There’s a big issue of social injustice right now in this country. Social injustice involving Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Mexican and Hispanics, Muslim and Middle Easterners, and probably more that I’m unaware of. Racism to put it bluntly. Regardless of what you see, hear, or read, or what you choose to believe, the problem is real. Being a black man, I can tell you first-hand that racism still exists, and for those individuals who choose to keep their heads buried in the sand believing otherwise, well…as my father used to say, “Boy, you ain’t got enough sense to pour piss out of a boot if you was standin’ knee deep in it.”
This is going to be a long blog. Very long. I will split it into three parts, maybe even four. We’ll see. There’s a lot I need to get off my chest as I’ve watched how this country of mine is quickly becoming the laughing stock of the rest of the world. How do I know? Because I have friends in other parts of the world who I’m in contact with and they ask, “What is the heck is going on over there in the USA? Is that all you guys do is fight among yourselves?” One friend in London texted me, “The things we hear regarding America are quite disturbing and sad! I wish Americans would travel more and see how fortunate they are. They have become disrespectful of the past and lack determination to find resolution for the future.” Wow. Another friend msg’d me, “If your country is the land of the free, how come so many people are against those that exercise their right to that freedom by doing what is right in their hearts?” And finally, a friend commented, “I do not understand the Kaepernick issue. This is simply revisiting the past. I thought America was past that…” He’s right. Nothing going on in today’s time is new. To quote the old rap group, Houdini, “There ain’t nuthin’ new under the sun. What you’re tryin’ to do has already been done.” So true. You see, this is my SECOND time going through this. At 62 years old now, I was around when Jackie Robinson played baseball, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell played basketball, Cassius Clay boxed, and John Carlos and Tommy Smith ran in the Olympics. I read of their struggles as Black Men in America even though they were some of the best athletes in the world in their respective sports. As television became more available, we actually watched Ali talk and protest, watched Carlos and Smith raise fists overhead in protest, and listened to Chamberlain, Russell, Robinson, and so many others relate their daily struggles of being a black athlete in America. This is not new to me. But it is disheartening and sad that 50 years later nothing has really changed in spite of the fact that we have our first Black President and quite possibly our soon-to-be-first female President. But that’s another story for another time. Back to the lesson at hand…
Before I get into the ‘Meat-n-Potatoes’ of this blog, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. I’ve experienced racism many times throughout my life so I’m not writing from an observational perspective. As I said, it’s not new to me. One could almost argue that I’m used to it. I’m not. I just don’t let it get to me like it used to. I don’t ‘react’ in the same manner I used to, as I’ll explain. I’ve decided to use my platform of blogging to be my voice to see if awareness can be brought to some people of other races, and also awareness towards my own race, because, you see, racism is a double-edged sword. It flows both ways.
My initial taste of racism came in the first grade as I recall. I was called a nigger (I’m going to use this word through this blog series because I need people to READ, SEE, and FEEL how bad it is) by a classmate, a young boy whose name I’ve long forgotten, but the word has stuck with me for close to 60 years. Now before you think this was down south, it wasn’t. I was born and raised right here in my hometown of Tacoma, WA, up in the good ole Pacific Northwest. Yup. Racism was here also. I was called coon, crow, midnight, chocolate, and many other names during my elementary school days. The name-calling wasn’t by adults. It was by fellow white classmates. But I wasn’t the only one. If you were ANY color other than white, you were called names. I reached the point to when I got to the 6th grade, I HATED being black. I wanted to be white more than anything just so I wouldn’t be called names because of a skin color I was born with. By the time I got to Jr. High school (called Middle School now) as far as I was concerned, being black was the worst thing ever. But things got better at McCarver Jr. High because it was a predominately black school. I was with ‘my people’ so to speak. The racial slurs stopped. For a bit. Because halfway through my 8th grade year, my parents moved to the east side. Yes, I suppose one could say that we moved on up to the east side, but instead of the deluxe apartment in the sky, we had a nice big house with a huge yard. But I digress. Moving to the east side meant a new school, Stewart Jr. High, another predominately white school. The racial slurs started back up as there weren’t a lot of blacks at Stewart. I survived but again I hated the color of my skin.
