George Floyd was murdered.
That’s how the first draft of this column started. I was going to write about this nation’s habitual oppression of its minority citizens, particularly African-Americans once they were liberated from slavery following the Civil War 155 years ago. We won’t even address what they endured the 250 years before that.
I was going to write about how Floyd said, “I can’t breathe” 16 times in five minutes before he died. How he repeatedly said please. How, in his distress, he called out for “mama;” a woman who died years ago.
I was going to write about how now former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Michael Chauvin, 44, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, taunted Floyd while bystanders screamed “He’s dying.”
I was going to write about how it’s wrong to loot and burn somebody else’s public or private property and the violence is detracting from the goal of the protests.
How brave and original of me.
The late great sportswriter Red Smith famously said, “Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” I’m going to need a tourniquet.
My father and I had a complicated, sometimes violent, sometimes beautiful, always contentious love-hate relationship.
I hated his racist views and loved everything else about him. His courage. His humor. His patriotism. His wisdom. Of his six children, I was the outlier. I was the one who would talk back. Be disrespectful. I never questioned his authority. He was the boss. I questioned his attitudes about African-Americans.
He was no white supremacist. I don’t think he liked many white people, either. But we went round and round over the issue of race.
We were an Army family and the Army is the most integrated institution in America. I couldn’t understand his biases. He served with blacks. He fought the enemy with them. He led them. They were devoted to him. I saw it with my own eyes.
Being an Army family, we spent years overseas and didn’t grow up with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents around. So I didn’t really understand what happened to my father until I got to really know his parents and my great uncles. Holy cow. Those Kansans used the N word like people use the F word today.
My God, I thought. Dad’s a champion of civil rights compared to these people. As a young father visiting these relatives as they neared the end of their lives, an aunt recounted how she sat next to a famous African-American athlete on her flight from Florida to Las Vegas.
“Wow. That must have been exciting,” said my bride.
“He smelled just like a …” was her response. All the old folks chuckled except Grandpa, who had no idea he even had company.
I gathered up the kids and we left without saying a word, because I couldn’t trust myself. That was the last straw. That was the day I quit sitting silent when someone told a racist joke, or made a crude racist comment, or nonchalantly used the N word. I would lose a couple of friends and earn the scorn of the older folks, but I no longer felt like a hypocrite.
I’ll turn 60 next month. I’ll be five years older than my father was when he died.
I still feel like a small boy in his shadow. Like a lot of guys, I don’t think I’m half the man my father was and I miss him terribly. He called me a Bolshevik. He told me I would change my views when I got older. On that, he was wrong.
I don’t know when police will stop killing unarmed black men. I don’t know when we will quit screwing blacks over in more subtle ways, such as using them to fill private prisons, job, housing, health care, and lending discrimination. And by the way, this notion that if you criticize one cop you’re against all cops is ludicrous. You don’t hate the whole team just because the bad-tempered cornerback picked up a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
What I do know is more white people, especially us Boomers, need to search our souls, confront our pasts, and acknowledge our influences were not always based on truth or human decency.
An honest conversation will not be pleasant, but it must be had. It should have been had decades ago.