Category Archives: bigotry

Racism in Texas

I wanted to write about race after watching Shelby Steele on Bill Moyers’ Journal. He impressed me with his take on the subject. Paraphrasing; he said that neither blacks or whites are honest with one another. As a white guy who burns easily I took that as a challenge, so here I am being honest.

The problem, Steele said, is that “we mistakenly defined inequality in America as racism and injustice when it was in fact underdevelopment.” I couldn’t agree more.

Steele went on to describe how blacks like Obama must put on a mask, giving the white man the benefit of the doubt. Obama, who comes from a mixed marriage, assumes that not every white man is racist. Other black Americans feel slighted by this attitude. Black leaders like Al Sharpton come from the opposite point of view.

Racism in Texas

When I was thirteen and just starting to question my father about racism, he did a smart thing. He said, “If I was a black man in the 1950’s I would have taken a shotgun and killed every white man I could find.” It was a powerful statement. He left it hanging. He didn’t explain it. Why? What happened? It had the desired effect. The next weekend I went to the library to find out for myself about white men in the ‘50’s.

I’d like to say I spent the next few weeks reading about the atrocities committed against the black man in this country. I got the general idea after just a few hours and my real education on the subject wasn’t until many years later. At the time I couldn’t get past the pictures. I returned to my father and we shared the notion that black men in the ‘50’s displayed incredible restraint or a remarkable lack of firearms. Either way, my new reality stuck.

Texas Municipal League (TML)

Texas has 254 counties and I’m not sure how many small towns. The 2002 census puts the Texas population just over 21 million. Population of the major metropolitan areas (Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso) is around 15 million. That leaves 6 million rural Texans.

By the 1970’s most of the large municipalities had enough money to self insure. The rest of Texas was relegated to private insurance. Premiums were much higher for the hundreds of smaller counties and municipalities that were struggling to survive. My father, along with a cadre of other good liberals, help to create the Texas Municipal League; a self insurance fund. By pooling premiums, small municipalities could self insure each other. For the first time small towns and counties of Texas had a much cheaper insurance alternative. For many of them, it was the first time they even had insurance.

My father went on to become chief counsel and main lobbyist for TML, giving me an unique insight into Texas and racism.

In 1974 I was thirteen when my father took me to Bastrop (just south of Austin) for a workers’ compensation lawsuit. He represented a black man who had been hurt on the job when a flat bed pick-up had lost its brakes, rolled down a small incline, and pulverizing his legs between the bumper and a brick wall. He couldn’t walk after that, but he didn’t lose his legs. By Texas law if he had lost both legs he would been eligible to receive more benefits. The trial was straightforward. Medical testimony clearly demonstrated total loss of use of his legs. He would never walk again. Over 20 men saw the accident, and the jury came back with nothing. He was a black man in Bastrop country. He was shit out of luck.

[ The good news is the appellate court later overturned the verdict and the man eventually got his money. ]

It was my first direct encounter with real racism. Assholes. Obviously I had heard schoolmates say the n-word and even seen a few adults use the epithet in hate filled rants. But those instances were rare and had no consequence. This verdict hurt. This was real racism.

TML came on-line full force in the 1980’s, and I saw first hand what that meant. I can’t write about specific cases that would come across my father’s desk. Even though he has since passed, as an employee in his law firm I am bound by the same confidentiality my father was. So, hypothetically:

Let’s say an ambulance driver in B.F. Texas decides he hates blacks so much he isn’t going to offer service to ‘that part of town’ anymore. (Most small town and country ambulance service was provided on a contract basis by individuals.) Inevitably, a lawsuit would arise. “My husband was dying; why didn’t the ambulance come?” Juries began awarding large sums of TML insurance money to those that suffered at the hands of this kind of racism.

What was TML’s response? They did what any other insurance carrier would do. They told the counties or town that they were raising their rates. When the country commissioners realized they were paying 400 k a year for an ambulance that didn’t pick up blacks they fired him and the insurance rates went back down.

Same thing happened to those racist cops that filled rural Texas. Traditionally Sheriff cracker Billy-Bob redneck would go about his job kicking the shit out of blacks just to “keep them in their place.” And then something unusual began happening. Inevitably the Sheriff would be sued for violating someone’s civil rights. Juries began returning huge monetary awards for the victims. County Commissioners were surprised to see their rate rise back to pre-1970’s levels. They were losing large money by employing racist cops.

They were not quick to change. Small counties and towns were still run by Billy-Bob redneck’s brother, the Sheriff, and they weren’t going to let some insurance company tell them how to treat their ‘nigras.’ Eventually they almost always came back to TML (after firing the Sheriff.) Money seems to make its own morality.

It was the jury awards that spurred the change. Racism had changed in Texas. It may have still been acceptable to deny monetary recompense in civil cases, but direct violence was regarded as out-of-line. Cops couldn’t just go kick the crap out of blacks, just because. Law officers responded the only way they could, they began a DWB.(Driving While Black) harassment policy, but that’s another story.

