Lauren Joichin Nile introduces what she believes is humanity's racial bottom line with a compelling account of her personal experiences growing up in 1950's and 60's segregated New Orleans. In so doing, she posits what she believes is humanity's universal racial story.
Lauren explains how starting out from Southern Africa, fully formed human beings, over thousands of years, walked out of Africa, populated the entire rest of Planet Earth, and over 2,000 generations, physically adapted to their new environments, gradually taking on the appearance of the many races of modern-day humanity, making all of us literally one, biologically-related human family.
She then provides an abbreviated account of some of the most significant events of humanity's racial history and an explanation of how that history has affected the American racial present. She also analyzes a number of controversial topics, including whether there are truly superior and inferior races.
Finally, Lauren shares what she believes are the specific actions that humanity must take in order to heal from our wretched racial past, realize that across the planet, we all truly can love one another and as a species, walk into a wiser, more empathetic, compassionate human future.
Lauren Joichin Nile is an author, keynote speaker, trainer and licensed attorney who specializes in assisting organizations in increasing their emotional intelligence, compassion, and productivity. The goal of her work with organizations is to help create environments in which understanding and kindness are valued and as a result, every person is equally welcomed and uniformly appreciated irrespective of all demographic differences. The goal of Lauren's speaking and training in the greater society, is to help the human species grow in both wisdom and compassion.
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MY STORY AND HUMANITY'S BOTTOM LINE More than a Book.... It's an Experience
By LAUREN JOICHIN NILE
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Lauren Joichin Nile
All rights reserved.
My Racial Memoir: The Making of a Compassionate Activist
Picture: A little girl about ten, sitting on Santa's lap, wearing Harry Potter glasses, a pencil behind her right ear, reading quite deliberately from a spiral notepad.
The words on the pad: "Let's see now, did I mention world peace? And of course, cures for all the horrible diseases in the world, places for everyone to live, an end to all hatred, a spiritual awakening for everyone, a solution to pollution, and for me—maybe just a few little trinkets. You know what I—You choose."
The Inscription: "Lauren—Is this the perfect card for you or what?! Hope you have a great 1993. Looking forward to spending more of it with you. Love, Tom & Kathleen"
I received that card from my dear friend Tom Finn twenty years ago.
That little girl on the card was really an amazing reflection of me as an adolescent beginning at age thirteen. I did absolutely love science throughout my childhood, and the little insatiably curious scientist was still very much present, but beginning at age thirteen, Lauren, the little outraged activist began to emerge. I was beginning to develop a very strong intellectual and emotional orientation toward integrity, peace, economic equality and social justice.
You see, the little girl who was so greatly loved by her mother and grandmother, that extremely curious little kid with the amazing inner life, the kid who had enough intellectual curiosity and imagination to wonder during a summer camp softball game about whether a whole other universe existed on a blade of grass, that kid who was a wonder-filled little ball of energy, when outside of the safe cocoon of her family, community and school, lived within a larger society as a second class citizen. Throughout my elementary school years, until I was nearly eleven years old, I both saw the symbols and lived in the reality of segregation every day. The "White Only" signs were everywhere.
Images of segregation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-7eNRB2_0Q
I couldn't drink from the same water fountains white kids drank from. I couldn't use the same restrooms they used. In some places, there were three restrooms, "Men, Women and Colored". I couldn't eat with my parents at the same restaurants at which they ate with their parents.
I couldn't go to Pontchartrain Beach, (the city's formerly "White Only" amusement park, right on Lake Pontchartrain and Lakeshore Drive that was a five minute drive from our home in Pontchartrain Park), which I really wanted to do, to ride what seemed to me to be the most amazing roller coaster in the world.
When we went to "the Lakefront" for Fourth of July, Memorial Day or Labor Day family picnics, we, along with all of the city's other African-American residents, had to try to find a spot between Seabrook and Franklin Avenue, which I would guess is perhaps a fifth to a quarter of the entire Lakefront Drive area. The entire remainder of the lakefront, from Franklin Avenue all the way out to its end at the Southern Yacht Club, was "White Only".
