Considering Absolute Numbers


Eugene Jacques Bullard

On October 12, 1961 Eugene Jacques Bullard, the first African-American fighter pilot died. I went to his funeral in the French War Veterans section of the Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York because I had only been a few feet away from him In Peekskill, New York in 1949 (as a six-year-old) when a racist, “patriotic” crowd almost beat him to death with “law enforcement” (local and state officials) looking the other way, enabling the abomination to take place.

Five years after the riots, Bullard received one of the greatest honors that any veteran could receive. The French government requested his presence to help relight the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. And in 1959… with Eugene in declining health, without needed medical attention… the French government honored his heroism by naming him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

I’m an anti-war citizen of the world, who doesn’t flinch at saying that both World War I and World War II should have — and could have — been avoided. But there is no question that Eugene deserved a better fate than what befell him following his service. After receiving his honors, he was invited onto the televised Dave Garroway Today Show for display, but none of the hundreds of viewers who wrote letters of praise nor any NBC officials looked after his health needs…even though he had served as a faithful elevator operator for years at NBC’s Rockefeller Center.

Born in Columbus, Georgia, Eugene was one of ten children.When he was eleven he ran away from home, and worked as a jockey in the South, living for a time with English-born gypsies, who taught him to ride racehorses. The racism which kept Eugene from securing honors on the track paved the way for him to travel to Europe. Being excluded from the world of thoroughbreds you might say enabled him to enter the realm in which he excelled overseas.

I am writing this tribute to Eugene today because I just came across a report which documents that the percentage by which white job applicants in the United States were preferred over black applicants in 1989 (twenty-eight years after Eugene’s death) was 36… and the percentage for 2015 was… 36.

Ordinarily I’d inject the French phrase Plus les choses changent… leading to saying, of course, that nothing’s changed. But the more things change things don’t remain the same. Not for blacks worldwide. For if you think about the figures I’ve given for a moment, you’ll realize that, actually, those percentages indicate that MORE African-Americans are discriminated against than previously… if we’re considering absolute numbers. Just as is the case with segregation in the U.S. today, there being far greater numbers of African-Americans blocked and locked away than was the case in the days of Martin Luther King, who’s known for having made advances for his race.

On the notes I’ve struck in the paragraph above, I ask readers to be very wary about supporting Oprah Winfrey or Michelle Obama — no matter who might oppose them in the electoral arena — in the future. For considering absolute numbers — the money they make — they kind of white. Meaning, very much a part of the dominant culture.

Rachel Oxman can be reached at [email protected].



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