by William “Duke” Smither
“We must challenge this statement and this sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the American people. This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.” William H. McRaven, Retired U.S. Navy 4-Star Admiral, 9th Commander U.S. Special Ops
From my childhood years, growing up during the waning years of ‘Old Jim Crow’ and desegregation in Kentucky, my mind is still filled with a bevy of shenanigans associated with the Civil Rights Movement, especially the ‘right to vote’, the wacky ‘poll tax’ hijinks, the racialized rumors, the distortions, as well as outright lies by frantic adults clinging to the last vestiges of ‘white privilege’, pseudo noblesse oblige and skin-tone pecking orders.
As a child you don’t fully understand such nutty behavior, at least, not right away. Mostly, you’d shrug it off, especially when the kids cross town you sneaked off to play sandlot football and baseball with happened to be the sons and grandsons of these ‘frantic adults’ and community leaders. Even with a few fisticuffs, mostly over disagreements about whatever game was being played at the time; race was a different matter.
Of course, in the late 1950’s, when desegregation was going full tilt, the whole world seemed a little unhinged, specifically many of the foul-mouth parents, “upstanding” members of the community and other so-called Christians, on the ‘other side’ of town.
On the other hand, though you didn’t hear about it much, there were quite a few whites who were not so foul-mouthed and obnoxious; some were actually the parents of the kids you played sandlot ball against, albeit, some struggling for a newfound sense of humanity or their own political sense of self.
Others, like a few white teachers and coaches, although struggling too, seemed already injected with some profound sense of awareness that our nation was at the crossroads of history and rediscovery, again; perhaps, to them, it was an opportunity to help America finally live up to its professed democratic ideals. This included the Honorable “Bert” T. Combs, the “no-nonsense” Governor of Kentucky, a true leader, during my final years of high school. At our 50th high school reunion, I expressed as much to his daughter, Lois (Combs-Weinberg), a former classmate.
Looking back, over the years, I’ve been able to make some sense out of the nonsense, ruthless and inhumane ways this nation has treated its own citizenry… at least, that’s what I’ve told myself, when looking back on those zany times of growing up on the cusp of chaos and craziness! To be certain, there have been other times, I’ve simply asked myself: well… are we there, yet?
After all, as I was taught, aren’t we all some “part cousin”? But, good character, like the makeup of Governor Combs’, and many others I’ve known, civilian and military, is important in such a pluralistic society such as ours. At the moment, we’re at a crucial time in electing another leader for this nation. With hope, the current political process will ultimately be void of the vitriolic discourse and illogical thinking, seemingly everywhere. Hopefully, the negativity wanes.
The Blood We Bled
Over the years, various studies and clinicians have put forth the idea that children born into, or raised during, the segregation years were likely ‘negatively’ impacted in many ways, social, economic, and psychological. While I won’t go into it all, here, I can attest that there were many positive means of coping, too. The family and community support, as well as the church, the black worship experience, was very important.
My appreciation for such support began to unfold while first attending desegregated high school classrooms, as well as playing football and running track in front of a few not-so-always-friendly crowds. Later, after joining the U.S. Navy, following high school in 1961, I understood it even more. That’s when I finally felt the ‘playing fields’ were just beginning to level. That’s also when most of the somewhat spirited “conversations” about race began to take place. It was vital, then; painful, yet crucial. There were times I actually believed that, for a few folk, it was something of a ‘come-to-Jesus moment’ when they learned that the blood we all bled happened to be red!
Through it all, I still recall my mother’s oft-repeated and reassuring words, as if she was alive, today: “you can do most anything you put your mind and soul to…,” and “enough is enough and too much is plenty!” But, most of all, I remember her challenge: “Always think for yourself, don’t be following the crowds.” It stuck with me the most; it’s the one I probably made a point of the most, to our own kids, and now their kids, as well. But, “enough is enough and too much is plenty” is on my mind, today.
C’mon Man, ‘Enemy of the People’?
Frankly, amid the current noisy refrains having to do with ‘fake news’, ‘lying eyes’, ‘build that wall’, ‘I know more than the generals’, ‘I alone can fix it’, ‘when Mexico sends its people…’ and, incredulously, ‘done more for Black Americans than anybody…!’, I’ve been thinking for quite a while that it’s past time to vote in 2020! Perhaps, as long as the inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Maybe February (2017) as well, when the Washington Post first made me aware of the ‘tweet’ assault on the journalism profession, with the comment about the news media being the ‘enemy of the American people’ (“Trump calls the media ‘the enemy of the American People’,” by Jenna Johnson and Matea Gold, West Palm Beach, Fla. February 17, 2017).
Yet, as a veteran (Viet Nam Era; Cuban Missile Crisis), I’ll never forget the Russia-related events swirling around the awkward 2018 “Trump-Putin summit” in Helsinki, Finland, and many other incidents and/or inappropriate remarks about the U.S. military or veterans, up to and including this month’s recent disparaging remarks, allegedly reported by the Atlantic Magazine, concerning “…Americans who died in war being ‘losers’ or ‘suckers’.” One of my sons is also a veteran (US Marine Corp) and I didn’t have to ask him how he felt. Others, too, family and friends alike, feel the same: It’s time to vote!
In a sense, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, is ‘already here’… not to mention that U.S. Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths have just climbed beyond 192,000, with no clear end in sight! Even still, don’t forget to vote…