Two situations cited in a column I wrote on discrimination nearly 30 years ago helped shape my feelings.
From the first:
“Men on board ship live in particularly close association; in their messes, one man sits beside another; their hammocks or bunks are close together; in their common tasks they work side by side; and in particular tasks such as those of a gun’s crew, they form a closely knit highly coordinated team.
“How many white men would choose, of their own accord, that their closest associates in sleeping quarters, at mess, and in a gun’s crew should be of another race? How many would accept such conditions, if required to do so, without resentment and just as a matter of course?”
These were not the musings of a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but the official statement of the chairman of the General Board of the Navy to the secretary of the Navy, Jan. 16, 1942. The subject: “Enlistment of men of colored race in other than messman branch.”
As to the question “how many white men would choose” associations with blacks, the General Board chairman said “the answer is ‘few, if any’ and . . . if the issue were forced, there would be a lowering of contentment, teamwork and discipline in the service.”
That view prevailed until July 26, 1948, when President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order that led to the end of racial segregation in the armed forces.
Then came this, 40 years after the Navy’s General Board spoke:
“Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. . . . The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the Military Services to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among servicemembers . . . to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of servicemembers who frequently must live and work under close conditions affording minimal privacy.” — Defense Department Directive 1332.14, Jan. 28, 1982.
That pernicious Defense Department regulation against gays relied on the same stereotyping and myths that undergirded the military’s bias against African Americans.
The regulation was cited by U.S. District Judge Oliver Gasch in his Dec. 9, 1991, decision to uphold the Navy’s right to expel a gay midshipman from the U.S. Naval Academy.
The midshipman was within months of graduating in the top 10 percent of his class. He was on tap for a prestigious postgraduate assignment on a nuclear submarine. His talents as a singer enabled him to sing the national anthem before the Army-Navy game on nationwide TV during his senior year. He simply told a classmate he was gay. Once he said he was gay, he became unfit to associate with his classmates.
The Defense Department was judging men and women not on the basis of their ability to perform as sailors, soldiers or Marines or serve in the Air Force, but solely because of a distinction that should have been irrelevant: race in the first case, sexual orientation in the second.
In 2010, President Barack Obama signed a measure allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
Last year, President Trump imposed policies restricting Obama’s 2016 directive allowing transgender service members to serve openly.
Simply stated, LGBTQ discrimination keeps close company with racism.
So, yes, because I have been and am on the receiving end of racial prejudice, I can relate to others who fall victim to bigotry.
That may explain why I share, in a special way, the revulsion, pain and anger felt by many Jewish community members over the profane and viciously anti-Semitic seven-second Snapchat video recently recorded by two George Washington University students.
And why I recoil at the sight of torch-wielding white nationalists in Charlottesville marching and chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Change one word, and they are railing against me.
Eyes that glare at the sight of a hijab or turban or a brown migrant worker get just as irritated when someone looking like me enters the room. I know what hostile stares feel like.
And as a black man, I empathize with women who deal with sexism in the workplace. I’m not a #MeToo victim. But I know what it’s like to hear barbs that get passed off as jokes and to get talked over or down to in meetings.
Yes, I can relate to the struggle of other groups. To feel otherwise is to be as callous as those who look the other way when blacks are in the bull’s eye.
Maybe that’s what Mayor Pete was trying to say.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.