MLK and the Signs of our Times

Some might say that a lily white boy has no business writing about bigotry, race, and the long road traveled. Now “boy” is something of a misnomer since I’m on the leading edge of the Boomer generation but the pasty pale skin is accurate enough. I sunburn in strong moonlight, not being blessed with the much more forgiving complexion of my several siblings who inherited more of the olive shadings of my mother who as a kid traveling with her father was refused service in a restaurant who didn’t serve Mexicans in South Texas. Her coloring was something of an aberration, as were I suppose all of her siblings, since their white skinned, brown haired parents gave birth to one red head, one mousy brown; two black haired kids, two with pale skin and two with skin that at least didn’t redden under a strong flashlight; two tall and two short. It also might have something to do with my grandfather raising “rainbow” cattle as he described his herd that sported every color, size, and shape available in the bovine ensemble. He always claimed that the purebreds were weaker and more prone to problems and disease since their careful conformity came with the cost of inbreeding. Since my mom was no more than 3/16ths anything I suppose she was one of the strong ones.

That’s not to say that there weren’t bad examples from which to learn. My grandmother spoke of “other” people in belittling terms, and I don’t think it was from any overt racism, just that she felt “superior.” I can still see the look on her face after she made some offhand comment about “those” people (anyone not exactly like her) and I responded that in my experience assholes were where you found them whether black, brown, yellow, green, or white. I actually think she felt she was pretty open minded but her values were set in another time and another generation.

I’m sorry if I have already lost you as a reader but this personal history is the setting about which I wanted to explain that the long road is one the entire country made together, black, white, brown, and all the hues of the racial rainbow. I was returning from playing baseball along the creek behind the home of my friend who lived on the other side of the main highway through our small hometown. We had been playing with the kids from the black community a hundred yards behind his house—we always went where the game was, that day it was there. My father asked where I had been and when I told him he told me about being beaten by his father for playing with the black kids in his home town. He had never mentioned that story before and was not telling me that I had done anything wrong, it was just something that it reminded him of and I think he wanted me to see the change. I went to segregated classes through high school;
desegregation began the year after I graduated. We, the football players, all went to the Black Dragon games on Thursday night as we got free passes to theirs as they did to ours on Friday and we all did to the local college on Saturday—all in the same stadium. They were always better than my teams, although a year or two before me our school had gone deep into the state playoffs. I remember their games had a much more passionate following (yes even more than ours, in Texas, where football is king). They also had much more pageantry as the cheerleaders and band put on choreographed displays that put our school’s tame efforts to shame.

Now I knew of seriously red-necked bigots but any encounters with such vitriol were met with a sad although silent disapproval by my parents. I was away at college as desegration made its way through the school system but I don’t remember a single tale of problems from my parents or my three younger siblings who were all living through it. I’m sure there were some but integration was mostly a change. Just a change not so terribly different as the changes they were all sharing moving from grammar school to junior high and on to high school, discovering members of the opposite sex, learning to drive, fighting pimples, trying to fit in and stand out all at the same time.

As parents, my wife and I certainly got our chances to test our color blindness. Our daughter came home one day to announce that she and Brian were “going out.” Now we knew Brian as a smart kid, football player, soft but well spoken, mannerly, oh, and black. Now his race wasn’t the thing about him that we most admired but we had brought her up to value things we felt mattered—and apparently she had. All in all we were probably thrown more by the “going out” thing than anything else—it appears going out had nothing to do with dating, necking, or in fact going anywhere, or doing anything. I think in my day it was “going steady” or exchanging disks which seemed to mean nothing more than designating a best friend of the opposite sex. On a side note, and since this is an article in a Celtics blog, Brian was the spitting image of an 11-year-old Shaq—my word what an advertising bonanza was missed there.

A couple of years later when our daughter was playing volleyball for the school team, she came home all excited about a new kid in school who had joined the volleyball team. She was a great leaper and while not tall could actually spike the ball rather than bumping it or hitting it overhead but still at an upward slant to clear the net. At the next game we looked over the team wondering who the new friend was. Calling our daughter over to the stands we asked which one was Margie? She looked back and after a moment said “Number 35.” As our daughter returned to the court we quickly spotted the girl in question and turned to one another and simultaneously expressed amazement that the daughter unit had not even thought to identify her friend as the lone black girl on the team. Now that’s color blind!

In closing I would just like to say that I have personally experience the long road and while mine did not include any physical injury or lynching, it does represent a multitude of changes over four generations. I often tell my daughter that I am bigoted; it is just that my prejudice is against willful ignorance, stupidity, and intolerance. I am just as disappointed with the black community not ostracizing “gangsta” values promoting violence, denigrating women, and worshiping pride for pride’s sake as I am the Muslim community for not making terrorists outcasts or whites for not placing the KKK or skinheads into the mental disease category that I feel they represent. Finally let me add my lament that the media gives so much credence to the fringe extremists by their disproportionate coverage.