Race isn’t worth fighting over, I found out long ago

  • By Glynn Moore
  • Saturday, June 27, 2015 1:21pm
  • News

Race wars never end, it seems. One man who destroyed a faith community because their skin did not match his reminds us of that – as though we needed reminding.

I remember that, when I was in college, a tug of war was underway in the Atlanta area over a baby, all involving skin color. It was the only time I ever felt moved to write a letter to the editor, an indignant, naive letter as seen through the eyes of a college student, in which I asked when society was going to blend black and white into a shade of gray that we all could accept in love, not hatred. When would we reach that shade?

Not yet, obviously.

Anyway, I had just gotten through changing my race a couple of times. Let me explain.

In the early 1970s, the Navy was big on social issues such as race relations, alcoholism, drug abuse and the like. The campaign was the work of one man, the new chief of naval operations, Elmo Zumwalt Jr., and he made a big difference in many ways.

He issued his changes by way of “Z-grams,” many of them popular. For instance, he authorized beer-dispensing machines in barracks, and for a quarter we could select from six or eight brands to enjoy as we watched television or played table tennis. Another Z-gram let us grow mustaches and beards (well, those of us who could) and longer hair than neighboring soldiers and Marines.

Other efforts seemed a bit counterproductive. For instance, the Navy outfitted the barracks with elaborate kits to warn us about the dangers of drugs, and the drug enforcement officer held weekly sessions urging us to just say no. Then, he might end his speech with, “Don’t forget the beer blast this Friday at the beach.”

What rubbed many of us the wrong way, however, were the “awareness” seminars we were made to attend. We sat in a circle and tried to get in touch with our inner selves. We talked, we watched films, we filled out forms. We became aware.

For a farm boy who would rather be at my station working than becoming touchy-feely, it was a drag.

The next time we were asked to fill out another racial form, I had had enough. I remembered reading that some tribes in Alaska stood to collect big money from the federal government for getting pushed around for so long. I knew that feeling. The form asked my race, and it gave me a menu; among my choices were the Alaskan tribes, so I put myself down as “Aleut.”

“Moore,” my captain said with a sigh, “you’re not from the Aleutians.”

“I’m not really sure where my folks come from,” I said. “And, look, I can’t grow a decent mustache.”

The race war went back and forth until the captain, facing worse problems than my tribal rights, gave up. Today, in a filing cabinet in the bowels of Washington is documentation of a certain Petty Officer Moore, Aleut trainee.

I hope my check is in the mail.

Reach Glynn Moore at glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.

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