Racism is a grandfathered in to American society

This criticism doesn’t mean that all white people are the devil, that malice or active racism are necessary. A hermit frontiersman in the 1800s might have had no opinion on slavery or even been against it morally.

But the act of doing nothing is tacit support of the status quo.

An auto union worker in the 1940s and ’50s may have thought segregation was wrong, but if they felt that opposition to anti-lynching bills in the Senate were equally important as economic policy, then their tacit support for a dehumanizing system of oppression is based on racism because it says that mobs torturing and murdering a man, woman, or child with impunity isn’t so important if that person is black.

In the same way, if you say that regularly stopping and frisking black and Latino people without any reasonable suspicion is just one of many issues, it’s because you think it’s unlikely to affect you or people like yourself, so you don’t care that much.

Malice is not required; apathy is more than sufficient.

Continue reading Racism is a grandfathered in to American society

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Oil shaped Permian Basin, changed world

It’s a common part of Texas lore that the 20th century began not New Year’s Day 1901 as it did for the rest of the country but 10 days later and at a specific location: Spindletop.

In West Texas, the 20th century didn’t arrive for another two decades.

The Texas oil boom transformed the world and what it could be, and it took the Lone Star State from a poor, agriculture-centered and in many ways backwards corner of the United States to the giant of industry, technology, energy and politics that it’s known for today.

While in East Texas the transformation meant a swift movement from farms to cities, the impact on West Texas was even more stark: it meant there could be cities at all.

Areas unable to support a few dozen cattle during some dry years were suddenly home to thousands of mostly single young men working furiously to build rigs, drill holes, construct facilities to store any oil they got and then pipelines to transport it to somewhere less remotely situated. It needed people to keep all of these things happening when something broke down, and it needed more people to feed and house all of these.

This pattern of boom towns springing up next to the latest big find continued unabated until the oil industry facilitated its own transformation and made it possible for all of American society to do what had been impossible just decades before.

Continue reading Oil shaped Permian Basin, changed world

There’s still plenty of summer left, don’t worry

Today is unofficially the end of summer, although really Saturday was because, well, there’s no time left to recover from anything you could do in the time you’ve got left.

For several thousand kids and teachers It Begins, and the marathon of the school year that seems like it just ended the other day starts up again, ready or not. The butterflies are already colonizing your stomach at the thought.

But it’s OK. Labor Day is just around the corner, and the weekends come remarkably fast when you aren’t looking for them, quick as the boiling of an unwatched pot.

Continue reading There’s still plenty of summer left, don’t worry

The Main Drag

There’s nothing about Jimmy to suggest he’s a showman.

At 34, the short, somewhat chunky Hispanic looks polite but entirely modest to the point of boring. Hiding his smiles under his baseball cap and his shrugs under his hoodie, he stands in a dimmer part of Club Passions and sips quietly from a longneck.

Jimmy isn’t the last person you’d expect to go perform on stage, but he is toward the bottom of the list. And that’s before you notice he’s got a bad hip and a limp.

But that was a workday. The next time I see him, it’s a Saturday, and the weekend changes things. Jimmy has put on his dancing shoes, girded his loins — and torso — and put on a dress, wig and makeup.

Continue reading The Main Drag

It’s also quite a lovely song from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’

The other day I was walking through a parking lot and spotted a suburban with a Nimitz football sticker on the windshield. My first impulse was to find a rock and smash the window in.

Continue reading It’s also quite a lovely song from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’

It’s nice to have some quiet time once in a while

The other day I went up to Odessa College during the afternoon to see my former professor and current friend David Newman. It wasn’t that long ago I walked those halls for my own edification, but already so much has changed that I spent most of my time thinking, “Well I don’t remember that being there.”

In any case, not many students were on campus at the time, and the experience reminded me of one of the things I miss most about school: being there when very few or no one else is.

Continue reading It’s nice to have some quiet time once in a while

I think I need a new obsession

I apologize in advance for my column this week. I had a very bad weekend, and the worst thing about it is nothing bad actually happened to me.

OHS’s playoff game slipped away from them, and Texas Tech got absolutely humiliated by Oklahoma. And none of you care, but Atlanta knocked Carolina out of first place in the NFC South.

Odessa and Tech weren’t alma maters. I graduated from Permian and never even sniffed Lubbock when college application season came around. Nor did I gamble on any of these games. I just invested myself emotionally to a degree that the losses have stayed with me, and I’ll feel a lingering sense of disappointment all week.

Clearly, I care too much about football, but sometimes it works out well. My giddiness about the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss lasted through most of the summer.

(“Hey bartender, who’s that guy sitting down next to the girl I bought a drink for?”

“Her husband.”

“Oh. Well at least the Patriots went 18-1.”)

I’m not alone in this – although to this extent, I may be – because there are some very valid reasons why sports are so compelling, and why the excitement and drama of football have made it the national obsession, to borrow Sal Paolantonio’s phrase.

That’s part of why an e-mail forwarded to me that pretended No Child Left Behind was being applied to high school football was a very effective comparison. The unfairness of it, nevermind federal government involvement, was plainly apparent. It’s a satire, not intended to be closely dissected, but at another level I take it at face value.

I once heard it said that if people followed their politicians half as well as they did baseball players, our democracy would become perfect. Well if people cared half as much about education as they did football, our nation would approach perfection.

This is a common complaint, I know, but when LBJ Elementary (which I actually did attend) lost to Reagan for the sixth-grade championship, I was sincerely disappointed. Certainly, many people were justifiably saddened by OHS’s playoff loss, as well. But how many outside the school system (how many inside the school system) were upset by the academic performance of any school in the district, not just on government standards but actual learning? How many parents who wouldn’t stand to see their child on second-string are content that their child isn’t taking AP classes, not earning – and I stress earning – all A’s, not studying hard enough for the next exam?

Because it is plainly ridiculous to mandate that every high school football team make the playoffs and win the championship, or that every kid have the same skills at all times, but no one would claim West Texans have any biological athleticism to succeed at sports, at yet for several decades, it seemed true. Or if not all sports, generally, then football specifically.

It’s amazing what a good program can consistently accomplish with average people who are driven to accomplish great things and supported materially and emotionally by a community who heaps rewards on their success.

It isn’t an either-or between academics and sports: the valedictorian of my graduating class was a first-string football player. And obviously, debates and midterms aren’t compelling spectator events. Even so, we should care as much about substantive things to push and enthrall our children into working hard at the things that will benefit them – and us – in the future. We should get a vicarious thrill out of what they do between the desks at least as much as between the sidelines.

And we don’t, because most of us don’t care.

I certainly don’t care. For all this, I can’t make myself care. But I do wish the matriculations of school children enraptured me as much as matriculations down the field.

And that field goal hadn’t gone wide left.