· Left or Right? ·
I grew up in a white, suburban neighborhood of Chicago. People in my community, Skokie, were predominately of the Jewish faith. On Jewish holidays at school I would join two or three other students in our nearly empty classrooms. Because of my religion, I was a minority.
I had many Jewish friends including Steve Boren. Les Nagai, was Japanese American; Harvey Look was Chinese American. I never thought of any of them as hyphenated friends; we were just buddies.
When my family would go downtown to a White Sox baseball game, a Bears football game, the Field Museum, or the Museum of Science and Industry, I was amazed at the hustle and bustle of the city and of the diversity of people. On these excursions I was swallowed up by a range of races and cultures. I was a foreigner from the suburbs in a big city, a strange land.
In the mid-60s while in a record album store in Old Town, Chicago, I met Muhammad Ali and got his autograph. He amazed me with his talent and outspokenness. During this era of controversy over the war in Vietnam, he cited his Muslim religion as a reason to avoid military service.
In high school I struggled academically. I felt stupid. I was on the track team my freshman year but I wasn’t fast enough. If I couldn’t be invincible then I wanted to be invisible. I found another group so I could feel accepted.
College provided me a new chapter in my life. I learned how to learn, became academically successful, and thrived. It felt like our college basketball team brought everyone on campus together. The star athletes were mostly African American. We cheered and celebrated for our athletes, our team, our school.
During my college career, during the 60s and 70s, I was drawn to the counter-culture. My long hair and distrust of our government was personal and political. It was tribe versus tribe—tribal warfare.
Travel allowed me to meet more diverse people. One summer in England, I worked on an archeological dig and met Sean McArdle in Winchester. We’re still friends; we discuss our lives and our world with all its similarities and differences. Today I’m comfortable with who I am.
I hitchhiked a lot during my college days. One summer I set off for Columbia, South America.
Meeting people in Mexico and Central America was an enlightening experience. It was humbling to be immersed in the language and customs of another culture. Because of that trip south of the border, I will forever respect the challenges of immigrants. I felt what it was like to be vulnerable despite my white American status. I was a foreigner. I was a minority.
I graduated college with teaching credentials so I could help improve the world.
I worked for a year as a (VISTA) volunteer in a Georgia prison. I learned that institutional change is a tough nut to crack. I met a cross-section of people in the southern culture. I was a northerner, a foreigner, a minority.
In Hutchinson, Kansas, I became a teacher in the state prison’s education department. My students were inmates. My supervisor was Raymond Martinez, Hispanic. Our department’s paraprofessional was Paul Roberts, African American. Our students were a blend of ethnicities and races.
I grew up watching TV shows that mostly represented white society. In an era of many westerns, the Lone Ranger was my favorite. He was always fighting injustice in the Wild West. I wanted to right wrongs the way he did.
As an adult I applied to become a deputy sheriff for the Reno County Sheriff’s Office. I believed I could help make the community safer and I dared to think that my personal standards and experiences, including my education, could upgrade the law enforcement agency.
I believed in accountability for the cops and the criminals. The later should be caught, punished with time for their crime, and given the opportunity for an education and job training.
My exploration into law enforcement wasn’t just about locking people up. I’d seen plenty of images of police brutality on TV during the mid-60s—the Civil Rights era. I wanted to help correct injustices from the inside. In my mind, there was no room for bad cops; they needed to be fired or jailed.
Talking about tribes, I joined a policing organization but I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted. I was an outsider, an unproven rookie. I feared that I might be required to become someone I didn’t recognize.
Before I was hired I had thought all cops were alike, but from the inside I learned that every officer—each one an individual—was different. Some I liked; some I didn’t.
It’s true everywhere: from the outside everyone on the inside often appears to be a clone. But it’s a matter of perspective. It’s relative. Fortunately, I soon understood that I could remain myself with my own personal standards while working within a paramilitary organization.
I didn’t know what “white privilege” was until I got to college. It means having unearned benefits due to being a member of the Caucasian race–not because of any personal accomplishments—simply by being born white.
I remember my family’s two-week traveling vacations each summer. On one trip, when I was about ten years old, I witnessed a young black girl being refused service at a restaurant. She was with a white family. She cried and I felt her pain.
Racism is so unfair. Without a doubt, I knew that the little girl’s treatment was inhumane. How could anyone think it was right?
Because of my education, the media, and my friends, I’m well aware of the social, economic, and racial inequalities across our country and world. How can anyone deny that racism is alive?
Inequality is a given, but I still get upset when politicians create laws to take from the poor in order to benefit the wealthy. Might (power) does not make it right.
Racism was born from fear and is spread by the fearful. It’s like a vicious virus that requires community coordination to halt it’s many mutations. Vaccinations require knowledge and care.
Our country has progressed, but currently it feels to me like there’s a wider divide. People have chosen sides—their tribes—and are bombarded with one-sided news and targeted social media playing the blame game.
Due to these well dug-in positions, it’s more difficult to respectfully and safely debate differences. As a result of avoiding discussion, we’re delaying solutions.
I continue to try to understand the different personal and political positions of others. What causes one person’s opinion to be so different than mine?
As an author I use writing as a vehicle to address stigma, identity, and racism. I’m trying to open minds through reading just as it’s helped me during my life. My short play, Under the Radar: Race at School, addresses the challenges of being black when a school is predominately white.
In my novel, Taking Back the Bullet: Trajectories of Self-Discovery, I use people’s differences and varying points of view to encourage the reader to take another look at people before judging them.
Visit my website, jimpotterauthor.com, or your local bookstore.
Happy writing and reading!