Invisible Is'ims. Sexism, Racism, Nepotism...
How subterfuge fuels a growing divide
Racism and the "N" word.
I was ten years old when I said the N-word for the first time. I was in 4th grade, and Mrs. Bridges was my teacher. She was a real hard ass and never listened to me or much of my valid complaints, but that's another story. I was your typical sticks and bones white kid, living out in the boonies. I thought I was "normal". Turns out, things got a lot more abnormal as I grew up, and then I started discovering all the abnormal that had always existed. I just didn't know what it was, until then.
Back to the beginning.
Alright, let's rewind. Now that you have an idea of what my story is about, I'll give you some of the details, but I'll do it so you can experience the same things I did, in the order I did. You'll see what I'm talking about. And before you go wondering whether I made this shit up... they say you can't make this shit up. Life is stranger than fiction. Yes this is my life - my real life.
Fir the first couple years of my life I lived in Redford Michigan, a suburb of the surrounding Detroit area. For me, in pre-school, that was big city life. The houses were separated by a couple of feet, everything was mashed in close. Life was mostly confined to the inside of my house, my front and back yard, school, and the short distance in between those things.
Straight away, we moved out to the country and into a brand new house. It was really cool. Did I mention is was really COLD too? We moved in winter and when Christmas break was over, I was back in school. A new school. New and unfamiliar. Byron. Livingston County. I didn't notice it back then, but everyone looked exactly like me. White. So what? I was a kid. Life was simple.
Growing up out in the country gave me the opportunity to do a lot of things other kids could never dream of doing. Shooting guns unsupervised out in the woods, or in the bay yard? Shooting bow and arrows into the air and trying to dodge them as they fell? Swimming naked in a creek and getting caught by your mom with the neighbor girl? Hi Christy! LOL. Yeah, she might get pissed with me saying that but, we were KIDS. We had no devious intentions and we were innocent of all the bullshit that gets hung on kids shoulders now-a-days. I call it SOCIAL BAGGAGE. I'll talk about that more, later.
One summer my mother and I were driving down our road, Byron road, and "whoever" had just graded the thing. Grading is what we called it. Grading may or may not be the word, but this is what I knew back then and I'm not gonna google it just to be proper and right - now. Grading was when they SCRAPED the top layer of dirt off the road and when they were done, there was a large pile that went right down the middle separating the two sides of the road, and a big pile on each side. I guess it helped keep the dust down, or keep the road from becoming a washboard. Country folks know what I'm talking about.
Well, we were driving, my mom and me and my brother, and as we do out in the country, the speed limit is as fast as your car will go. The faster, the better. Less dust in the car, less vibration, the car tires just basically skip from the top of one washboard to the next. In order to do this safely, you need to take a center position on the road, and floor it, which is what my mom did. About a mile or so from our house, another car was coming, so my mom moved to the right... the left wheel hit the middle ridge of dirt in the road, the car jerked and she overcompensated. We ended up side swiping a mail box and it took our bumper off...
My mother told me to stay in the car as she got out to assess the damage. I remember looking out at the old farm house and the grain silos behind it, and the giant cross that stood out from the top of the tallest grain silo. I thought that place was a church. A priest must live there. A couple minutes later my suspicions were confirmed. An old man came down to the road and introduced himself, and without complaint, he got some wire and bent to task, wiring our bumper back into place so my mom could go on her way until she could get it fixed. My mom told him she would pay for the mailbox, but he told her it was fine. He would fix it. He seemed like the nicest guy.
Back in school, I found myself a bit of an outcast. Yeah, I talk about that in some of my other stories so look out for those in the coming future. Anyways, as an outcast, I very quickly realized, not all people are equal. From a very young age, I was subjected to the very real subject discrimination and unfortunately, it's something as ingrained into our minds and bodies, as mathematics. This is how we learn. This is called "Organization and Grouping".
A Hundred Marbles.
You get a basket of marbles from the teacher. There are exactly one hundred. The teacher asks each student to separate the marbles into smaller groups based on any number of characteristics. DONE. You've just learned what it is to profile and become colorist against marbles. STUPID is what it is. LOGICAL too. Most kids, they go right for the big ones. Separate the large marbles from the medium ones, shove a couple in your mouth, one of the small ones up the left nostril. Ooops. Mistake. Call the teacher, have the teacher remove said marble from the nostril and then give a warning to the rest of the class about you, the idiot, and how you should not put marbles up your nose. How was I supposed to know? By the end of the day we've separated the marbles in so many different ways we've got fifty groups: Gigantic, Huge, Large, Medium, Small, and Tiny. Steel, Glass, Ceramic, solid color, solid with dots, solid with swirls, clear, clear with dots, clear with swirls, and then divided more by what color the solid or swirled or dotted marbles are. It's all about separating the marbles that are different, based on physical traits that have NOTHING to do with the fact that all the marbles are round, all the marbles roll, all the marbles are smooth, and at the end of the day, all the marbles go back in the same bag, and exist in harmony, side by side.
I'm not saying that grouping or organization is a bad thing, but it's something so simple, so ingrained into our psyche, and yet... nobody ever thinks to give kids a quick lesson in how to GROUP items by uniqueness... Break down 100 Marbles into exactly ten groups and make each EQUAL, and unique... Not only is this higher learning on a level not before experienced, but it makes kids just learning the basics understand, it's okay to see the differences in things, as long as you see the similarities as well, or consider uniqueness in itself, a similarity to all other unique items. but we don't do that. We're all good with changing Mathematics from it's simple easy to use form, to something computer programmers use to code a machine, but we're not willing to teach our children how to value other people? Oh, maybe we are... but not until our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, have already done their best to destroy our innocence and instill their own racisms and prejudices in us.
