When I was a kid racism never really seemed to be an issue. In fact it was never really a thought. My brother and my sisters all had Black friends, Hispanic friends, Filipino friends. I had a close-knit circle of friends that consisted of two white kids, two black kids and a hispanic kid. My father had black friends who would come over to our house for dinner and we would go over to theirs. Our church was a pretty diverse mixture of many different races. There were black ministers in our congregation and there were black teachers in our schools. I never saw race as anything different than ancestry. I think the country in the mid seventies was making great progress in closing the gap on the racial divide.
I am sure racism existed back then, but it was in very small doses and never made much of an impact on the way we lived our lives. Music was well-integrated, as well as the sports arenas. The political platform needed work, but then again when doesn’t it. I felt that the country had come a long way since the Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson days. Hollywood still needed to catch up with the times but it was made up of mostly Democrats who were probably still upset about the whole Emancipation Proclamation thing. (Just a joke folks, true, but still just a joke).
It wasn’t until I started dating that I got my first real glimpse into racism. When I was a junior in high school I started seeing this black girl. Her name was Levette and she was a year older and grade above me. She went to a different school so I lied about how old I was. I was afraid she wouldn’t go out with me if she knew I was younger than her. She was four inches taller than me as well, which caused her to always have to wear flats whenever we went out. Thank God it was the seventies and okay for men to wear platform shoes. We were introduced at a party and hit it off right away. Things went really well for a few weeks but then they slowly started to taper off. About two months into the relationship she broke it off. She told me her friends were giving her a hard time about seeing a white guy and it was just too much for her to handle. I wasn’t too upset seeing how I figured she would find out sooner or later that I lied about my age. I did like her a lot however, so it did have somewhat of an impact on my fragile little high school ego.
In my senior year I asked out this Spanish girl whose parents immigrated from Mexico to California when she was very young. Her name was Cynthia and we had been friends since the first grade. After weeks of asking she finally agreed to go out on a date with me. I took her to the multiplex in the center of town to see a movie called “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. Afterwards while in the parking lot I was approached by four Hispanic kids. They circled around me at the bottom of the front steps. From what I can recall they didn’t seem to be in a very good mood that evening. They made in very clear to me that I wasn’t to see this girl again. They said that she was one of theirs and they wouldn’t have her dating some white guy. After they had left I told her it didn’t matter to me what they said, but she knew what would happen if we kept seeing each other. She ended things with me that night, although we remained friends until we both went our seperate ways after graduation. The funny thing was that I grew up with those four boys as well and always thought of them as friends, up until that point anyway.
In my mid twenties I started dating a girl from Japan who was in the states attending school. Her name was Kameyo and I met her at a club on the Sunset strip. She was very straight-laced and professional. She worked as a dental assistant while she attended college to get her doctrine in oral surgery. She rented out a beautiful townhouse in an upperclass neighborhood and drove a new model four door sedan. We dated for over a year and eventually moved in together. Things for me were getting pretty serious. But after all that time and all we had been through she still refused to introduce me to her brothers or her parents. She even kept me distant from her friends. It became too much of a strain on our relationship and I eventually walked away. It was a very hard thing for me to do. After all, I loved that townhouse.
As I got older, race did become more divided. I found it easier to date only within my ethnic background. By then Rap music emerged on the scene and created a huge gap in inter racial unity. Even though young white kids became huge fans of the genre, it created a stereo type and developed a negative image for the young black man. The use of the “N” word along with the vulgarity and profanity became a staple in the musics lyrics. A word I had only heard a handful of times up until then. I remember when I was around seven I used that word once around my father, I was young and was repeating something that I had heard at school, yet still I got my mouth washed out with a bar of soap. I never did use that word again. I remember going in to buy Richard Pryor’s album a couple of years later titled “That N…rs crazy”. and I couldn’t even ask for it by name. I can’t even type it now. Rap music and the urban culture brought back the word and in the full force of main stream media. The music divided its fans into a kind of reverse segregation. I remember going to see N.W.A. in the early eighties at a place called Iguana’s in Mexico. When my friends and I arrived at the club there seemed to be a little tension among those in attendance. There was a mixed crowd there that evening but still we seemed a little out-of-place. But the show went on and everyone relaxed a bit and had a good time without incident. Last December (twenty-four years later) I went to see Lil Kim at a bar on the Yale campus in Connecticut. The crowd was no longer mixed, and the tension was very high. I didn’t just feel out-of-place, I felt I was in the wrong place. Although I wasn’t shown the door, I was made very aware of where it was. Telling me that a lot has changed in the last twenty some years. The divide has widened.
As a kid growing up in southern California I did see my share of violence. But most of it was gang related. Control and greed never discriminated. It didn’t matter what color you were when it came to money. I knew there were places I wouldn’t go into at night, or during the day for that matter. But I didn’t go into them because the kids there were black, I didn’t go into them because the kids there were Bloods. In 2012 86% of all white people who were killed were killed by white people. 94% of black people are killed by black people. Less than one percent of all murders were a cause of a hate crime. Which tells me that we are moving in the right direction. I bet if you were to look at the numbers from a hundred years ago they would be a lot different. But when there is a hate crime, the media just can’t get enough of it. They keep the fires burning.
