Puttin' Out the Bone

Speaking of Unity, Let's Make a Deal

Sep 27, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Some people are having trouble getting it up these days. Hell, yes, the Sept. 11 sneak attack on America, on 7,000 innocent civilians, on timeless institutions, on freedom, on peace of mind, on air travel, on children's innocence was a mind-numbing event of American history. Yet some Cincinnatians are not yet lifting their American flags in a show of national unity.

Me. I'm easy on this one. For the first time I can begin to understand why my Uncle Joe begged a Marine Corps recruiter for the opportunity to charge up Iwo Jima hill when he hardly needed a razor for his daily hygiene. Count me among the thousands of Cincinnatians proudly flying America's colors at my home, same as my Uncle Joe.

Never mind that when I was draft age in the mid-1960s I did every damn thing I could think of to dodge the terror of booby-trapped rice paddies, tunnels crawling with hostiles, as well as the pungent odor of napalm and the ominous drone of Hueys. I carefully parlayed one military deferment into another: student to occupational, then back to student, culminating with the ultimate draft dodger's prize — a lifetime schoolteacher deferment.

Back in the day we called it draft dodging with a "daisy chain" of legal deferments. One hell of a lot easier and more comfortable than running off to Canada.

While some called us cowards, we called ourselves moral soldiers against a politically corrupt, corporate-contrived mess.

But Sept. 11 was different. Bombs made up of our own people rained on us on our soil. The victims went far beyond the nearly 7,000 dead. Every American who felt fear was a victim of foreign thugs who had the gall to claim their bloody work was done in the name of the Koran. On that day I also felt anger, fear, vengeance and — damn straight — patriotism. More significantly, I found myself agreeing with every step our government laid out in response.

So that's all my "me" stuff. My red-white-and-blue résumé for the year 2001. That's my public confirmation that I'm with the program, no matter who I believe won Florida, no matter how uninspiring I think "W" usually is, no matter how shallow his campaign rhetoric about Republicans keeping America safer now rings. Today I'm a full-blasted American.

But why do about a quarter of my nightly radio talk show (WDBZ 1230 AM) callers say they can't seem to get that flag up in the air even after such a horrific attack on America? They know everything you and I know about Sept. 11. They know many of the victims were African Americans the same as they are. Yet this stubborn one quarter tells me this isn't their war. They say this surely isn't one they'd tell their kids to go off and fight.

The hard fact is they have a point. America has not earned complete unity. There are pockets within some Cincinnati communities that wonder how they can face bigotry on a Monday in September and then be expected to stand next to a bigot at a downtown rally on the following Friday in September.

Check it out. On Sept. 8, The Cincinnati Enquirer carried a story about an adult and some teen-agers at Turpin High School, in Anderson Township, who yelled racial slurs at band members from visiting Walnut Hills High School as they performed at halftime. We covered the topic on my radio show and had a Walnut Hills student confirm how hurt many kids felt.

Then one short day later, my largely African-American listeners were pondering their patriotism when their "American family" was attacked by foreign terrorists. Make no mistake. While they know they live in a land not yet totally theirs, the vast majority answered the call of patriotism with the same passion as anyone else. Most said events forced them to set priorities. To pick the immediate fight and hold the other fight for another day.

But then there was that sticky one-quarter. The ones who couldn't compartmentalize so easily. The ones who said, "If you want me to have your back today, you needed to have had mine yesterday. And you didn't."

Our beloved America, though better than she was in the 1960s, when smiling Southern law officials were seen on the cover of Life magazine enjoying a chew of tobacco after getting acquitted when they obviously killed three civil rights workers, still weeps on herself for modern-day injustices. That's why about a quarter of America just can't get their patriotism up, not even today.

Look. Our only shot at true unity during this unprecedented time in our history is to make a convincing political, moral deal. One that says that if you'll be with us today against our elusive, terrorist foe, we'll stand with you to put the last spikes in America's ugliest demons: bigotry and injustice.

The deal's got to say that when we speak with one voice against international terrorists, we'll speak with that same single voice against the punks within our own communities who still terrorize African-American children who just want to play their musical instruments on a fall night at a football game. That we'll punish cops who kill unarmed young men. That we'll stop the KKK from mocking African Americans during Christmas. That we'll shame WLW when it runs racist promotions that belittle the tragedies of African Americans.

As disturbing as the events of Sept. 11 were, insult was added when some Cincinnatians sounded almost relieved that the Steven Roach trial, accusing a police officer of killing unarmed Timothy Thomas and then lying to investigators, would fall from everyone's attention with wall-to-wall coverage of the terrorist attacks.

How out of touch. A united Cincinnati will only come when we show we care about all Cincinnatians. Otherwise, that legitimately bitter one-quarter will never get their flags up.