Early one summer afternoon in the early 60's, my extended family, after arriving at Mandeville Louisiana's Fontainebleu State Park for a family picnic, nearly left after about 45 minutes of riding around looking for the park's Colored section. Fortunately, we eventually did find it, and had our picnic. But if looks could kill, those we received from the European American patrons in the white section would surely have made that our last day.
I couldn't go into the Howard Johnson's ice cream parlor on the corner of Congress Drive and Chef Menteur Highway that we passed every single day on the way home from school to have any of the twenty-eight flavors of ice cream that were so prominently and colorfully displayed on its front window. When we went to the train station to get my great uncle Marshall who lived in New York City and came down by train to visit us every summer, we had to sit in the "Colored" section, which was perhaps one-third of the station. The entire rest of Union Station was the "White Only" seating area.
My mother and I went grocery shopping at the Gentilly Schwegmann's supermarket every other Saturday, which was billed, at the time, as "The Largest Supermarket in the World". On the inside, it literally went on for as far as my eyes could see. It was in terms of size, the 1960's precursor to Costco. When Mama and I stopped at its long, L-shaped lunch counter at the front of the store for a sandwich and soda, we weren't allowed to sit and eat our meal at the large front section with the nice counter stools. We had to go around to the shorter side of the "L", the much smaller side counter where there were no stools. African American customers had to order lunch on that side and then either stand while eating or sit on the adjacent staircase. My mother and I never did. In retrospect, I believe that the indignity of doing so was probably simply far too much for my mother. We bought our sandwich and soda and then left. I'll never forget the visual of White People sitting comfortably at the front counter eating their lunch, and Black People at the small side counter eating while either standing or sitting on the nearby tile staircase—essentially, the floor. There was sometimes so many people sitting on those steps that they'd be half-way up the entire staircase, always with a passageway on the right side as you looked up. Walking along the passageway were White People who were going either upstairs to, or downstairs from the second floor business offices.
In the front section of the store were two water fountains, each on either side of a large, white round, floor-to-ceiling support column. Down one side, in big, black, capital letters, the word, "W-H-I-T-E" was painted. Down the other, "C-O-L-O-R-E-D". The "white fountain" was tall, silver, metal, and cold. Ours was low, white, porcelain and hot. Judging from the frost that accumulated so quickly on the mouthpiece, the "white fountain" had a strong steady stream of icy cold water. Ours, a trickle of warm.
When we went to the Shrine Circus at the Municipal Auditorium, we had to sit so high up in the auditorium's Colored section, the "nosebleed" seats, that it was virtually impossible to see the action taking place on the stage floor below. It was the same segregated Municipal Auditorium in which Lemar Jr. and his friends attended concerts of their favorite groups. The Coasters, the Platters, and the Drifters were his three favorites. He and his friends sat up in the segregated balcony high above all the white teens in the orchestra seats below them, as they all watched the African American performers on the stage.
My parents couldn't go to listen to jazz in any of the French Quarter clubs, the same clubs in which black musicians were performing.
We watched the Mardi Gras parades on either Claiborne Avenue or Canal Street. While Jim Crow laws didn't prohibit us from being there, it was known that St. Charles Avenue, the "uptown" section of New Orleans, was the area where the city's white residents watched the parades. It was a kind of de facto segregation.
My mother absolutely loved musicals. I grew up with the 33rpm soundtracks of the Broadway productions of among others, The Sound of Music, The King and I, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific. I don't know whether any of them were performed in New Orleans at that time, but had they been, we wouldn't have been able to see them since they would most certainly have been performed at the Saenger Theatre or some other "White Only" venue.
