An Atypical Nigger
When I was young and impressionable, I accepted the invitation from the University of North Dakota to study psychology at their fine campus. The Financial Aid office managed to find a $50.00 scholarship for me, based on the fact that one of my grandfathers had been injured (mustard gas) in World War I, the Great War. I had saved up enough money from my part-time and summer jobs over the years to cover the remainder of tuition, room and board for the 1979–1981 school years. I had grown up in a fairly liberal family during the 1970s and been raised to believe that racism is a bad thing. Racism was a minor factor of life in my hometown. It was present enough for me to recognize it but not an everyday matter that I had to deal with, so I never expected the conflict I would run into at a respected university.
I lived in an all-male dorm on the west side of campus. West Hall was a part of the West complex, and the complex included five halls with a common cafeteria and study center. As a modern convenience, the school provided access to a keypunch machine for the Computer Science majors. This doesn’t sound like much of a luxury these days, but since the computer center was a half-mile walk from the West Complex, it was very nice not to have to brave -30F weather just to make a few corrections that had halted a programming assignment. Oh, yes. Some of you may not know what keypunch cards were. Rather than explain them, you can read a Columbia University entry on them (love the DEC120s, too!).1 It helps put a new perspective on the complaints you may have regarding your 4.5 GB PC, doesn’t it?
In this all-male dorm, I was surrounded by guys with a background similar to mine, in the sense that they were from small towns on the plains of the Upper Midwest. I could relate to them in many ways and on many things, but in two very large areas of my belief systems and my core values, there were differences.
They were conservative. I don’t mean Nixonian conservative. Nixon had flirted with socialism in ways that would terrify even Bernie Sanders. In the inflationary period of Nixon’s presidency, he and Congress instituted a 90-day wage and price freeze in order to slow down inflation. No one–no one would even consider such a flawed and intrusive monetary policy in today’s America. Not even in Canada would they attempt such a government intrusion in the market place. Nixon was a Republican, though, and still he did it.
No, my wingmates on the west wing of West Hall in West Complex on the west side of campus were far more conservative than the standard Republicans I had grown up with in Hallock. My first roommate (and this only last a week), was a fan of “King Ronald,” the former California governor who was making his bid in 1979 to be the 1980 Republican candidate for president. Seriously, if anyone mocks liberals for seeing Obama as The Chosen One, please remind them of the adulation that conservatives ladled out to Ronald Reagan. My wingmates were competing for the title of Most Libertarian Republican on Campus.
They liked Joe Clark, the contender for the Libertarian Party candidacy for presidency. But Joe’s problem was that he was leading the Libertarian Party, and these guys didn’t have the patience to wait for the Libertarian Party to be a national presence. They hated government. At least the Federal Government. The state government was being nice enough to subsidize their educations, so it couldn’t be all bad. But since we had a Republican governor in North Dakota at the time, it was also close enough for them to count as not being bad. The Federal Government was another thing altogether. It needed to be shrunk. “Government isn’t the solution to our problems, it is the problem.”
I was surrounded by posters of Republicans and Libertarians on the walls of most of the rooms in the wing. It was a constant topic. I wondered what happened to all of the liberals that I had hoped to pal around with in college. I found a few, but they were far between. I was often the only one in arguments who would take the liberal view. But I didn’t consider myself persecuted. I was just outnumbered, and overall I could have friendly arguments with them. Sometimes they would say stupid things that made my blood boil. It had to do with their racism, and it was a particularly nasty sort of racism.
The first time I noticed it was two days after I moved in. Some of the guys were talking about politics and the topic of welfare came up. One of them talked about all the “Cadillac Niggers on Welfare.” I was dumbfounded. It was flat out KKK-ish racism, not the hidden, subtle kind. It was bold, it was in your face, it was “I hate niggers” racism. There were only two blacks that they didn’t hate: Alan Keyes and Milton Jones.
Milton Jones was a running back with the UND Fighting Sioux football team. He was a Canadian and had befriended one of the two football players on our wing. Rick Nechaperenko was a very nice guy and not a racist. He was also a big guy and muscular. He took his athleticism seriously when he was training and during games, but outside in the real world he was far more easygoing. He had made his hatred of racism very clear when he was a freshman (two years before I came to campus). He wasn’t afraid to bring his black friends up to our wing to visit, and Milton was among them. My cowardly racist friends hid their racism around Rick and Milton. If any of them said anything racist around Rick, he would glower at them and they would change the subject, chagrined.
Milton, being a football player, was someone they could idolize. They fell all over him when he came to the wing to visit Rick. They offered him beer and cigarettes, talked about sex, whatever they could do to get Milton to like them. Perhaps, in their small towns in North Dakota, they had never actually met any blacks. They just knew that they saw enough negative media portrayals of minorities to be justified in their hatred. Mouse, the one who had been my roommate for all of a week, talked fondly of David Duke. Duke was the former Grand Wizard of the KKK in Metairie, Louisiana, who had formed the National Association for the Advancement of White People. Later, he ran for governor of Louisiana and was defeated by a former convict, Edwin Edwards. But Mouse loved him some David Duke. Almost as much as he loved “King Ronald.”
Their conservatism and their racism went very hand in hand. The minorities were ruining America and sucking away all of their hard-earned money. They really paid no attention when I showed them data that there were far more whites on welfare than blacks. Their other exception, as mentioned above, to their hatred of blacks was Alan Keyes. We know Alan Keyes now as a “birther” for whom the Republican Party was not conservative enough and who has joined the Constitution Party.
The sign that illustrates how deep their racism ran said this, and I must paraphrase because this was thirty years ago:
“Alan Keyes wants to end abortion and believes in a laissez-faire economy. Alan Keyes is an ATYPICAL NIGGER!”
Even in praising him, they couldn’t stay away from the word. The sign was on Kenley Jones’ bulletin board. Kenley, I hope you have woken up to the evils of racism. I am calling you out in case you Google yourself, because I think racists should be called out. Correct me if you have changed.
In 1979, I was an eyewitness to a rebirth of the brand of conservatism that has blindsided so many liberals since Barack Obama became a serious contender for the presidency. Not all those who oppose Obama from the right are racist, and if anyone accuses me of saying so, I will just point back to this paragraph and say “Just shut up and learn to read.” But Greg Laden is accurate about the racism behind a large part of the Anti-Obamism that is so much a part of our current political landscape. There are links, and I met them and drank beer with the generation of conservatives that are now in power.
How did I deal with it? I was an accommodationist. See how well that has turned out.
- When I first started with ADP, several of our clients were spending about $1,500 per DEC 101. They have no functionality other than to provide a video interface to the mainframe. They were monochrome. Think how much our generation has seen in the advances for human interface to computers. Yesterday I purchased an HP Pavilion 503W for $75. [↩]
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