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My False Pride, Black History and America’s Superiority Complex

Jack Riordan February 08, 2019

I am proud of having a job every year since I was 13, from paper boy, grocery boy, helper on Coca Cola trucks, soda jerk, waiter, mechanic in the Army, Urban Monk, USAID Refugee Relief Officer in Vietnam, HUD CD Official, State CD Administrator and now part-time with OCCD. As a White guy it was easy to get jobs; my success is based on an almost universal bias that whites are superior to all nonwhites. 

The first time I noticed that the system was out of balance was at Coca Cola. As soon as I was old enough to get a license to drive a truck, Coke gave me routes to run for guys on vacations. One of the first routes had a regular helper, an African American four or five years older than me. The route covered a black neighborhood, he said he usually handled the small black-owned business. I told him don’t cheat them and don’t cheat me. He didn’t cheat me. I wondered why Coke didn’t let him run the route. There were a few Blacks permanently running routes, but I didn’t raise the issue; I was starting college in the fall and I needed the money. I assumed his misfortune was he was black.

There was a 16-inch softball team that played other Coke offices. My brother and I were on the team along with some drivers and helpers; there were two African American brothers also on the team. Tom and I were friends with the younger guy.  After a game he said he want to show us his new apartment, “You won’t believe the view.” He was the first tenant on the top floor of a high rise in the Cabrini Green Public Housing Development. It was nice, clean, fresh paint. From the kitchen window we could see the trees along the beach of Lake Michigan. His wife showed off their first-born. Black two-parent families were the rule not the exception. There were a lot of jobs 65 years ago for young blacks and whites that only required being on time and being physically strong. The difference was that if you were white, you could move up because of the White Superiority Complex which contaminated our nation and to a lesser degree even today.

In response to Bloody Sunday, while I was an urban monk, I was asked to go to Selma, Alabama with Gordon, an African American volunteer. George Wallace was governor; J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, said he would not protect the Civil Rights movement. I was reluctant and not eager to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement. A few months earlier, a friend, also a volunteer Little Brothers, conned me into going to a Rally of the Nation of Islam, aka Black Muslim Rally, to hear Elijah Mohammad and Malcom X speak. I was just getting comfortable being the only white guys in the audience when Lincoln Rockwell and ten of the Nazi-clad storm troopers marched down the central aisle toward the podium.  Scared, I was sure I could be killed in the chaos, which fortunately never happened.

Our flight landed at Birmingham, Alabama at night. An African American man met us and drove on back roads. I was nervous that I could be a martyr during the 100-mile drive on back roads to the Selma. We stayed at a religious order that agreed to provide cots and breakfast. After a bite, he walked us to Brown’s Chapel one of the two churches where the demonstrations were centered. It was packed.  We became part of the hundreds that were singing in the street. An older lady asked me if I would like a cup of tea. A few minutes later she gave me tea in a very expensive cup and saucer.

The next morning Gordon and I walked to the Baptist Church where SNCC and SCLC had set up to organize the protest. On the way, we passed a duplex where two women, one black and the other white, were sitting on a glider on the porch with a big plastic bag of green beans which the two were cleaning and putting in two pots.  Behind them black and white kids were running in one door and out the other. I said to Gordon, “You would never see that in Chicago.”  Gordon said, “You would be surprised what you see in Black neighborhoods.”  In one of the demonstrations, hundreds of us lined up in a ring around the demonstration neighborhood and the Alabama National Guard and Police formed a ring facing us.  Initially, it was scary, then boring until the organizers figured out a gracefully way to end it. There was a lot of communications between the leaders of both sides.

After we got back home, I wrote a front-page article for the Columbus Defender, “White Man’s View of Selma Strife.”  I had become an unwilling participant in a struggle I knew was right, but I was never comfortable. In hindsight, it is hard to empty the white superiority from your intellectual baggage filled by my community.

The white superiority gradually proved untrue as I met and work with people from many races, languages, culture, and religions who worked and performed in many challenging positions.

Now, my wife Nellie from Singapore and I travel to different parts of world and meet people. All the folks of all the races I have met and worked with are all trying to have a better life, but some of us have the advantage of being white, inquisitive and educated. The problem is some think whiteness, or their religion is inherently superior and the reason for their success. The more I have interacted with other races the more I know there is no Master Race.

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