Thursday, July 11, 2019

On greater and lesser prejudices - the ones we mask, excuse or deny, or blame on our superior breeding.

In 1957, I left my home in suburban San Diego to attend college. Then, as now, my choice was on the list of the top five liberal arts colleges in the United States.  It is currently
ranked behind Williams and Amherst.  Last year, it was number one. 

San Diego was a much smaller town in 1957 than in 2019. Long before September, most local admittees to the class of 1961 knew one another.  Five of us were Convair Management Club Scholars and many of us were in the California Scholarship Federation. Those of us in journalism competed for the same awards and vied for the same scholarship money. I went to college on a Union-Tribune scholarship and a State of California stipend. The rest was a gift from my grandfather who was a gardener. 

 The Fall Semester did not begin until the last week in September, but Orientation began two weeks earlier. The Freshman class was divided into groups of less than twenty, and each was assigned an advisor. During one of the weekends before classes began, our advisor hosted a party at Newport Beach. After the hotdogs and potato salad, and before the toasting of the marshmallows, we sat in a circle and each of us introduced ourselves with a short speech about our aspirations, interests, and family history. 

 I was surprised when one of the male students indicated he lived in San Diego County because I had not seen him at any of the events staged during the application process. In the course of his self-introduction, he revealed he had been raised on the East Coast and had been educated in private schools. He had been living with his mother since his parents separated, but his father practiced law in San Diego. In a group of young people who were for the most part rather full of ourselves, he was even less humble than the rest of us as he spoke. Nevertheless, he was good-looking with a touch of what I considered to be East Coast charm and his pretensions were not that much worse than mine.  He was doing fine until his dialog focused on social attitudes. His family politics were Conservative but open-minded, he declared, and to illustrate the point, he offered the following anecdote: 'On Christmas, my mother invites our servants and their families to the house to collect their presents, and she even lets them enter through the front door.'
I sat in the sand with my mouth open, and so did our advisor. He had been born in China and spent WWII  in Shanghai, in hiding in the house of his mother's servants.  If they had been discovered they would have been executed.  His father was a United States Marine who believed his wife and children were dead. They began life in the US without their mother who was not yet vetted and they lived in public housing. His mother was Manchu and the children looked less Asian than my Chinese granddaughters, but the family was sensitive to issues of prejudice and knew it when they heard it. 
 I am not certain our classmate didn't use the word negroes instead of servants, but his subsequent remarks made it very clear that was what he meant. I decided then he was not someone I wished to know. I suspect he felt likewise. I confess to having obviously plebian attitudes.I do not think I ever spoke to him, not then and not at reunions. Picture Justice Kavanaugh conversing with AOC.
We are both retired members of the State Bar of California and both of us are admitted to SCOTUS. He had a highly successful career in his chosen civil specialty and takes pride in his reputation as a trial lawyer.  I wear my 122 jury verdicts and successes in high profile cases as a badge. However, prevailing in child sexual assault and homicide cases does not get me on anybody's A-list. 
 Perhaps I stored the memory of the Beach Party for 52 years because it was a portent for what I am observing in American today.  I did not expect to find bigotry at my college in 1957, and I likewise did not expect to read hatred in the rhetoric of my friends and neighbors in the United States of America of 2019.  What is especially scary is these are not radicals shouting. These are coworkers, colleagues, relatives, and friends. Nevertheless, attractive, educated, widely respected people whose company the rest of us seek and whose opinions we let shape our nation, are walking on floors scrubbed by those who are barred from entering the house through the front door and no one is calling them to account. And I speak metaphorically as well as literally. 
I had a friend named Rev. Wiley Burton who is now deceased. He and I co-chaired a Hate Crime Task Force in the Morongo Basin in the ’90s. In addition to his ministry, he was best known as the spouse of blues singer Nancy Wilson who also passed this year. He wrote a book called Divided we Stand years before small-house and independent publishing became competitive.  The photos alone make it a valuable addition to my library, but the message it delivers was personal for me because we were soldiers in a campaign against a new rash of hate crimes uncommon to our area, and while we were given lip-service from several quarters, it came with a caveat to be careful of our area’s good name. In other words, there were property values to consider and elections incumbents hoped to win.  We economized our efforts and got rid of the swastikas but not the hate.  Eventually,  we disbanded. We prosecuted one major hate crime and the Feds took credit for it. As compensation, I did get to hear some of Rev. Burton's best stories. And even they had racial undertones.
When Wiley was a young man seeking to make a living in tinsel town, he almost became Rock Hudson’s body double. It was a set-up, a practical joke arranged by Alfred Hitchcock, but no one told Wiley it was a prank. He thought it was a genuine job offer. One look and Hudson approved him. They shared the same good looks, size and formidable presence. Which of them was the better looking American Idol is debatable. But when they told Hudson the model he had selected as his double was black, he was fired on the spot. Wiley never worked in a Hollywood studio again. He spoke good-naturedly about the incident, but I was dumbstruck by its cruelty. Hudson was the butt of it, but Wiley was the Whipping Boy.
 I have a book on my shelf given to me by its African American author,  retired New York Times journalist Lena Williams in which she thanks me for 'Fighting the same fight against Hate, Bias & Ignorance.' The title is It's the Little Things.'   Williams speaks to habits and gestures that annoy, offend, and separate the races, yet appear trivial to the casual examiner and are thus easy to rationalize.  As an armchair historian and historical novelist, I look at vestiges of a culture based on exploitation and conquest as the culprit. The blond news anchor who flips her long straight hair almost in the face of her African American guest and the grand lady who sends a woman of color to answer a door she is forbidden to otherwise use do not consider themselves racists. The same holds true of Alfred Hitchcock, and just about every American politician who can muster a soundbite to explain actions in his or her past.  Hell yes, we have to do better.

