When I was young, the city where I was living, Johnstown, PA, was highly racially segregated. I went to school with black kids, and some of them were my friends, but after school, I went to my home in a white neighborhood, and they went home to one of the city’s black neighborhoods. I didn’t understand why we lived apart, but it was a situation that we all had to accept.
Once when I was out with a group of boys, I had to stop by my house for a purpose that I no longer remember. What I do remember is that I invited the other kids in the group to enter the house, and all of them did but one. The only black kid in the group wouldn’t say why he stayed out on the front porch and refused to enter, but I suspect that his parents had taught him never to go into the house of a white person.
I don’t know if Johnstown housing is still racially segregated, because I so seldom go back there anymore. I lived for less than a year in Atlantic City in the 1950s, and it was also very racially segregated. Blacks lived north of Atlantic Avenue, and whites lived south of it, between Atlantic Avenue and the beach.
In my late teens and early 20s, until I was 22, I lived in Chicago, and again, housing was segregated. On the North Side, the black neighborhood ended at about Northern Avenue, and north of that only whites lived. Jobs were also segregated. Blacks worked at manual labor and in warehouses. Whites occupied all of the skilled jobs. I worked for AT&T, and I remember when our office hired its first black electronic technician. My fellow technicians would talk about him behind his back. Although they never said anything negative about him to his face, when he wasn’t around they made it clear that they were not happy to be working with a young black man.
When I moved to Phoenix in my mid-20s in the 1960s, housing was also segregated here. The student movements of the 60s changed that. Now I live on a street with people representing several ethnic groups. Some of my neighbors are black, many are Hispanic, two families are Filipino, and so on. It’s easy for me, sitting in my house on my two-block-long residential street, to think that the days of racism are over. But apparently they are not.
I see in the news videos of police shooting unarmed black men, and I think “Thank God that doesn’t happen here.” I also see large demonstrations of black people protesting what they believe is maltreatment by white authorities, and it makes me stop and think. It appears that we are not living in a post-racial society after all, as I used to think. Then I see large demonstrations of Hispanics here in Phoenix made up of people who believe that they are also not given a fair shake because of their brown skin.
It’s not only in confrontations with the police that racism seems to rear its head. The citizens of Flint, Michigan, largely black, apparently have been drinking sub-standard water for decades before the current crisis caused by the highly-elevated levels of lead in the water became public. I don’t know if they were neglected because they were black or if it’s because they are poor. It may be a combination of both factors.
OK, racism is alive in other places, but surely not here in Phoenix! If I spent the rest of my life on my street and didn’t look around the broader community, I might believe that.
Metropolitan Phoenix is also segregated. Those of us white people who live in the city proper are mostly blind to race. However, those white people who do have strong racial prejudices move to the lily-white suburbs to get away from the ethnic diversity that some of us believe makes life richer. One of the people who lived across the street from me sold his house and moved, “because there are getting to be too many Mexicans on the street.” A person who lives a few blocks from me and with whom I used to work at Motorola told me much the same thing a few days ago. He’s leaving, because there are too many Mexicans in the neighborhood.
This is difficult for me to understand. This neighborhood is definitely gentrifying even as it becomes more ethnically diverse. It’s a better neighborhood that it was when it was predominately white. The white family that used to live next to me dealt drugs out of the house. They are now gone, the house has been remodeled, and a young couple who had recently moved from Europe bought it. In the street in front of the house of the corner, there was a nighttime gun battle just a few years ago after a party went out of control. The man who lives in the house now is an executive who makes real estate loans. He was born in Mexico City and is an almost ideal neighbor.
Some of my cycling buddies have turned out to be quiet racists. One of them, who lives in the white, well-to-do suburb of Fountain Hills told me that he is backing Donald Trump “because he says the things that the rest of us think but are afraid to say.” By that he meant specifically Trump’s remarks about Mexicans and Muslims. I suspect that many Trump supporters harbor racist feelings, even if they seldom express them in public discourse.
My sister lives in the almost entirely white retirement community of Sun City. I am amazed when I go out there at the anti-Mexican remarks that I hear. People in Sun City idealize our psychopath Sheriff Joe Arpaio for what they perceive as his anti-Hispanic stance.
I’ve finally come to realize that racism is still alive and well in the USA. There is a silver lining to every black cloud, however. The anti-Hispanic sentiment in many Phoenix suburbs has provided me material for my latest novel, “Running for President,” which goes on sale on Amazon March 23. You can view the pre-order information by clicking on the image of the book’s cover in the left sidebar. In the meantime, I am going over the manuscript hunting for typos to correct.