Big City Racism v. Rural Racism

When a big city cop kills anyone there are repercussions. The black community rightfully protects their own and raises a stink. Jury awards for civil rights violations in cities are much higher than in rural Texas. The big cities had to fall in line quickly. Racism could never be policy in Houston so many cops went underground with it. And still, juries continued to level huge awards against racist cops when they were exposed. The no racism policy was forced to be proactive. Racism wasn’t to be tolerated. (But only because of the loss of money.)

I think it’s important to define what kind of racists there are. Not all racist are the same. Clearly visible on the far right is the KKK. I’d like to refer to these “Christians” as 1st class racists. I have a hard time convincing myself to mow the lawn. These knuckleheads actually hate enough to be proactive about their racism. These guys hate so much they feel inspired to join a club so they can hate in peace. You don’t see that too much in the major metro areas.

The Spectrum of Racism

1st Class racists can be defined as the ones that endorse lynchings. You don’t have to go further than the Texas Minutemen along the border to find these knuckleheads. Currently the lynchers seem more proactive against the Mexicans.

The KKK still exists in rural Texas. Six Klan members showed up in Austin to protest a few years back. Three thousand Austinites showed up to protest that protest. Racism is still alive and well, but the bulk of the Billy-bob rednecks have been relegated to rural Texas. Big city racism is a different animal.

2nd Class racist seems more confined to the belligerent Billy Bob rednecks. I have no doubt they hate blacks, Mexicans and gays, but if they find their way into a jury they have reservations about direct violence. – thus the huge civil awards.

3rd Class racist – there is no third class. There may be a huge population of Texans that don’t like African Americans but they understand the difference between disdain and hate. The racist moniker is too heavy to carry. Haters on a jury are likely to award recompense against unfair hiring policies or outright racism. He/she wouldn’t want to be identified as racist in front of the other jury members, and more often than not, being treated unfairly can happen to anyone. Haters are often the victim of unfair hiring practices. No one likes them.

And then you have the rest of us. The ones that are most upset when we can’t find the remote. The ones that find it hard to show up at work on time. The non-haters. Those that believe in equality. Which leads me to this story.

Accused of racism

Me? A racist? I was dumbstruck.

It was almost exactly ten years ago. I was walking my dog thru my mostly upper middle class neighborhood here in Austin. It was mid-July, well over 100 degrees. The only people I had seen were those passing me in their air conditioned cars.

The accusation came swift and pronounced. A black man who had been raking leaves walked deliberately up to me and my dog, yelling in full passion. “You racist mother f*cker! You racist mother f*cker!” A lot of what he said, he said twice. “What are you afraid of!?! What are you afraid of?!?”

“What?”

“I’m just a man. A working man! Did you think I was gonna’ rob ya? I’m a workin’ man! I’m a workin’ man!”

“What?”

“What? Is that all you have to say? You won’t even walk on the same side of the street as a black man? What? What mother f*cker?”

The man went on to describe my f*cked up values and then told me to f*ck off before he went back to work on his lawn.

As I sulked away I realized that I had indeed crossed the street when I reached his lawn. No wonder he got pissed off. I had walked up to his lawn, took a 90 degree turn, crossed the street, and then crossed back when I passed his house.
What the guy didn’t know: I was f*cked out of my mind. A musician friend of mine was staying with me and had introduced me to some super powerful Willie weed and his fresh supply of Psilocybin – (Magic Mushrooms). I was tripping balls. There was an unusual water sprinkler in the yard across the street. At the time, I had it in my mind that that sprinkler was, in fact, a monkey. The thin black hose retreating from the sprinkler was a rope that kept that monkey in the yard. You can’t pass up a lawn monkey. I had pulled my dog in tight because I didn’t want her to get bit. When I saw that the monkey was a sprinkler I walked back across the street, embarrassed from the mistake.

Looking back on it, I can’t blame the guy. He came from the ‘don’t trust whitey’ school of thought. His racism radar didn’t have to be fully operational to interpret my behavior as something unusual.

Be careful what you look for; that’s who you are

If you’re looking for racism, it’s out there. It’s not difficult to find. If you believe that whitey is looking to hurt you, that’s what you’ll find. If you are a cracker barrel, Billy-Bob redneck, and you spend your time hating African Americans, I have little doubt you will be able to find some black guy acting the fool or breaking the law, justifying your hate. If you hate homosexuals it’s not difficult to find a gay guy doing something outrageous; justification achieved.

Conversely,

Just because you’re black doesn’t mean you can’t be an asshole. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t be a jerk. Being white doesn’t automatically mean you’re a rich asshole. – most of the time. You don’t have to be black to be livin’ like a slave. You just have to be poor.

Racism today is more like the racism from R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the movie Full Metal Jacket.

Sergeant Hartman: “There is no racial bigotry here. We do not look down on niggers, kikes, wop or greasers, because here you are all equally worthless. Do you understand?”

Racism has been downgraded to hate and relegated to a wide open swath. It’s less about racism and more about hate.

And we all know that hate for hate sake is just stupid. He hates those cans!

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