March 20, 2013
Writing about Race Relations instead of "Letters to a Grandson"
I started teaching in a place and at a time that was racially jumpin'. With great difficulty, that first year started. I knew I would soon find out if I was or was not racially prejudiced. I shouldn't have worried. Within a week or so, they were all just kids. Neither color nor religion meant a thing.
There were those papers I had to fill out. How many of you students are Eskimos? No hands up on that one. How many are Hispanic -- questions about what that meant. Do you or your family speak Spanish? Couple of hands on that one. How many of you are Polynesian? What did that mean. From the South Sea Islands. Laughter and sniggers. How many of you are Caucasian -- that means white. Most hands went up. Next came the Negroid question, which would be how many of you are black. First of all, most "blacks" aren't black, and in my family, the word was always "colored." So, of course, my southern self asked," How many of you are colored?" A student in the front took issue with that. "Don't call me colored," he said. "I ain't polka dotted." For a minute, I was stumped until I figured out that most children, when they're coloring anything, will often make things polka dotted. " All right," I said. 'What do you want me to call you?" "I want you to call me Sam," he said.
Wise Sam. The teacher had much to learn from you. This teacher began learning when in teachers' college. There was an elementary school that was part of the college, and I heard them calling out. "Nigger, nigger, where you goin'?" was what they were calling. I looked out my second story window. Below, I could see a brown-skinned soldier in uniform waiting for a bus, standing in front of the college where the driveway circled. A few little smarties were circling on bikes, calling him names and throwing pebbles. I was about to call out for them to stop, but he took care of the problem himself.
He snapped to attention. The kids didn't know what to make of that. They moved on. I figured he would relax, but he didn't. He stayed that way till the bus came and its door opened. I never saw his face, and he had no idea I was witnessing what he was doing. The thought came to me that if there was one such person, there must be many others. I had much to learn, and that was when I began to realize that.
Where do such heroic men and women come from? What scientist can explan to me how in one moment in history a race can be in primitive conditions in Africa, can be transported in chains to be living on primitive plantations, and then in an historical blink of an eye become brave fighter pilots escorting bombers in war or a Jackie Robinson? I do not understand it. I marvel about it.
Because of my ignorance, I don't want this President to fail. I see his wanting the underdog to have a better place in this financial world. I don't agree with his attitude about debt, but I don't want him to fail because we white people resorted to throwin' pebbles, so to speak. His intentions will be thwarted because of two kinds of people, I feel sure of that. One is the person who dislikes him because of the color of his skin and the culture he comes from. The other is the black person who is jumpin' up and down, splendidly happy in ignorance, crying out, "He gonna take care of me!" -- when these two types of people meet, it's always Fight Night. Good luck then. No President is going to have much luck with those two.
We all have some baggage, I suppose. Black male students began wearng their pants down around their penises, as if they were always ready to pee or screw at a moment's notice. It looked (and still does) like crap, and it caused some difficulty when they tried to run or even walk fast. One student came careening down the hall, tripped on the crotch of his pants (no, not kidding), and ran head first into the brick wall ahead of him. Where that type of student (who is not much of a student at all, actually) is concerned, I guess I am prejudiced, because I laughed. While he lay on the floor, trying to gather his senses around him, I was laughing. So sue me. The President had better "take care of " that kid because he's so stupid he's not going to take care of himself. Duh.