Monday, January 21, 2013

Cranking out bias



The first time I saw my grandma cranking her telephone, which was mounted on the kitchen wall, and then talking to an invisible operator I knew something amazing was going on. That was in the early part of the year, before 1929 became shorthand for panic on Wall Street. The manufacture of hand-cranked magnetos had a high-profit future, except that all of a sudden neither phones nor Fords needed cranks.

When my grandpa lathered up, fortunes could be made in selling straight razors and razor strops. My first cold earned me a mustard plaster on my chest and a raw onion in the room to attract the germs. It efficacy was established when the onion eventually turned dark with, presumably, dead germs. Mustard plasters and leeches and other medical favorites had short commercial lives.

At school every student desk had a built-in inkwell, and nothing was brighter than the blue ink business. Wooden pencils were sharpened away by the millions, and millions more had to be made.

When I landed my first newspaper job in 1942 every desk had a paste pot and typewriters were purely mechanical, responding to the force of fingers, not electricity. Building a future on the sale of typewriter ribbons almost guaranteed lifetime success.

But there’s more than matchbooks and amateur night at the movies to shrug off. I was about 14, already a Lincoln enthusiast, when I visited a segregated black school in the South. The principal showed me textbooks which had been discarded by white schools, giving me a teenage attitude that led eventually into life membership in NAACP.

Some writers today, like temporarily lapsed liberals, ridicule white men with the mindless fervor of crackpots.

Certainly they are not referring to the white Supreme Court justices who gave judicial certainty to civil rights, or to the white journalists who kept the issues alive, or the Union soldiers dying in the Civil War to clear the way for the emancipation proclamation. They cannot be referring to the white church members, legislators, teachers and artists who are committed to racial justice.

The tools of communication, justice and education are reinvented and rebuilt almost constantly. We can use the tools without cranking them in rebuilt bias.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A passing stranger, I found and read your words and realized that maybe there are some people who aren't as strange as he thought everybody was.

So I thank you for your words, and give a stranger, who isn't that strange at all, my best wishes

James HS