In addition to Lemar Jr.'s Ray Charles, Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell and Sam Cooke albums, Lambert's Earth Wind and Fire, Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, Wes Montgomery, Dave Brubeck, Astraud Gilberto, and Chicago albums and the music I liked, the Supremes, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, the Mamas and the Papas, The Fifth Dimension, Dionne Warwick, the Beatles, the Shirelles and John Denver, I also grew up listening to the classical music which my mother loved. I have in my garage to this day, in vinyl, her favorites—Dvorak's New World Symphony performed by the Vienna Tonkuenstler Symphony Orchestra; Handel's Water Music and Royal Fireworks Suites performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting; Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony No 6 performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, Pierre Monteux conducting; Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting; and her two absolute favorites, Finlandia and Swedish Rhapsody performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting, and Handel's Messiah, performed by the New York Philharmonic with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Leonard Bernstein conducting.
Mama loved classical music so much, that she wanted to instill a love for it in me. Her plan—Go to Werleins Music Store on Canal Street to buy me a piano, (the only place of any reputation to buy a piano in the city), and send me to piano lessons. After my lessons began, every time she went shopping, it seemed, she bought my yet another album of piano music. My favorites are The Exciting Pianos of Ferrante and Teicher, performed, of course, by them; My Favorite Chopin, performed by Van Cliburn; and my all time favorite, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, performed by Taylor Edwards with the Royal Festival Orchestra. I don't know whether any of those orchestras ever performed in New Orleans at that time, but if they had, they too would have been performed at "White Only" theaters.
My mother took me to see the Disney movies—Mary Poppins, 101 Dalmations, Lady and the Tramp, Chitty Bang Bang are the ones I remember. To every Sidney Poitier movie that came to the theater—Lilies of the Field, To Sir With Love, A Patch of Blue, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. To the biblical movies she loved—The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Ten Commandments and King of Kings. And to the James Bond films she enjoyed—From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Dr. No. When she did, went to either one of the city's five "Colored" movie theaters, the Claiborne, the Carver, the Gallo, the Famous and the Caffin, or to one of its segregated theaters, the Circle and the RKO Orpheum, where we sat upstairs in the "Colored" section. There were even separate concessions stands in the segregated theaters, one for white and one for colored.
In addition to the city's colored and segregated movie theaters, there were also some that were "White Only", of course, the Saenger Orleans and the Joy, on Canal Street, the Fox, on Elysian Fields, the Tiger on Franklin Avenue and the one closest to our house, the Gentilly Art, on Gentilly Boulevard.
I saw no black salespeople or cashiers in department stores, drug stores, grocery stores, furniture stores—no stores. I saw African Americans only sweeping and mopping their floors. I saw only white men as news reporters, news anchors, meteorologists, sports casters, and politicians.
Even the city's cemeteries were segregated, as they were all over the South. The descendants of the same people, some of whom lived with European Americans in their plantation homes, waiting on them "hand and foot" from the moment they woke up in the morning until the moment they went to bed at night, the descendants of the same people who during slavery, cleaned their homes, cooked their food and cared for their children, the descendants of the same African American women who, during slavery, breastfed their children, the descendants of those same people were not good enough to have their remains buried in the same cemeteries as the descendants of their European American captors.
During those, my childhood years, I was struck by the absolute unfairness of segregation. The reality that was by far the hardest for me to comprehend is that we—my brothers, my parents and grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, all of whom I loved so much, all my friends and their parents to whom I looked up so much—because of how we looked, because of physical characteristics with which we were born, were being treated, every day of our lives, as second class citizens. My thought was, "But White People were born white just like we were born brown. (Children think in colors, not in categories.) They didn't choose being born white and we didn't choose being born brown. It's not fair."
