It was only after I had begun Basic Training, courtesy of an offer from the U.S. Army I could not refuse, that I met my first black man. Well, maybe a dozen of them, actually. I felt an immediate rapport with them, owing to a sense of shared suffering. For those of you whom God may have spared, I am referring to nine nightmarish weeks spent slogging through the snow and the ice and the mud of Ft. Dix, New Jersey while demented Drill Sergeants screamed obscenities at us. And the closeness, of course, would only deepen once we got to Vietnam, where survival literally depended on the courage and decency of the soldiers I first trained with.
But it never occurred to me that they were to be treated any differently than guys like me. In fact, I’ve never known guys like me, for which we can all be grateful.
Nor had it crossed my mind, then or now, to think of them as inferior in any way, or unable, therefore, to meet the usual standards set for the rest of us. Standards, by the way, never intended for whites only, as if the law written in the heart were somehow color conscious, but for every human being. Or that I, beneficiary of so-called white privilege, whatever the hell that means, was entitled to lord it over them. This was driven home to me quite vividly on the first day when, chosen Squad Leader for the absurd reason that I’d gone to college, it became instantly and hilariously obvious to everyone that I knew nothing about close order drill, much less about giving cadence calls to anyone in the Army. So, for the good of morale, I was quickly relieved of my ridiculous command and replaced by one of the black soldiers who certainly seemed to know what he was doing.