Tuesday, August 19, 2014

AMERICAN RACISM



HOME OF THE SLAVE, LAND OF THE FLEE

Temecula, CA – Genesis 3 tells us about two seeds – the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed. In America, you have black people and white people, but you also have people who are white and people who are black. There is a difference between the group designations.

Author with first son by pool, circa 1968
In 1963 this author graduated high school in Louisville, Kentucky, a town just south of the Mason-Dixon Line. That summer seeking a job before I went away to college, I answered a newspaper ad for office manager, in training. The preliminary job interview over the phone went very well and the company owner was thrilled to talk to such an energetic and intelligent young man. I could hear him tell others in the office of the news about the potential new hire for the summer. You could also tell by the voices in the background that the office was all white.

Hanging up the phone excitedly, the interview was set for 4 o’clock that same day. 

Parking my mother’s car, I walked down the street to the office of my possible summer job. Knowing the office was all white, I was looking forward to the job as a way to experience the real world since the storied high school I attended seemed more a southern Walt Disney movie scenario with me a tanned Richie Cunningham/Fonzie mix. I felt prepared to be a good representation of my school and my race.

I straightened my tie and walked to the front door of my potential summer job.

Staring through the large glass front door, I could see an animated office filled with men in ties and women in skirts. The man who was probably the one I talked to was out in front of the desk area and seemed to be the boss. 

I walked through the door looking chipper and stylishly hip. When I said ‘Hi, I interviewed earlier for the summer job here’ I experienced my first ‘E.F.Hutton’ moment, though it wouldn’t be my last. The entire office of about twenty people froze as if hit by a Flash Gordon ray gun and the boss blanched.

“The j-j-job’s been filled,” said the shocked employer as if he had seen a ghost. Freeze-framing the mental picture, I turned and left, not looking for another job all summer and retreating back into my side of Louisville, the West End. I haven’t forgotten the incident and never will. My family didn’t know what had occurred because I wasn’t a kiss ‘n’ tell. 

By 1982 I had moved back to Louisville to settle my deceased mother’s estate. The town had changed by then in more than just appearance. My mother’s siblings, her brother and sister, and my aunt by marriage had cleared the house of everything except a single chair, perhaps in hindsight, thinking maybe I’d hang myself. 
Later, having been invited over for dinner by the aunt who had masterminded the desolation, I was told to move back to Louisville with this explanation.

“We don’t mind you having white girl friends; we just don’t like you having white friends.”

Though I wanted to say, ‘did you get up this morning and take two stupid pills with your coffee?’, that little voice we all have whispered, ‘too personal’. So instead I looked at this seated aunt [by marriage], her husband who was my blood uncle with my mother’s sister both standing behind her at the head of the fancy dining room table, and said,

“How can you ever expect to learn anything new from being around people who think the same way you do?”

The room fell silent and I chowed the meal with no more conversation. All the women in our family were good cooks and very renowned locally for it. I finished, thanked them for the food and left that house for good. Later that year I threw an epic Derby party for all the new friends I had made which featured candlelit harmony, music, beer, and weed. 

By the time of my Derby party, I had been working as a writer for the Louisville Artist Magazine, gaining the experience that would one day spawn PT Rothschild.

For that job, once again I had answered an ad found in a newspaper, the free local independent type that you see in coffee shops. After again setting up an interview over the phone, I approached the magazine office with some trepidation, flashing back to the 1963 incident. 

William Montgomery, the publisher, was about 10 years my junior. He was white, as was everyone else on the magazine staff. He interviewed me for a few minutes and gave me a press kit to a new movie, a horror film about to open. I hate horror films but I kept this information to myself. My trial assignment was to cover the film’s premiere and write it up. I returned with my review a few days later, and William or ‘Bucky’ as he was known, read the work, looked up and said, “You’re hired. I’m glad to have someone from the West End to offer a different slant for our readers.” 

I left his office that day with my previous 1963 memories buried and said to myself, “Louisville has changed in some quarters with this new generation of youth.” 

For the next year, including my Derby party, I learned a lot of new things, all of which started with the validation that some people were white, but not ‘white people’, a concept I first learned in Iowa, see ‘Fields of Gold [Bud]’, Chapter 4, Memoirs of Mr. Pete & Mary Jane Green, now on sale at Amazon.

When I was back in Louisville, I did have some real friends from the past, one of which was my first mother-in-law, Rebecca, a woman I came to know as a ‘white witch’ after my first wife and I separated. This is something that happened to her I heard about from others.

Rebecca, a dark brown-skin woman my grandfather’s complexion, was very kind-hearted but also was aware of employment racism. Her humbleness and ‘never meeting a stranger’ put her in good stead with whites and blacks. She also had a good work ethic but those who knew her personally were aware that like Yoda, she was someone not to be toyed with. She worked at the DMV until she retired. 

Sometime before she retired, her department got a new young white supervisor, who for several days approached Rebecca with a ‘new sheriff in town’ attitude in criticizing her work performance. A co-worker supervisor said to the new department head, “I wouldn’t talk to Rebecca like that, if I were you.” The young blond woman brushed off the cautious warning. 

That Friday, the same new supervisor came over to give Rebecca a ration of shit in her usual manner, to which Rebecca is reported to have said, “You know child, you shouldn’t be so mean. You never know when you might fall down and break your leg.” The brash young woman sniffed and walked away. Twenty minutes later the woman left the building for her lunch break and walking out the door, slipped and fell all the way down the cascading government building outside staircase, breaking her leg.

A week later after getting out of bed and on crutches, the young woman came back to work. Her first duty at the DMV was an apology to Rebecca, who I’m told said, “Don’t worry child, everybody makes mistakes.”
Ferguson sympathy protest in Portland, OR, 8-14-2014
Today in America, as has always been the case, there are black people and white people, but there are also people who happen to be black or white. As with the two seeds of the Bible, the only way to tell people apart is by the actions of their heart toward others, not the color of their skins.

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