Showing posts with label Dust Bowl. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dust Bowl. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Reparations for descendants of oppressed people: Count me in!

A special California task force has recommended giving Black Californians about $800 billion in reparations in compensation for the exploitation their enslaved ancestors suffered. Some people say this is a bad idea. After all, California never permitted slavery, and many African Americans came to California long after the Civil War to pursue opportunities in the California defense industry during World War II. California has a good record of treating African Americans fairly, and some people wonder why the state would consider reparations.

I'm in favor of the California reparation plan, and I hope every African American in the Golden State gets at least a million dollars. In fact, I think every American whose ancestors were exploited in any way should get a cash settlement.

However, I don't think I personally should have to pay reparations to anybody. Jonah Fossey, my great-grandfather, immigrated with his family from England in the 1880s and landed in Halifax, Canada. Later he settled in eastern Kansas. No Fossey ever owned a slave. You can't pin that rap on the Fosseys.

This seems like a good time to make my own claim for reparations based on the exploitation my ancestors experienced over the past 100 years or so. First, some of my immediate family lived in northwestern Oklahoma in the heart of the Dust Bowl. If you've seen The Grapes of Wrath, directed by John Ford, you know that the Dust Bowl farmers were exploited by banks and big money interests. Many were forced to migrate to California, where they suffered severe discrimination. In fact, the California Highway Patrol set up roadblocks at the state border to prevent Okie refugees from entering.

California discriminated against my Dust Bowl ancestors, and I demand reparations. I'm talking about the high six figures. 

I telephoned Governor Newsom about this matter. (I'm on his speed dial, and he always takes my calls.) Gav agreed that the Okies were victims of vicious discrimination and promised to send me a check and a complimentary gift card for the French Laundry restaurant.

Second, there's that little matter of my father's incarceration in a Japanese concentration camp during World War Two. My father suffered severe PTSD from that experience, and the nation of Japan owes my family hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. And let's not forget that the United States military was negligent in not preparing for the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, where my father was stationed when he was captured. So the US government owes us some money as well.

Let's see now--what other grievances do I have? Oh yes. I'm a Catholic, and Catholics have been severely discriminated against in the United States since colonial times. Historically, the most virulent anti-Catholic bigots were concentrated in New England, and I have a big-time claim as a Catholic against the Bay State.

So let's get this reparations program rolling. I'm setting up a Panamanian bank account where the federal, Massachusetts and Japanese governments can wire my reparations checks. I would like my funds designated as a tort settlement so I won't have to pay taxes on the money.

California owes me big time!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Not all white people live in a "place of privilege": Minneapolis City Council wants to dismantle the police department

Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma.  Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you're scum.
John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath 

Last month, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to dismantle the municipal police force and replace it with an agency that will address crime more holistically. I take it that means more social workers and fewer guns.

Although the city council wants to deny police protection to the citizens of Minneapolis, some officials still want it for themselves. The city hired a private security firm to protect three council members at the cost of $4,500 a day. In other words, security for me but not for thee.

A CNN reporter asked Lisa Bender, president of the Minneapolis City Council, what people are supposed to do if their homes are being burglarized. "What if in the middle of the night my home is broken into," the reporter asked. "Who do I call?" 

Bender basically said the police aren't necessary to deal with a home invasion because if you're calling 911 to report a burglary, you're coming from a "place of privilege."  By privilege, I think Bender meant white privilege. 

If I follow her reasoning aright, Bender is basically arguing that white people don't deserve police protection from theft because they (or perhaps their ancestors) benefited unfairly from our society's structural racism.

But of course, that's bullshit. 

As far as I know, my family hasn't exploited anybody. My great grandfather on my father's side worked in a brick factory in England. Sometime in the 1880s, he immigrated to Canada with his wife and children and finally wound up in Kansas. No slaves on that side of my family.

My mother's people emigrated from Germany before the American Revolution. They settled in Pennsylvania, and several of my ancestors fought in George Washington's army. No slaves or racial exploitation on the German side of my family.