Years later, as an adult, I realized that in addition to being morally bankrupt, segregation was also tremendously financially unjust. Throughout the entire time that we were forced to live as second class citizens in a segregated society, we paid not a single penny less for our goods and services, and not a cent less in taxes. No "discrimination adjustment" was made for us. Apparently, lawmakers didn't opine, "Well, since they're getting lesser treatment, we really should charge them less. It may hurt us a bit financially, but it's well worth it to not have our children go to school with them, to not sit next to them at the movies or see them in our amusement parks, to not have to eat with them, use the bathroom with them, share water fountains with them, and sit next to them on the buses." If any such discussions based on a fairness argument did occur among lawmakers, those who advocated for such a two-tiered economic structure, lost. The reality was that while being required by law to sit in only the back of the bus, we paid the exact same fare as white riders who rode in the front. While standing and sitting on the stairs adjacent to the side section of Schwegmann's lunch counter, we paid the exact same price for our sandwiches and sodas as the white patrons who sat at the nice counter stools in the front. While being consigned to the smaller section of Fontainebleau State Park with its inferior picnic area and inadequate restroom facilities, our parents paid the exact same state income taxes for the park's maintenance as did white citizens. In all the stores in which we weren't allowed to try on clothes, hats and shoes, or to return them if they didn't fit, we paid the exact same price for and sales tax on that clothing. My parents and all of the city's other African American residents who were fortunate enough to be able to buy a home, paid the exact same real estate taxes on their homes as white home owners paid on theirs. Math has never been my strong suit, but one needn't be a math wiz to realize that it would have been a tremendous economic benefit to African American families and communities if, as an acknowledgement of the crippling discrimination under which we were forced to live, by law, (when we shopped, when we ate in restaurants, when we used public transportation, public restrooms, public parks and every other kind of public facility), we had been charged 33, 25, 20, 15 or even 10 percent less for goods and services and paid even 10 percent less in income and sales taxes. It was a benefit that tragically, we were denied. We paid the same for everything. We paid.... to be humiliated—publicly.
In retrospect, I realize that the utter injustice of segregation, could very well have scarred me as a child. But because my mother told me that segregation was wrong, that the people who believed in it were wrong in that belief, and that we were on the right side, the just side, the moral side of the issue, not only did segregation not affect my self-esteem, it actually provided me an emotional template on which I and everyone I knew and loved, were fighting a valiant battle of right against wrong, of justice against injustice. I felt good being on the "right" side, the side, I thought, of the people who were intelligent and mature, the side that was ultimately destined to win.
As a child, I was totally unaware that that very struggle of what I thought of as good against evil, was providing me with a very early backdrop against which I was already beginning to develop as a value, the goal of living a conscious, examined life of principle.
What I have described in much abbreviated fashion, is that both the time at and place in which I was born, resulted in my experiencing the ugliness of segregation as a part of my introduction to life. It is ironic that in a different way, I was born during America's golden age. It was our golden economic age, a time during which millions of us whose parents had been raised in poverty during the depression, as were mine, became our families' first generation to grow up middle class. There had been middle class African American families during the decades after emancipation and preceding the 1950's, primarily those of attorneys, physicians, ministers and business owners, but they were by far the exception. Primarily as a result of the legacy of slavery, every generation of African-Americans during that period, was significantly poorer than European Americans. We were, in the 50's, the first generation of black kids to grow up middle class in any appreciable numbers and whose parents were not primarily lawyers, doctors, ministers and entrepreneurs.
Excerpted from RACE by LAUREN JOICHIN NILE. Copyright © 2014 Lauren Joichin Nile. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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Table of Contents
Introduction in Three Parts, xvii,
I. My Racial Memoir: The Making of a Compassionate Activist, 1,
II. The Conventional View of Race: Our Very Simple Story, 114,
III. The Fundamental Truth About Race: Africans Are The Parents of Humanity We All Began as African, 117,
IV. Our Racial Past A Profoundly Tragic Tale, 134,
V. The Impact of Our Racial Past on Our Universal Racial Present, 267,
VI. Our Racial Present: Mixed but Encouraging, 295,
VII. Inverting the Present: Walking in Another's Moccassins, 309,
VIII. Our Racial Future: A Way Forward, 344,
IX. Race: Humanity's Bottom Line, 366,
X. We Are One: A Trilogy of Great Unity, 370,
Study Group Questions, 455,
Short Video Clips, 460,
Movies & Television Miniseries, 470,
Training Videos, 473,
Book I We Are One (A Five Part Series), 482,
Coming Next in Book I The We Are One Series: Religion: Different Paths—Same Journey: The Fundamental Truth about Faith and Spirituality, 483,
Book II Truth II—We Are Brilliant, 484,
Book III Truth III—We Are Divine, 485,