The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


It was cold when I woke up and I was confused.  Why had my roommate left the window wide open in the dead of a Chicago winter?  But I was too tired to get up and close it and tried to pull the covers over myself – except there were no covers.  So I lay back down, shivering and hoped the sun would soon come through our dorm window to warm up the room.

A little while later I again woke up and looked around.  I was not in my dorm room.  I was lying on the tile floor of an apartment building and I began remembering what had happened.

Dr. Gerhard Meyer was my college advisor.  He was a charming man with a terrible stutter which he had probably acquired as a result of spending some time in one of Hitler’s death camps.  He looked out for his students and truly took an interest in our progress at the University of Chicago and had invited several of us to join him and his family for dinner.  I was walking there when it happened.

Suddenly I was ambushed by three young men wielding knives.  I remembered their pulling me into the apartment vestibule and ordering me to lie down.  That was the last thing I remembered until I woke up shivering.

I didn’t know what else to do so I rang several of the doorbells to the apartments in the building.  A couple came down, opened the door and helped me inside.  The wife ran up the stairs to call the police and some time later an ambulance took me to Billings Hospital.

When I woke up I was lying on a gurney.  The unpleasant antiseptic smell of an emergency room engulfed me, almost gagging me with its sterility.  I was in a corridor and medical personnel were scurrying by, tending to their patients.

Some time passed as I lay there when two of Chicago’s finest were directed to me by a member of the hospital staff.  The police were efficient, asked all the questions that one might expect, “How many people attacked you?”  “Were they male or female?”    “How old were they?”  “What color were they?”  “What were they wearing?”

The questions were perfunctory and flowed easily from the black cop who took the lead in the interrogation.  I had the sense that he had done this a hundred times before and this was very routine.  I also had the sense that the end result would be that my assailants would probably not be apprehended.  To my knowledge they never were – at least not for their attack on me.

From what the doctors could surmise, apparently once I lay on the floor one of them kicked me on the left side of my head.  This caused me to lose consciousness.  Other than a five day stint in the hospital where they could monitor the concussion that resulted from the kick and a very bad bruise by my left eye which took more than three months to heal completely, I didn’t sustain any permanent injury.

The doctors said, “I was lucky.”  Had the kick been an inch further to the left, they told me I might have lost the sight in my eye or the eye itself.  While there were no permanent scars I didn’t realize that this attack left a psychological scar which it took me several years to overcome.

At the time I was the organist for the local Roman Catholic church.  We held choir rehearsals on Thursday nights and I generally walked to the church and back home after our practice.  It was nearly a year after the attack when I was returning from one of these when across the street I saw three young men walking in the opposite direction that I was headed.

Suddenly my attack came to mind and almost involuntarily I began running as fast as I could.  I kept running despite the cold air biting my lungs until I got to my apartment, a distance of about a mile.

I remember my knees being weak as I climbed the three flights to my apartment – not from my run but because I realized that I had become a victim not only of a physical assault but those three thugs had instilled in me a sense of fear – something I had never felt before our encounter.

It took me several years until I was able to put this experience completely behind me.  I made the decision that I would not allow muggers to shape and control my life and my actions.  But before I completely overcame this mental scar I had several episodes where again my attack leapt into my mind and I had to catch myself to prevent fear from overwhelming me.

The neighborhood in which this happened was and still is one of the most highly integrated in the country.  It was a nice place to live with a large number of middle class families and individuals, surrounded on one side by Lake Michigan and bordered on the other three by neighborhoods that were examples of urban blight.

According to the local police blotter, ninety to ninety-five percent of all crime committed in the neighborhood was perpetrated by young black men between the ages of 16 to 40.  They generally lived in the surrounding poor neighborhoods and it was convenient and apparently profitable for them to ply their trade in our higher income level community.  As it happened, the three men who mugged me fit that demographic.

In 1967, the year of my attack, few would have questioned a victim’s “motivation” if he or she reported being attacked by three black men.  It would have made no difference if the victim were white, black or Asian.  We did not attribute ulterior motives or racism to these reports.