By the time I started Lincoln High School, I wasn’t feeling school. Oh I went, and I attended class, but I lived in my own little shell. Life was better at Lincoln because of the diversity. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians…a good mix of everyone so things kind of died down but you could still see differences and hear racial remarks. But I did have one incident outside of high school between my Jr. and Sr. year. I was 17 years old and working for the Post Office. During the summers I was a mail carrier working vacation routes. One weekday I was delivering mail on the north end of town. Yes, here’s a bit of ‘reverse discrimination’ as the north end was called the ‘white folks’ part of town as so few blacks lived there back then. But the USPS’s motto of “Neither rain, hail, sleet, snow, or color of skin shall stop your mail from being delivered” was my motto. Okay, I jest. I was just a teenager doing a job. N-E-Whoo….I was delivering one morning when a little white girl, probably 4-5 years old, came roaring down the street on her Big Wheels tricycle. She did a sliding stop at my feet and looked up at me. I looked down smiling. “Hi, how are you,” I asked? “Continuing to stare, she replied, “Are you a nigger?” I was taken aback. I literally froze as this cute precocious girl spun around and raced off! I honestly didn’t know what to say or do. Should I go after her and ask where she learned that word from? Should I follow her home and confront her parents? Should I ignore it? Should I report it to my supervisor upon returning to the annex? I had so many thoughts and emotions running through my head that I just stood there for a couple of minutes shifting between anger, rage, laughter, and pity for the little girl. Finally I started walking to the next house to deliver mail. I told my supervisor about it when I got back. To this day I don’t know if anything was done about it. But I’ve never forgotten that incident.
Upon graduating high school, I went to a community college for a bit but wasn’t feeling school so I joined the military because my dad gave me three options. “Boy, you’ve got three choices. You can either get a job, go to school, or join the military, but you’re not going to sit around here doing nothing.’ That’s the edited version. So I decided that the military was the place for me as I now had a job, was going to Air Traffic Control school (ATC), and I was in the military.
During basic training we learned to work together as a unit. But the first week was rough. You see, I ran into a 17 year-old white kid from the backwoods of Tennessee who proclaimed to have never met a black man in his life prior to joining. I guess I happened to be the first person he saw. “Damn boy, I guess niggers really DO exist!” We fought. But later we turned out to be best friends. Spring forward to my ATC school a few months later. My best friend from home (he was in basic the class after me) and I were at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS. We were at a movie and someone in front of us was talking while the national anthem was playing. We shushed them, but then a couple of white guys behind us told us to shut the hell up. Well, after the movie was over, we all met up outside. I asked one of the guys if he had a problem. His response was, “Nahh man, I ain’t got no problem.” And then his friend said, “He ain’t no man! He’s a nigger!” Needless to say a fight started. We all got written up, and one guy got kicked out of the Air Force. So for those of you who say that there’s no racism or sexism in the service, think again. It happened to me several times between 1974 and 1977.
While at my first duty station in Columbus, MS, I had just returned from vacation at home in which I’d purchased a brand new Camaro, which I drove down to Columbus. My father had already instructed me on the nuances of getting stopped by the police. “Boy, if you ever get pulled over by the police or State Patrol, turn the engine off, put both hands on the wheel in the 10-2 position and DON’T YOU MOVE until instructed by the officer. And when he tells you what to do, you move slowly and deliberately, keeping one hand on the wheel. When he asks for your license and registration, you tell him where it is and ONLY go to the glove compartment WHEN HE TELLS YOU. You hear me, boy?” My father was from New York but had moved down south to Florida. He knew the ‘good ole boy’ mentality as he was a sharecropper and cotton picker. He wanted to see his son come home alive. And his advice came in handy as I was stopped for what appeared to me to be no reason other than DWB (Driving While Black) in a new car with out-of-state plates.
