GENE OWENS: Just like they said...
I’ve been traveling through time for quite a few years now, and so I’ve had the advantage of comparing the prophecies of yesterday with the realities of today.
And it only takes a brief stroll through any neighborhood or shopping mall or an hour spent in front of any television set to demonstrate that, by golly, they were right back in 1954.
That’s when you frequently heard the term “amalgamation of the races” and even “mongrelization of the races” to describe the worst possible effects of desegregation in the public schools.
Nobody mentioned hybrid vigor back then. Any crossing of bloodlines in the human family was abhorred as a descent from the purebred to the mongrel. And the color line had to be maintained at all cost – at least in the minds of the die-hards.
If you let black kids go to school with white kids, so the reasoning went, pretty soon the kids would be playing with each other, then dating each other, then (gasp) marrying each other. In time, the United States would become a nation of brown-skinned people, like Brazil.
Not only that, but if blacks could force their way into our public schools, pretty soon they were going to demand to swim in public pools, stay overnight in hotels under the same roof with whites, and in beds that whites had slept in and would sleep in again.
Some day, some uppity black might even try to be president.
Some of us said “Nonsense. White kids aren’t going to be attracted to black kids.” A few said, “So what if they do? It won’t be the end of the world.”
Well, they did and it wasn’t, but the world sure has changed.
Soon black people were moving into all sorts of areas formerly reserved for whites.
Droves of black athletes have followed in Jackie Robinson’s footsteps. Major league baseball is peppered with dark-skinned athletes, both home-grown and imported from Latin America. Take black athletes out of the NFL and the league will be a pale image of itself. Remove African-Americans from the basketball rosters and you lose the sport’s dominant performers.
When I attended the University of Georgia in the mid-’50s, the governor forbade Georgia Tech to play in the Sugar Bowl against Pittsburgh because Pitt had a black player on its squad. Who would have thought that 30 years later both Tech and Georgia would be recruiting black athletes and that the most celebrated football player in Bulldog history would be a black man named Herschel Walker?
Who would have thought that a black basketball player would graduate from Auburn University and become a top-level pro? Who would have thought he could marry a beautiful blonde and remain popular in his home state? Who would have thought he could talk seriously about running for governor of Alabama? Well, Charles Barkley did.
I remember an episode in Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-in,” either in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. One of the hosts kissed a black guest lightly on the cheek and remarked, “There goes Mississippi.”
I don’t know whether the channels changed en masse down in William Faulkner country, but nowadays interracial kisses are common in movies and on TV and nobody thinks much of it. Halle Berry has an interracial beauty that appeals to people across the spectrum. Denzel Washington can portray a Washington Post reporter opposite Julia Roberts, and nobody thinks twice about it. Morgan Freeman can narrate a science program, and nobody questions his intellectual qualifications. Television commercials nowadays seem to take pains to use Anglos, Latinos, African-Americans and Asians to sell their products to a multi-racial audience.
I remember listening to a lovely black singer on television during the ‘60s and hearing one of my in-laws remark: “Listen to that n---- sing!” And my little daughter, the voice of the new generation, responding, “She’s not a n-----; she’s a lady.”
As for those mixed-race children who were supposed to taint the national gene pool, we now have one sitting in the Oval Office, and while he has been the target of invective – much of it with racial overtones – the electorate rewarded him with a second term.
I remember once during the ‘60s when a co-worker and I were discussing a judicial challenge to Virginia’s law barring interracial marriage. My friend asked: “How would you feel if your son married a Negro?”
My response: “Not nearly as bad as I’d feel if the state told him he couldn’t marry one.”
My son was a pre-teen at the time, but he did eventually marry an African-American. We got along fine, and no crosses were burned.
The United States is certainly browner than it was when I was a youth. Ethnically, it has come to resemble Brazil more closely. About a third of the national population is non-white, and that percentage is expected to grow until, by mid-century, whites will be the largest of several minority groups. Today’s Brazilian population is 54 percent white, with 39 percent being of mixed race and 7 percent being black.
With global boundaries becoming increasingly porous, the trend toward mixed-race populations is likely to continue. Globally, dark-skinned peoples outnumber light-skinned peoples by a margin of about 5 to 2. South of us lies Central America, with more than 140 million brown-skinned people, many of them yearning for a taste of Yankee prosperity. The Caribbean holds 35 million more.
Every time the United States fights a foreign war, it opens its doors to immigrants from the lands where its soldiers fought.
The hope that the United States can continue to be the land of the free and the home of the white seems a bit forlorn.
On the other hand, the land of the free and the home of Halle Berry doesn’t seem so bad to me.
Readers may write Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@AOL.com. For more of Gene’s writing, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.