With the national attention the Zimmerman trial received and the reaction to that verdict as well as extensive reports on “The Knockout Game,” it appears that issues of color are alive and well, newsworthy and profitable to those who regularly engage in finding racism as the underlying cause for every act of violence.

The real issue is not racism.  It is a  matter of whether or not a person is raised in a family environment in which values to which most of us would subscribe are taught and whether they absorb and apply that training.  It is a matter of whether a person gets an education which enables him or her to make a decent living.  It is a matter of having an environment in which government through its policies encourages and promotes policies which enable people to do better and rise through the economic system.  Ultimately, it is a matter of how each of us chooses to conduct ourselves and live our lives.

That is the essence of America and the American dream.  And as we can see throughout our society, for those who are willing to take the chance and make the effort, that dream is alive and it is color blind.

Comments on: "COLOR BLIND" (10)

  1. Outstanding. Could I have your permission to post it on Quiner’s Diner with your byline?

  2. I’m very sorry that you have that story to tell, and I know of other similar ones. You are, of course, correct. These people aren’t born bad, they learn it, from the environment they are raised in, including the hopelessness of getting essentially no education (other than on the streets).

    I know, and think you do too, that 15 years before that, the black neighborhoods were amongst the strongest family structures in the country. I would love to have a study (a real unbiased one) that showed us what messed that up. Everything we have, I think, is tinged with a political aim which makes it possibly worse than useless.

    But we need to try to fix this, and at this point almost anything other than what we’re doing has to be better, or so it seems.

    • There’s no question that the increase of illegitimacy in our black communities while at the highest rates of any group is not unique. Both Hispanic and white populations have also seen explosions in single family or absent father homes. Perhaps that is merely a reflection of the “new morality” which is do whatever you want and damn the consequences.

      Mom used to say, “You are what you eat.” That adage applies as well to what you consume mentally. Look at our movies or what’s on our 1000 channels of TV. There is virtually nothing that is produced or broadcast which promotes the family or family values. And whether it’s celebrities or pro athletes, there are many high profile individuals in those groups who simply don’t feel that the convention of marriage is worth their time. And some of our politicians and clergy have fallen into that same abyss.

      I wish I had a solution to the problem. But the biggest problem is that a large percentage of our population doesn’t want to admit that a problem exists because doing so would impair the lifestyle they have freely adopted.

      • Agree, agree, agree, agree with however many points you made in that reply.

        It seems we keep coming back to foundations, doesn’t it. And very likely the church as well, which is not to say there are no moral atheists but my experience says they’re outliers.

        If we are correct here, most likely we, as a free country are doomed, but we will give it our best shot, in any case.

      • Nothing like a musical response on an overcast, cool Friday afternoon.

      • Yep, and one for you, as well

        Interestingly, I saw the other day that the house where Handel first preformed in England, is for sale. Looks like a pretty nice house. 🙂

  3. Interestingly, my 100 pound mixed breed dog got her name because of Handel and Messiah.

    When I found her on Craig’s list I drove to the family’s home on Handel St. which was next to Verdi Way and Arpeggio Lane. (This is Las Vegas’ attempt at culture). Anyway, the kids had named her Spike.

    As we were planning reunions with the ten puppies in the litter I wanted their permission to change her name. So I mentioned that the first LP record I bought was a complete recording of Handel’s Messiah. (I pointed out that the street on which they lived was named in honor of the composer). I also told them there was a mezzo-soprano on that recording named Grace Bumbry who happened to be black. So I said, since Spike is also back, would it be okay if I changed her name to Gracie. They agreed and she’s been Gracie ever since.

  4. I agree with you that its not a matter of color but how children are brought up in a home and the example set by parents. My parents came from migrant stock who went through the depression so they knew what poverty was from experience. But they had values in spite of that and passed them along by example. Unfortunately governments cannot legislate good values it comes back to parental control and what they learn in school.

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