Friday, January 2, 2009

Racism & being a Kid

Someone I call a "friend" sent me an email recently & asked me if I had ever, in my life, not stood up for someone that was being mistreated, or against something that was just wrong. I appreciated the sentiment of the email & the compliment but the question made me think that maybe a confession of sorts would be in order.

There have been a few times where I didn't stand up as I should but the one that haunts me 'til this very day was about 35 years ago.

There was a another kid that played on the same pee wee football team as me. Wes was taller, faster & could catch anything thrown his way. That's why he was a receiver & a tight end --- a really good athlete.

Wes was just a nice guy. We hung out together before & after practice. He usually rode with us to away games. Wes & I were just good friends.

And Wes happened to be black.

As a 12 year old boy in 1975 in GA, I knew about racism. I knew how things were & how things "were supposed to be" had it not been for those "no-back bone politicians in Washington & those activist judges." (I'm being really nice here & won't say the rest. Use your imagination & recollections.) Still, being a naive kid had its good points & that's why Wes & I were friends. It didn't matter to me --- or to him either, I suppose. We never talked about it; my parents never said anything. So it was all fine.

Then one day we had to play an away game in Cobb County. My mom had driven us to the park & we had gotten there much earlier than the rest of the team. So Wes & I walked down to the concession stand to get a drink. Plenty of time before all the pre-game stuff & plenty of time for us to get in trouble too.

As we were walking, we had to pass a rather lengthy stretch with a chain link fence. Along that fence were some players from another team, maybe 6 or 8 of 'em. They were bigger than Wes & me. No parents or other adults around.

I don't know all the things they said but it was a lot. And it was stuff they must have heard & repeated many times before. Wes was called all sorts of names. He was told to "go back to Africa with the rest of the ... " You get the picture. And I wasn't spared because I was with him & they began to taunt me with things like "you lover of his kind too?"

I didn't know what to do but I knew what they were doing was wrong. I was afraid because there were more of them & in both number & size. Wes & I couldn't do anything except walk on past & take it.

We didn't talk about it. Neither of us knew what to say to other. I was ashamed for what they had done & was mad as blue blazes at 'em too. But mostly I was mad at myself for not doing [i]something[/i]. I felt like I had let a good friend down in the worst way.

Today it is easy to know what I should have done: found an adult & tell the story. But as a 12 year old kid who is scared, it ain't that easy. The worst part is I know now that if I had found an adult & told what had happened, I may have gotten an even harsher response.

I remember looking at Wes as they were saying those things; mostly I was looking for a cue as to what to do. To this day, the thing that I remember most is that Wes changed for those 15 seconds or so. He stood up straighter & held his head a bit higher. There was no clinched fist or glare or frown or anything like that. What there was, was an air of his being resolute; that he was bigger than that; that he had risen above it; & proud that things were different in the "real" world, even if a bunch of kids were still living in the past.

Honestly, I was proud of Wes. Still am proud of him, too. And I'm still ashamed that I didn't do something

What I can do, is do something today.

Luke 6:31 Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!
--- The Message


Georgia Mountain Man said...

I grew up in a town and county that was completely white. By high school there was a family of mixed race Asian kids in town, but no African-Americans. I didn't know about racism for the most part. I was 13 years old before I saw it first hand at my daddy's workplace in FL. At a company fish fry, blacks and whites had separate areas. I was radically pro-civil rights in the 60's. Admittedly, my stance has wavered a few times. I have tried to instill in my son the same values. As kids and adults, it is often difficult to stand up to racism, but we must continue to do what is in our power to defeat it.

Stephen Fox said...

To understand Cobb County Read Oney definitive book on the Lynchin of Leo Frank near where the Big Chicken used to be, and the Brumbelow Rocker.
Brumbelow's ancestry were involved.