ills forever
- turning Wall Street upside down and inside out with a vengeance to set them straight -- and hardly correcting the root of the problem
- allowing the federal government to take over private industry, like in GM and AIG
- giving the EPA more control over carbon footprints and regulation than any time before, sidestepping Congress to create lawful legislation first.
- promising in the stimulus package unemployment would not get over 8%...spending our good hard earned money in short term fixes that the fed can no longer afford
- increasing budget deficits to 1.4 Trillion dollars -- to pay for the underprivileged, unemployed, uninsured, and any other entitlement deemed necessary...and growing by the nano-second.
- placing a moratorium on oil drilling that experts say will do more economic damage than the spill itself -- losing 8,000 jobs in the Gulf, $500 Million in lost wages, and trickle down devastation in every little town along the gulf and beyond
- having enough audacity left over to sue the State of Arizona, over a federal law that he has no intention of fully enforcing.
- oh yeah, and organizing a Department of Justice with new rules and policy -- not to pursue any lawsuit mounting a complaint where "the white man is suing against the black man" -- don't take my word for it, it all started with a former DOJ attorney, Christian Adams, who stated just that
- and remains a president still speechless after the NAACP labeled Tea Party Activists a nothing but a bunch of racists...
- but never hesitated a moment, jumped rather quickly to making a conclusion, as a white police officer acted "stupidly" towards a black professor...but that was so long ago, and everybody had a good laugh and a beer over it in the end...all's well that ends well
- and just today there was this.
Racism is wrong no matter where the inception -- white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian -- all of us have a duty to treat all people fairly and with respect.
The most powerful black man in the world is in a position of advancing the troops, carving out new leaps and bounds in the well worn, chartered footprints upon the rugged hillside of race relations -- requiring actions of not the everyday brand of bravery, but that which may require going above and beyond the call of duty, and just maybe outside the comfort zone. Perhaps, Obama wasn't the best choice for the task, and just maybe he is -- but time will tell us everything we need to know, won't it.
Time is of the essence, we only have one life to live -- and collectively, historians will look back on these days, on the precipice of fundamentally transforming the racial divide with a brand new world within this presidency...
Hopefully, they will see something really good come out of these war weary days, while if we are anything like Lt. Baker, our response might be rather humble and endearing, for we would say all together in unison, "I never thought about getting it" -- for it was never about getting the award, it was always about doing the right thing - -and just about finding a way to live together in perfect harmony. Isn't that what we all want?
Make it a Good Day, G
if you played your song of the day by clicking on Dear America, you would be in the company of the many colors of our military blowing off some steam, dancing to Lady Gaga -- just singing and dancing, working it out, singing and dancing ...with acts of bravery falling in line somewhere, by someone, some who we do not know, but wish we could tell them thank you.