Friday, June 7, 2019

On the passing today, June 7, 2019, of David William Wilkin, author, friend and patriot.

In memory of my colleague David William Wilkins, who passed today, I am borrowing a review I wrote of his excellent regency novel, Beggars Can't be Choosier.  David was a life long Republican whose last years of life were churned by the political turmoil in our Country.  He may not have had the audience of a Colin Powell or a Barbara Bush, but he had the courage to speak out against tyranny.  I profoundly feel the loss not just of a friend, or a colleague, but of a true American Patriot.

Beggars Can't be Choosier by D.W Wilkin - A Review by Linda Root.

It has been less than five minutes since I finished the first Regency romance I have read since I was in college, and my smile has yet to fade. I am still not certain whether I am in my desert lair or in a drawing room in London waiting for the sweetcakes and 

champagne promised to the guests assembled there. It seems that I have been away too long. What a miracle that a gentleman who lives in nearby Hemet by the the name of David William Wilkin could so magically transport a colleague on the far side of Mount San Jacinto all the way to London and into a society where elegance and grace were the talismans, but title and wealth were everything.

It would be dishonest to say I was captured in the first paragraph, or even in the first few pages. But I did get the message that a main character in the story was an earl whose pedigree was more impressive than his bank balance, and who was striving to live within a very limited income while still fulfilling the social obligations of a peer. He is living in what we would call a rooming house and having his shoes resoled, but he still dines with a group of men appropriate to his station. And each and every one of them is hunting for an heiress. That revelation was not especially provocative or new. 

I can site a long list of famous men who were fortune hunters from France’s Henri II who married Catherine de Medici for her fortune, not her looks, and Scotland’s famous rouĂ©, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who seemed to handfast or actually wed women he did not love whenever he was faced with mounting debt. At least in our group of drawing room bachelors, our protagonist Brian, Earl of Alfleck, is the least inspired of his friends when it comes to grabbing the first heiress who crosses his path. In fact, he is rather waiting in the wings for his childhood best friend Lady Sally to grow mature enough to appreciate him in a less platonic light than that of confidante and soul mate.

Enter Katherine.

Katherine is everything any man in Brian’s tightknit circle of fortune hunters could want. She is beautiful, unencumbered, intelligent, mysterious and incredibly rich—some have said as rich as the royals. But there is more to Katherine than meets the eye—she too has a craving. She is the daughter of a bastard, a self-made man who made a fortune in India and left it to his only daughter, but who never knew or at least did not acknowledge who his father was— Katherine is committed to solve the puzzle. To do so, she needs to be accepted at the higher tiers of police society, the notorious well born, well bred and wealthy social clique know in Regency Romance as the Ton, a term which was as strange to me as the term Sgian Duhb would be to someone who does not read Scottish historicals. Hence, the incredibly wealthy Katherine has come to London shopping for a man of title, and she has done her homework and settled on the earl of Alfleck, our thrifty, reasonably honorable Brian. And here is where the story deviates from the norm. She neither seduces him nor entices him. She invited him to dinner and propositions him. The deal is simple. They marry, she clears his debts so they can regain possession of his family estate which is leased to some who can afford its upkeep, she provides a reasonable allowance and he provides her with his title and a public illusion of wedded bliss until a year after she had whelped a male heir and which time her position in society will be guaranteed and his finances will be substantially repaired. At first our noble peer is aghast at so blunt a  proposal, but then a quick trip to Lady Sally’s estates outside of London to test the waters there and he realizes that he is a valued friend, and nothing more. So Brian excepts the proposition and the real story is launched.

Regency Interior Design

Like most things written in the manner of Regency Goddess Jane Austen, the story suffers because so much of the action occurs in the somewhat stilted environment of the drawing room and club, but that is what the Regency Romance is made of. We glimpse behind the propriety projected by the polite society of the day into some of the more forbidden topics such as childbirth and the female body. We also see some underlying vices exposed, and discourses on the proper role of a woman, and the fine art of gambling sneaks into the story. In Katherine’s almost pathological need to be accepted in a society that without her title would shun her in spite of her wealth, we see some of the same hypocrisy we see in the vestiges of drawing room society surviving in the present day.
The language Wilkin employs in his dialogue, although not stilted, is as appropriate to the early 18th Century setting as is the references to the phenomena of sex. Wilkin lets us know it is happening, but it is happening beneath the sheets, and we can only judge its quality by the fatigue it produces in the actors. This is not a Highland Romance novel. There may be a hint of the forbidden, as in an open dressing gown, but as in an original Austen novel, not a single bodice will be ripped. And yet, Wilkin produces a sexual tension and release that arouses but does not offend the tender sensibilities of the drawing room crowd in the milieu in which he writes.
Once immersed in the story, it moved quite well for me, and I pronounce myself cured of my aversion to this genre. I will indeed visit the drawing rooms of the darlings of the Regency Romance again, and soon. It left me with a nice glow. And yes, a thirst for champagne and a taste for sweet cakes. And a day later, my smile remains.
Mr.Wilkin’s delightful novel is available at and Amazon.usReviewers applaud Mr.Wilkin’s high degree of expertise in dealing with the Regency Romance genre.
Reading and reviewing Beggars Can’t be Choosier has been a delight. 
Linda Root