Aug. 21, 1970
Philippines Flyer Page 5
By SSGT. WILLIE HARRIS JR.
One of the inside jokes among black personnel is the story about the supervisor who said he wasn't prejudiced because he came from a town where there were no Negroes.
Well, it's both a joke and a pity: It's a joke because of the beautiful illogic of the statement and it's a pity that some people believe it enough to say it.
Some variations on the above joke involve some of one's best friends being colored, or having worked for a great noncommissioned officer or officer who happened to be black or always having lived by one principle - treat everyone fairly.
You mean you've said something similar to minority personnel at one time or another and you don't see anything amusing about it! Well, since we tell stories out of school - let me elaborate.
Racially speaking, the black airman is fairly sophisticated. He doesn't really care if you are prejudiced or not. That is, as long as you don't invoke that attitude (as a supervisor) to his detriment.
He really feels that it's next to impossible to grow up without being racially prejudiced to some degree - regardless of where you grew up.
But invariably, one of the above jokes (or variations thereto) is made during some stage of supervision. Having made a comment of that sort, the supervisor will probably not note any particular reaction; however, he's just made a serious 'boo-boo'.
For these racial reassurances (as I'll call them) are considered as signals by minority personnel.
They signal the supervisor as an individual who is either not telling the truth or who is rather unsure of himself in dealing with minorities.
Quite often these statements are made by commanders or supervisors with southern accents who feel that their background may automatically make them suspect. No so - and here's another story out of school.
Northerners/Southerners and Minorities
It is standard folklore among the black minority that a northerner is often highly unreliable from a racial standpoint. Because he is from the North he sometimes feel that he has an automatic "in" with black personnel; the reader may be surprised to find out that such is not the case.
Minority experience dictates that a southerner generally has his mind made up (for or against) and is rather consistent in his beliefs.
On the other hand, someone claiming immunity due to a northern birthright often is thought to take disturbingly different public stances - usually under pressure. Why this happens is not really important.
The point I'm trying to make is that a supervisor, be he from the North or the South, should never comment upon his racial attitudes in an attempt to claim fairness. Because actually, if a person were really not prejudiced in the least it wouldn't occur to him to talk about it - he'd figure it showed!
Good supervision is, of course, many things - not the least of which is knowing one's subordinates. Often a supervisor will fare poorly with minority personnel if he attempts to lump all such personnel into one category.
Cultural background, the so-called sociological factor, cannot be disregarded. This factor is very important because the young airman has been subjected to cultural influences all his life. A few years of military service is insufficient to erase previous attitudes developed after 18 or 19 years "on the block." The black airman represent a fairly large percentage of what we define as minority personnel. Therefore you - the supervisor - should at least be aware of the attitudes and background that he brings into the service.
Of the many facets of the new black attitude - probably the most visible is hair.
Of course everyone's wearing his hair long these days; however, the Afro hair style is not linked with the Beatle-inspired fad.
The Afro - new to both the wearer and the viewer - occurred for another reason. Years of exposure to advertising media (films, TV, etc.,) created in the black American a sort of embarrassment at being black.
Until recently, he seldom saw himself in films or on television; most advertising stressed a type of hair and skin grooming that he tried to - but could not - emulate. For several reasons, the '60s saw the black American decide that it was not necessary to try to hide the fact that he was black, that is hair was different, etc.
The Afro hair style is but one of the visible expressions of the black American's newly found pride in being black. It is an approved hairstyle, when worn neat and reasonable in length in accordance with directives; it does not mean the wearer is a militant or a latent Black Panther.
Like it or not, it's here to stay!