There’s been a lot in the news about Professor Gates and Officer Crowley lately. Even President Obama got into the act, saying the officer acted “stupidly”, and inviting them both to the White House for a beer. The news media has hyped this small incident up into a fever. Was Officer Crowley unfair to Gates because he was black, or did Professor Gates ramp up the encounter as an “educational tool”?
Being raised in a small Indiana town, I had absolutely no contact with any blacks as a child. My first experience around them was in Basic Training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Two black soldiers stick out in my mind. The first was Private Corley, a sharp, athletic young man from Chicago. He excelled at everything we did and came out as the top soldier in my company. Everyone liked him. Then there was Private Armour, also from Chicago. He was a big, overweight, dim witted guy who hated whites and the Army. He was finally hauled off to the stockade for having smuggled a fifth of whiskey into his locker.
My first military assignment was to work in Post Headquarters at Fort Knox, during the height of the Vietnam War. There were a lot of brass working in that office building, but I don’t remember one black person of any rank working there. Perhaps that was racial profiling in itself.
My next assignment was to work in an espionage unit headquartered in Augsburg, Germany, during the Cold War. One of the men working in my office was a black man from New Jersey (I think), whose name was John. He was educated and his father was serving as a State Senator back home. We became good friends. Back then, the common white term for blacks was “colored”. Whenever anyone would refer to a “colored man”, he would interrupt and ask “What color”? And he pressed the issue until the offender backed down. He insisted we use the term “black”. My respect for black people as equals came from my experience with him and Private Corley. I think too many of us stereo-type all blacks as Private Armours.
What is your personal experience with someone of another race?