Spring forward to 1979. I’m married now and move to Portland, OR. My then-wife and I had a heck of a time finding an apartment down there, being pushed more and more out of the city to rent. We finally found a place on the outskirts of town. We lived there until we were able to buy a home. We were directed to a section of town that was predominately black although I didn’t know it then. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know that in the 70’s and 80’s, many parts of Portland and its outlying areas were considered ‘Sundown Towns’. A Sundown Town is a place of residence where Blacks and other minorities were allowed to WORK there during the day but not allowed to LIVE there at night. An old saying I heard went, “Don’t let the sun go down on them niggers.”
Jump to around 1997. I’m married to my 2nd wife, who was Caucasian. She had a 2nd part-time job at a local restaurant here in Tacoma to help offset costs and make ends meet as I built my Personal Training and Competition Coaching business. One night she had a flat tire at her job. She called me to inform me she’d be late. I replied, “Well, I’ll just come and change the flat, no big deal!” She insisted that I didn’t have to do that because once they closed someone would help her. I didn’t want my wife waiting so I jumped in the car and drove down to change her tire. Upon arriving she seemed nervous, constantly looking at the restaurant’s back door. I questioned her on that but she played it off and I kept working. Just as I finished and stood up to look around, I saw 3 heads sticking around the corner like the 3 Stooges, Moe, Larry, and Curly. I asked her about that and she just replied, “Oh, they’re being nosy. Let’s go.” Home we went. A couple of days later she came home upset. “What’s wrong,” I asked? “I went to fill out my time card and written in black magic marker ink was the words, “NIGGER LOVER,” she sobbed. I was so pissed that I wanted to go back down there and find the person who wrote it. Yes, I was ready to fight again. She talked me down because “It was my boss”, and she didn’t want to lose her job as the tips were good. Well, in hindsight I should’ve went down there, because at the end of the week she’d received a termination notice for ‘slow business’ effective immediately. Yet the following week they’d hired another girl to take her place. I wanted to sue. She didn’t. And to this day, when I think about it I’m upset that I didn’t take a stand against racism.
I could keep going on but I’ll leap to less than 3 weeks ago. The Colin Kaepernick situation had exploded across the country. For the most part I’d chosen to remain silent on social media. Once I posted on my Facebook wall which created a big brouhaha. Another time I said something on a friend’s wall who was pro-standing. You would’ve thought I’d cursed out the Pope. They were all over my case because Kap didn’t stand, although I provided them constitutional and US Code proof that he had the right as an American citizen to NOT stand in protest, which he did quietly. I was insulted in spite of proof. But that’s not what I wanted to share. That will be in another blog. I was in a big box store when in the next isle I heard two gentlemen talking. One man asked, “So what do you think about that nigger, Kaepernick, and all his bullshit of not standing?” The other man replied, “I wish we could put all them fu**in’ niggers on a boat and ship em back to Africa where they belong.” I walked to the edge of the isle and peered around towards them. They gave kind of a startled look and walked off. I didn’t engage.
This blog is not intended to incite anger, division, or animosity but simply to educate, inform, and help the world understand that racism is still alive and well, at least through the eyes of this writer. It’s my story only. I have many friends who know nothing of what I’ve experienced, just as I don’t know their history. I’m a firm believer in remembering the past but not LIVING in the past. I’ve never lived there as this is my first time in 62 years of writing MY history, and I seldom talk about it except to educate and inform. My hope is that people reading this will have a better understanding and awareness of racism, and not blow it off as something that USED to exist but no longer does. It’s still here. To deny that is foolish.
Part two will delve into the history that I saw and experienced in the 1960’s and 70’s. Part three will bring everything together as I tie the past to the present. Will this series solve anything? My intent is not to solve but simply to inform, educate, and create awareness. If you draw anything other than that out of this, I truly apologize. I’m doing my best to remain neutral, but please remember that I AM a Black Man. And as such, I will more likely than not say things that people not of my color or race simply may not get or understand. If you feel so inclined to share, please do so. If you comment, I’m respectfully requesting courteous comments or they will be disabled. I won’t deny you your right to comment. I will delete cursing, swearing, and derogatory comments. Until next time…