I grew up during the sixties in a neighborhood where basically all races of people were represented. Some may not believe it but, we had black, white, Irish, German, Mexican, Indians, interracial couples, even gender challenged and others. We had tall, short, fat, round, skinny, dumb, smart, criminal, athletic, and the home bodied. And each, of everyone was of many complexions and hair styles and personalities. I guess you can say that those who grew up in our little community had the world represented just outside their front window.
I remember holidays, where families brung tables out to the middle of the streets, and corners were blocked off from traffic and people would brung dishes of all kinds of foods from their homes. And kids, we kids would run, jump, play, laugh, cry, get hurt, get doctored, get up and go again, and compete at the instruction and supervision of adults and the older kids. Police from the local precinct, teachers and coaches from school and their families; my dad was a scout master and my mother a part of the community PTA, and no one, no one was ever a stranger.
I guess it would have been the height of the riots in the summer of nineteen sixty-eight. I was only eleven years old then when I first remember seeing the strangers, dressed in OD green appeared in our neighborhood. We all knew who the strangers were. We weren’t isolated in a little village or anything like that; Milwaukee, WI was a growing metropolitan in those days; and we went all over the city, to neighborhood and downtown movies, boys clubs, swimming pools, events at local parks, school trips and other social gatherings all over the city. So don’t get me wrong in thinking that we were naive to the going-ons in the city, across the country, or even in the world, but in our little community, if there was anything going on it was hidden very well.
Yet when the strangers came, I remember like it was yesterday, playing in our next door neighbors back yard with the little matchbox cars on a make-shift cloth city my friend father had made, with my best friend Davy. When the strangers came, how we gathered up our little cars and were led to our perspective homes. I remember staying in the house for what seemed like just a few days, but in reality I really can’t remember how long it was. But what I do remember, is when we did come back outside life was different in our little paradise. Everyone knew there was something different going on. Even I as a child could sense the tension in the air, even though I had no ideal what that tension was or even meant.
I remember listening to the Martin Luther King recordings in those days but I didn’t know I was supposed to be different now. I didn’t know that I was supposed to have all of a sudden developed this deep-seeded hatred for the neighbors, of whom I believed felt no ill-will toward me or my family or my friends. Yes, I knew that Martin Luther King was assassinated. Yes, I knew that there were other prominent figures who were assassinated because of their beliefs. And yes, I knew that racism existed in this city, in our country, the world, but not in my neighborhood, not in the people whom helped shaped my tiny little beginnings.
Only, I didn’t really know what that word, racism, fully meant. Hell, I definitely had no ideal what it felt like to be discriminated against! What in the hell was this thing, this word racism, that was driving everyone crazy? To me, it was just some made up word that had no significance to me at all, and it would never have any significance to me until after, I learnt what another word meant first; and that word was culture shock.
The true force, the relevance, the shame, the shock, the true nature of that word, “racism,” would only become manifested in me through my culture shock; from my feeling of being discriminated against for the very first time. Hell, it was nineteen seventy-five. I was eighteen years old. So in essence, my life was now telling me there a conspiracy from nineteen fifty seven to nineteen seventy five living in a world where my family, friends, neighbors, and even our immediate community leaders either acted like, or believed we were all just acting better than what and whom we actually were.
“As it turned out, it wasn’t just the culture shocking of it, or even the act of being discriminated against; as bad as it really was, the devastation of having to have that word “racism” be drilled repeatedly into my psyche by society until I got it!”
Okay, now I get it. Now I know what those strangers came to prevent, to tell us not to do, or simply just remind us of what? Or, maybe even someone had reported our little fraction of this country, this little community of ours as not acting accordingly to the worlds’ rules of hatred? Needless to say our neighborhood was never the same after that day the strangers came. And although our neighborhood did hold on to much of its diversity long into the nineteen nineties after that, but we went from an evenly mixture of racial households to predominately black households. Even further, our neighborhood was reclassified from the upper east-side of town to the north-side of town.
That day those strangers changed so much in our world on that day when they came. There were things in me I wouldn’t realize, things that would not manifest itself until years later; like the splitting up of me and my best friend Davy. They sent me in my house and him into his. As an eleven year old, and given the nature of my upbringing up until that point in my little life, there would be no way I could have comprehended what the hell was going on. Oh, did I mention Davy was white and I am black. That day was the beginning of the shaping of my paradigm of the world as I see it today.
This splitting up of our friendships, our communities, our country, did not come from our friends or neighbors or even our community, it came from the strangers we so recklessly allowed to govern, and/or intervene in our lives with their fool-hearted agendas! We sit there, like mindless little nobodies, waiting on someone to tell us how we should behave and when to act. When they say go rally for this, and march for that; and with not even knowing who they are really; we get up like it’s our obligation to carry out or carry on some agenda we don’t even believe in the true nature of, because we just wasn’t raised that way.
“I just can’t follow any old body to any old place, even if it’s just in the mind!”
It is so strange the nature of mankind to be a part of something greater than ourselves, that we simply follow strangers, would go along to get along than be nothing at all!
“Well, I’d rather die being a part of nothing at all, than to follow a bunch of sorry-ass poor excuse’s of manhood and leadership… strangers, into a world of chaotic and racist oblivion!”
Well, that’s my story, and I stick to it everyday!…