You Have To Be Carefully Taught

The bus ride down to Three Rivers Stadium was a textbook case of ''life lessons learned."  Just a nine-year old riding to a Pirates game with a male family member (I don't remember how we were related), occasionally switching seats, peering out the windows and surveying every new passenger.  A young boy around my age presently boarded and summarily detached himself from his chaperone and made his way over to the empty benches that I had turned into my own private first class digs.  We eyed each other, looked away, ended up on the same dual-seat bus bench and sort of enjoyed silence together; there wasn't a bunch of dialogue.  Just two similarly aged kids traveling on the same bus, jointly detached from their elders in search of someone relatable.   


Well, after so much of that, the elder family member that guided me, in his 50s, called me with a hiss back over to where he'd been sitting.  When I sidled up next to him, eyes upwards, wondering what I'd done now, he leaned into me with eyes towards my new friend and said, "don't you be playing with whitey."


I just looked at him.  Then I looked back at my buddy, seemingly farther and farther towards the front of the bus.  Always looking back.  Always wondering why we had suddenly parted ways.


The 1970s Giveth Back, Kind Of


After all of the nasty Civil Rights Movement incidents of the 1960's, America was ready to make reparations based on this particular culture clash, and it turned into an, as usual, clusterfuck of an attempt by various federal level and state level governments to amend past wrongs by shoving the controllers in the opposite direction.  During the 70's, after Nixon was humiliated out of office, the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to undo the wrongs that had been set in motion by the volcanic social strife of the 60's involving people of color.  So, they proposed "de-segregation" action that would, instead of dividing black and white children, they would purposefully bus kids of either racial status to schools far away from their own homes and realities.  Rich white kids from the San Fernando Valley were bussed into inner-city, gang-infested problem schools and teeming urban youth were bussed two hours into the valley where the culture shock of an upper-middle class and upper class upraising presented unhealthy comparisons between school mates. 


"Alright. It's you and us," he said. 

I was still struggling to comprehend what I'd just heard. 

"It's us and the fucking whites.  We're not taking this shit," said my New Mexican friend. 

I'd been part of de-segregation for about six months, not understanding why it was all happening.  Why couldn't I just go to my school down the street instead of being shipped off in a bus towards the north east for two hours every day (one way) to attend a school that was like landing on an alien base? Those questions were bright and shiny on my mind as I sat across from this guy, whom I'd just met, as he twirled a switchblade and looked expectantly out towards the middle school quad. 

I don't even know how I ended up with this guy and his crew, but they were all protective of me (I was 13) and adamant that the "battle" was whites vs. Mexicans and blacks. 

I sat and nodded.  I felt safe. 

Then, along the chain link fence that girded the common yard, a Datsun 280z pulled up and dropped off a handful of aluminum baseball bats.  You know, the serious looking ones.  Five guys climbed over the fence, snatched the bats, scrambled back over the fence and then all hell broke loose. 

Kids began running every which way.  Swept up in the madness, I flanked my New Mexican buddy, whom I had never even met before, but he was somehow "on my side."  We made it towards the center of the middle school campus, chaos erupting behind us, sickening sounds and yelps and cries, the pattering of feet, the shriek of animated get-the-fuck-out-of-there-sounds.  I remember ducking my head and trusting that the people who said they had my back actually had my back. 

The school was placed on lock-down for the post-lunch affair.  School Superintendent Baxter Ward's son had been thrown down a flight of stairs.  You couldn't leave the classroom.  Unless you were bussed, they were checking IDs at the pickup area. A full-on race riot had just gone down at a major middle school.  And I was smack dab in the middle of it. 

There were numerous other racial intersections in my life, most notably after the Rodney King verdict, when Los Angeles set fire to itself in protest and I rolled down my window to military police armed with fully-automatic weapons as I left work from Six Flags Magic Mountain.  A girl that I fell in love with during the mid-80's was forbidden to date me because I was black.   

When I moved to Florida in 1993, I was vaguely aware that this was a "Deep South" state, but thought that the presence of Walt Disney World in its nouveau riche bowels would advance it far beyond the low-brow, confederate history of its region.  I was naive. 

Not long after I arrived, I was assaulted by a white man brandishing a Miller Genuine Lite bottle, half-full.  He brought it down upon my head, sending me tumbling into a drainage ditch, where I was able to scramble up the embankment, keep him off of me, hop in my little blue car and speed the hell away from all that.  After calling the police, they drove me back over to the residence, where they heard "specific" evidence of the primary attack, and arrested the guy who tried to break my head open with a beer bottle. 

I speak from experience; some people are FUCKED up.  Thankfully, not all people are so.  But still, there are those out there who won't think twice about calling you out because they don't agree with your "whatever."   


I'd like to think that there are more of the good, wonderful, accepting, caring, empaths in the world then the shitty people.  We have the advantage; love and light. 

But now, the news, every night.  Jesus.  My heart is still healing from the slaughters in Orlando some weeks back, and I couldn't be there to show support in person for a town that was just blown to bits by the unbelievable demonstration of brutality over the course of a weekend.  Now, with these flare-ups over more cop/victim deaths and then more surreal cop "assassinations" in the aftermath; crickey, people, get a fucking hold-on.  What, doesn't the adage "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth renders everybody eyeless and toothless" mean anything?  I know there are no easy answers, desperation always looks different from the outside.  But being united means understanding why we're all crushed together in the same place in the first place.   

We're the baby.  Every other country?  Scads of history, dating back to when most of what we know didn't even exist. We are an experiment, wonder what it would be like, the dreamers thought.  We are idealists.  We are altruists.  We own slaves.  Some of us.  Okay, revisionists, unite. Even if it's awkward. 

There ain't no easy answers, man.  There's only, "hey, we're all in this together, can we agree to help each other out?" 

If nothing differentiates between the prior generation and what you may call "generation US", it's the idea that we can forgive quicker than our predecessors.  Enlightenment, insight, hindsight, introspection, belief and a purpose-driven life illuminate our ability as humans to adapt, improve, proceed and elevate in everything that we do.  I have faith for us all going forward.  'There are more beautiful people than assholes in the world.   

At least I'd like to think so, wouldn't you? 

There's a wonderful song from the Broadway show "South Pacific" that illustrates the injection of racism in modern culture.  Here are the lyrics. 

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!


Men, women, black, white, gay, straight, God or ?, Democrat, Republican, Boxers or Briefs, Heart-beats, flesh, rhythm, melody and spirits.  Ain't we all in this thing together? Can we figure it out?  Can we, please?  Don't let them tear us apart - this is the Great Experiment and It's not over yet. No time even soon!  




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