I grew up in a segregated America. My parents would have qualified as third generation hillbillies who came to town to work. We lived in a mixed race neighborhood in an inner city. Those were days when a fist fight on the corner was just that – no one pulled out a knife or gun and killed you. We always lived to fight another day. But my life was enigmatic, raised by hillbillies in a mixed race neighborhood during segregation. What must I have learned?
I learned street corner slap boxing and to walk with a strut, but I was in my twenties before I realized that I dropped the L’s out of words. We said things like, “It’s code outside.” The white children in my neighborhood walked north to Thomas Alva Edison school, the black children walked south to Horace Mann. But we gathered in the evening for sport, we engaged each other in slap-boxing. It was just sport, and it was not racial competition. Dougie and I were friends like Huck Finn and Sam.
A real fight was brewing one evening – animosity is not limited to race – but this particular evening a black and a white were stirring the pot of anger. A gang of us were sitting on a wall on a street corner when the white lady of the house (she was elderly) came out and asked what was happening. We told her. She said, matter-of-factly, “Fight. Fight. Nigger and a White.”
While attending UMKC I studied African-American History from 1877. I have been acquainted all of my life with talented, thoughtful, and generous black people – so the course of study of black leaders was easy for me to accept and digest. As children, we accepted each other as equals. As adults, there is a strain of uncertainty, of mistrust.
Barack Obama pleases me a great deal. He is a man who seems to have bridged the racial divide. But there are people out there who just do not like bridges. For those people, problems are things they have to work on. They are afraid that if they quit working the problem then the problem might go away – then what would they do? Al Sharpton and the KKK come to mind – they are of the same stripe.
We are at the dawn of a new era. I have written extensively on racism. Black people have written flattering comments – always with a qualifier of uncertainty about the future.
I have returned figuratively to my childhood – standing on the corner with my friends – hopefully looking to the future.