Even if you buy the tortured argument that my ancestors engaged in racial exploitation simply because they were white beneficiaries of a racist society, they certainly paid for that sin. Both sets of my grandparents lived in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and suffered greatly. 

Although my immediate ancestors did not migrate to California during the 1930s, many of their relatives and acquaintances did. Much like today's Mexican immigrants, Oklahomans uprooted themselves and headed to the Golden State in search of a better way of life.

And when they rolled up to the California border in their broken-down cars, the state police would not let them enter. These economic refugees were referred to as Okies--a term almost as derogatory as the N-word.

Think of that: Today's California politicians want to abolish all immigration laws and allow anyone to enter the country--even criminals. But in the 1930s, the Californians denied entrance to American citizens who just wanted to work and feed their families.

American history is tainted with systemic racism to be sure. Africans were enslaved in the South, Chinese workers were abused in the West, and the Irish were exploited in the East. And if you want to know how the Okies fared in 1930s California, view John Ford's great movie, The Grapes of Wrath

But today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we all deserve to be treated equally and with respect. And if someone breaks into our homes, don't we all deserve police protection?

Okies, keep out of California.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Growing up poor in western Oklahoma: The Kool-Aid years

My parents grew up in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. And when I say Dust Bowl, I'm not talking about the generic, dust-parched Midwest. 

I'm talking about THE Dust Bowl--the epicenter of an ecological disaster that struck the Texas panhandle, northwestern Oklahoma, and southeastern Colorado. Topsoil disappeared, wheat crops blew away, and cattle herds had nothing to eat.

More than 300,000 Oklahomans fled to California in the thirties, but my mother and father's families stayed put.  My mother went hungry from time to time. She saw her father's cattle shot by government agents who paid him a dollar per cow for the carcasses. 

The Depression went away when World War II started, but the war did not heal the Dust Bowl. As a child in the 1950s, I remember seeing sand dunes piled so high on the dirt road to my grandfather's farm that our family's 1950 Chevy could not get through.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, my family was still poor, as evidenced by the food we ate. My mother purchased margarine, never butter. We bought Miracle Whip because it was cheaper than mayonnaise, and we made grilled cheese sandwiches with Velveeta, not cheddar.

And we drank Kool-Aid for a treat--lots of Kool-Aid.  We favored a red flavor and mixed the powder with water and refined sugar. In those days, Kool-Aid only cost a nickel a packet. Hey, who needs Coca Cola?

Over time, my mother and father clawed their way into the middle class. My father had a government job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and his wages gradually crept up. He also farmed on the side and had a small lawngrass growing business.  He grew bermudagrass in a field at the Wichita Indian Agency, which he sold to people putting in new lawns. No one seemed to mind that he was running a private enterprise on federal property. 

But although we entered the middle class, my parents never got over the Great Depression. My mother's childhood was so seared by poverty that she remained convinced until the day she died that the next Depression was right around the corner. She was a modest food hoarder and had an impressive collection of vintage Jello boxes at the time of her death.

My father never went to the doctor. If he felt poorly, he treated himself from veterinarian supplies he kept on hand for his cattle.  He would cut off a piece of a three-inch-long bovine penicillin tablet and pop it into his mouth. 

As a youth, I scoffed at my parents' attitudes about money, their mystical belief in the value of hard work, and their deep disapproval of neighbors who lived more lavishly than they did. Who needs to drive a Mercury, they asked? After all, a Chevrolet is a perfectly respectable car. Who needs a color television when our Halicrafter black-and-white works just fine?

And now America faces another Great Depression.  Twenty-two million workers filed for unemployment over the past three weeks, and millions more will soon join them. And this time, when the bottom drops out from under our economy, we will be burdened with student loans, credit card debt, and 72-month car loans.

In short, we are going to suffer just like our parents and grandparents did in the 1930s. God grant us the grace to suffer in good spirits, to come to the aid of our family members and neighbors, and to keep our sense of humor.  We will be more cash-strapped in the years to come, but who knows? Life might be just as rich and satisfying even when there are no credit cards in our wallets.

Who needs Coca Cola?