There is a double standard in America that has created an animosity that feeds off of fear. With the media so often exploiting racial incidents for political agendas. It’s hard to imagine things getting better in a world that loves to divide its people. We have set ourselves back and need to find a way to move things forward again.
There is two favorite saying about race that I remember very clearly from my youth. One was during an interview with Jack Nicholson while he was filming the movie “One flew over the cuckoos nest”. He was dating Korean actress Lee Mi-Sook at the time. He said that “Race was God’s gift to man, because things would get pretty boring without variety”. The other was something my great-grandfather once told me. He said that “Color was irrelevant except for Beer and wine, and even then it was a matter of personal preference”.
I came from a very strict and religious household. How strict? Well I was not allowed to have friends over, ever. How religious? Well I once bought a John Williams Orchestra album with my own money that I earned mowing lawns. My father made me return it to the store because it had the “Close encounters of the third kind” movie theme on it. Apparently aliens are evil and music from movies about aliens are evil as well. Anyway. I was constantly picked on as a child because of my religious background. Chased home from school, cornered in the bathroom, etc, etc. So I know a little about the persecutions of discriminatory actions.
When I left home, I left the religious world far behind me as well. I found myself drawn into a darker group of people. I grew my hair out, got tattoos, pierced my ears. I wore torn up jeans, spiked wrist bands and chains around my neck. Of course there was the leather jacket as well. I wore black make up under my eyes and on occasion would even draw an upside down cross on my forehead. I rebelled in every sense of the word. I dressed like that for a two reasons. To be different from everyone else and to fit in with the group I was then friends with. But also to cause fear in those not like us. Fear can be very empowering. We fed off of it. It was a source of inner strength for us when we walked down the sidewalk and people moved to the other side of the street. When we walked past cars and people locked their doors. We weren’t those nerdy little kids that got picked on anymore. We were always looking for trouble. Well maybe not so much trouble, but definitely things that landed us in trouble.
It was hard for us to find work because of the way we looked so many of the kids turned to selling drugs. It was a common place for the young metal head to end up. We were treated a different way because of the way we looked and the music we listened to. We were labeled criminals, delinquents and devil worshipers. People saw us a certain way because we wanted them to see us that way. Not because of the color of our skin.
Today it seems the media loves to play the race card. They know that we can’t fight back if they do. If they make it racial then it instantly shifts the focus off of the real issue and puts it in a place it can’t be touched.
I think the young urban culture has rebelled in the same manner the kids in Hollywood did back in my day. The tight pants became baggy pants, the steel chains became gold and the leather jackets became hoodies. When I see a sideways hat I see what people once saw in me. It doesn’t matter if the kid is black or white, it’s because of the way he is dressed. You can’t tell me that people shouldn’t be judged by the way they dress if they are dressing for the purpose of fear. We wanted to look like Satan loving lost children even though we weren’t. The kids today want to look like thugged out gangsters, so they dress like thugged out gangsters. They also turn to selling drugs because it’s just easier than the alternative.
At some point you grow up and move on. You leave the childish things behind you. You wear clothes that are not too tight or too baggy. You put the spikes and gold chains away. You hang up your leather and you turn your cap forward. You grow up.
The problem is too many people don’t. They cry and snivel and blame everyone but themselves. Black people say they can’t get jobs because the white man is keeping them down. White people say they can’t get jobs because the Mexicans take them all. Mexicans say, hell if you don’t want to work we will. And if your living in a low-income neighborhood it’s only because you have a low-income. If your street looks like a dump it’s because the people who live there treat it like a dump. By vandalizing and destroying property it brings the value of the property down.
We seriously need to stop making it about race. The rules are the same for everyone. Make the consequences be the same as well. Be an adult that makes the change and not the town crier who keeps the past rekindled. Republicans blame Democrats, Muslims blame Christians, Jews blame everyone. (Just kidding). All I am saying is stand up and be counted for you. Judge yourself on your own merit and not in comparison to that of someone else. If anyone has the right to be upset its the Indians. The Trail of Tears and the Indian removal act of 1830 was every bit the American version of the holocaust. We just need to see things for what they are and stop creating things for what there not. Men like Henry Clay, James Garfield and Abraham Lincoln did not give their lives for our country so we could go all the way back to the beginning. The clock is moving forward, the Democrats need to take their finger off of the hands. (Again, just a joke folks. But let’s be honest, they did fight the Republicans on the slavery issue and the native American issue every step of the way).
In the words of the great James Garfield, (when writing about the death of John Smith),
“Servitus Exsisto Mortuus”, (He often wrote quotes in latin). It means…Slavery no more. (John Smith was a huge racist, something Disney failed to mention in its film “Pocahontas” and also a Democrat now that I think about it).