Courage Has No Color

The Queen is going to be very candid with you:

Regardless of the hopeful and ebullient way he may seem to approach life, he is quite jaded. It is hard to find black males past the age of, say, ten who aren’t.

In interviews for his movie, George Lucas has talked about how difficult it was to get Red Tails made. No major studio would back it because it had no bankable stars who were White. He had to use much of his own money to get it produced.

I truly appreciate Mr. Lucas’ efforts, and believe his reasons for making this film are grounded in respect and sincerity. I plan on supporting it during it’s first weekend to do my part in affecting box office gross. But I couldn’t help thinking to myself as I watched his interview with Jon Stewart: “That’s all very well and good–you husky, sexy silver bear–but the bottom line is that you hope to make a lot of money off of this.” It’s still a white person profiting from the story of another culture.

The bottom line, however, is that I’m supporting this film for its subject matter. The Tuskegee Airmen are legendary heroes in the African American Community, and deserve a place in the collective consciousness of America. Just as they blazed trails over the skies of Europe, they did so in the hearts and minds of a people desperate to believe in their worth and patriotism.

It is no secret that the Black community and American culture in general has struggled with gay people. The nation as a whole is grappling with issues of equality, choice and acceptance when it comes to homosexuality. However, the Black culture in particular seems to lean farther to the right than most. Of the thousand or so Airmen who earned their wings, some of them HAD to be gay. I have often wondered what additional strength they had to draw from in order to deal with both racism and homophobia?

I know I come from a legacy of people who faced severe adversity, and triumphed. Yet I know that there is much to do. I pray that we as African Americans–and more importantly: as simply Americans–can honor these heroes by courageously blazing new trails of acceptance and understanding.

They needed another Diva in that Great Jazz Band In The Sky

Thank you Ms. James. For everything.


3 thoughts on “Courage Has No Color

  1. About a decade ago I did the transcription work for a book called “Brave Men, Gentle Heroes,” which was an oral history of fathers and sons who were veterans of World War II/Vietnam, and one of the fathers was a Tuskegee airman. What a story! He had a long career in the military and of course even after his illustrious service in WWII had to go through such BS as gatehouse guards refusing to salute him, and yet he would also remember such things as a white soldier who deliberately crossed the street just to make a POINT of saluting him.

    It was such a privilege working on this book and listening to all those stories. The old guys would remember every last detail, and often with great emotion, and time and again the sons would say, “Dad, I never knew that. You never told me.” Just chills. There was a Japanese-American who was interned in a camp in California, and later served in Italy. There was a Mohawk Indian pair where the father had been one of those fearless guys working on skyscrapers in Manhattan, and the son, after a period of PTSD and alcoholism, ended up becoming a professor at Syracuse in Native American Cultural Studies. Along the way, he learned about the Iroquois ceremony that warriors would perform to cleanse themselves before re-entering the village (“the world of the women.”). So he arranged to have one of these ceremonies and went there with his father. MORE chills.

    And there was a gay soldier also, a veteran of Vietnam, and a very erudite and humorous guy he was. His father had climbed out of a burning ship at Pearl Harbor. And THAT story I was transcribing at the time of 9/11 (the interview had taken place over the summer). A day or two after, I was listening to the group chat about the possibility of a surprise attack happening again to America, with the gay vet saying, “You know, I was reading about these dirty bombs, and if they were put, say, in a subway in New York City ….” at which point the interviewer, a New Yorker, said, “Oh, PLEASE don’t say New York….” at which point I was just a basket case.

    Anyway, it would be interesting to see if Spielberg pulled any material from this book for the movie. I could just see that salute turned into a real Spielberg moment…

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing those stories.

      If I had been taught in High School that history was about people and their stories, instead of about dates I might have ended up an annalist myself.

      It amazes me how much of a patriot I became after 9/11. Before the attacks, I lumped all things military into the category of WAR and declared it bad. I mean, I had much respect for the level of discipline instilled through armed forces training, but I never really thought about the actual process of sacrifice each woman and man in the armed forces must internalize in order to truly serve.

      Putting faces on a few of the millions–especially men of color–who have selflessly worked to keep us out of harms way is such a gift. I don’t agree with everything America does, but I am in awe of the people who are willing to give their lives for a country which is sometimes horrifyingly blase about their sacrifice.

      If George Lucas (it’s Lucas and not Spielberg who Executive Produced Red Tails) had told even ONE of these stories, the movie would have captured my heart. Unfortunately, for me, he didn’t even come close. More of my take on that in my next post.

      I am SO enjoying reading your posts. Thank you for taking the time to weigh in.

      • Here is the book:

        The Tuskegee airman’s name is Howard Baugh, Sr. Sadly, in looking through my copy of the book, he had much less space in it than I remembered. (I remember listening to all of these guys on tape more than I remember what made the final cut). I think as compelling as his story was, the father/son aspect was maybe less so, given the theme. As the son of a very successful career military man, the son became an Air Force pilot and flew refueling planes out of Thailand, so he was far more removed from war than the other Vietnam vets in the book.

        Al and Mike Tarbell are the Mohawk Indian father and son I mentioned. I was wrong about the son being a prof at Syracuse. He got his degree from there, and teaches Iroquois history, but not at Syracuse (need to start fact checking!). He started learning his own cultural history after the war, having not really grown up with it all that much, and drew from it a great deal as part of his healing. Really quite moving story.

        The Novosels, who start off the book, were another really interesting pair. The father served in both WWII and Vietnam, as a “Dustoff” (medical helicopter) pilot, and his son served with him in Vietnam, also as a helicopter pilot. So now they’re “war buddies” as well. (And for two Southern career military guys, they were surprisingly liberal, both extremely critical of the war and the knee-jerk anti-communism behind it). The guys in those helicopters and the medics flying with them revolutionized emergency medicine. I know a guy who was a Green Beret medic back then. He came out of the war a junkie, but once he got clean, he went to medical school and is still an emergency room physician to this day. It’s just astonishing to me, what some people do.

        Oh, and the gay vet’s name is Paul Keith, the one whose father was at Pearl Harbor. So you can put any of those names in the search box and read more about them. (You can even find mine – I got a really sweet mention in the Acknowledgments!)

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