From the moment I could hear, I listened to my father calling black people the N-word. Constant derogatory statements that I struggled to understand. Now, that's actually a LIE. I put that there because it sounds better, it makes me sound more innocent, but as a young boy who WAS innocent, I didn't struggle with the N-word. I didn't struggle with my father using it every time he saw a black person. To me, he was just separating the bad people from the good people. Black marbles from the rest of the white marbles... and the brown marbles, the colored marbles, the multi-colored marbles, the steel ones, the ceramic ones, all the other marbles. The only good marbles were the white ones. Problem was... all the solid white marbles SUCKED. They were always chipped and cracked, broken, stained... any little imperfection, you could see it. It stood out like a sore thumb. I'm talking about marbles, but at the same time, I'm not.
My father would tell us stories about how he'd gone to do business in downtown Detroit, where all the N****** lived, and how he'd gotten jumped. He told my brother and I, how he'd beaten up black people, using his nun-chucks to hit them in the head, break their arms and legs, elbows and knees, and how he always brought protection when we went to N-town. He spoke of it as if it were a life lesson, an important thing to remember, and I took his words to heart...
The Big Slide.
Now that we're all caught up, the year is 1980 something, and I'm ten years old, back in Mrs. Bridges 4th grade class. It's lunch time and we're on lunch recess. Back when I was a kid, you had recess before school. As the busses unloaded, you found yourself going out to the playground, or the school gymnasium, until the bell for classes rang. After a couple hours we had lunch and the faster you ate, the more time you got to spend out on the playground before classes resumed. It was during one of these recess times that I had my first taste of... well, I'll let you put a label on it.
I didn't see Nathan very often. Nathan was, as far as I knew, the only black kid at my school. I didn't speak to him. I wasn't necessarily afraid of him, but everything I had heard and been told weighed heavily on me every time I saw Nate. I simply didn't know... anything. And yet, here he was, on the slide... in front of me. He went down the slide. HE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING TO ME. Nothing. I slid down the slide and at the bottom, I kicked my left foot at him, and then I called him the N-word.
If there is a god, and he is an all knowing god, please explain to me why I did this? Why, if all of life is sacred and cherished, why on this god forsaken ball of shit, did I do that? It's been almost forty years and I've thought about this incident in my life many times. You see, when I did that, when I said that, I lost my innocence. I became the hate that festers in peoples hearts and minds. I was no longer a child listening and not understanding. I was a perpetrator of injustice, harming another person for no reason other than... nothing. There was no reason for it. None.
The moment the word came out of my mouth, I knew it was wrong. I FELT it was wrong. Nathan immediately looked horrified and he ran inside the building. A moment later, Mrs. Watson I think was her name, came out and called me over. We went inside. I will point out, Mrs. Watson was a big woman, with a lot of meat on her bones, and yes, she was black. Possibly the ONLY black teacher at Byron Elementary school at the time. Mrs. Watson, if you're alive and you read this, I hope I got your name right. More importantly, I want you to know, I am truly sorry, and more so, your actions that day did more for me, than you might know. Thank you.
Anyway, Mrs. Watson took me inside and sat me down and asked me what I said. Nathan wasn't around so I was free to lie my ass off, and I did. My ten year old mind sputtered, "I called him a singer." Mrs. Watson looked at me with such pity and I literally withered and died. I think she took pity on me. I think, now some thirty plus years later, I try to put myself in her shoes. What would I have done. Clearly I KNEW I'd done wrong because I was lying about it. My lie was so absurd. So absolutely dumb... but... I wasn't proud. I didn't repeat the word, I didn't call her anything, I didn't tell her my father thinks this or that. Nothing. I sat at some other kids desk in her classroom and awaited the hangman, the executioner, the guillotine. At the very least, I expected her to call my parents... but she never did.
When the bell for class rang, she told me to go back to my own classroom and she never spoke of it again. I don't know if I have ever spoke of it again, until now. That was then, this is now.... but back then, things were different... or were they?
I remember as a young boy, digging around under the front seat of our family car and finding a rod of metal. I pulled it out and admired it for it was a first for me, a real weapon, I could tell right off the bat. It was about two feet long, really light, heavy at the end, a textured brass sleeve threaded onto the shaft acted as a no-slip handle. The other end was solid and smooth. I held it up and asked my father what it was. He smiled and told me it was his N-hitter. He told me to put it back and I did. I never picked it up again. I never touched it. I never so much as looked under the front seat ever again.
Growing Up White.
Growing up white, out in the country, I was subjected to what was then, the standard array of young white kids interaction. Endless bus rides filled with boredom, busy scratching out of homework while fighting against the choking dust infiltrating the bus interior through the not fully closed windows, and, the endless list of jokes we told one another.
Every joke was based on some sort of degradation of another person or people. "Hey, you ever hear the one about the Mexican, the Po-lock and the N-word?" "Hey, what do you call a N-word with twelve kids?" I don't know if that's an actual joke, but you get the point. Every joke involved someone other than white people, or if it did include white people, they were always the bastion of goodness and righteousness. We made fun of everyone else that we could. When we ran out of black jokes, we ran through the other races and nationalities, and then told sexist jokes, and then jokes about gay people, and prostitutes, drug dealers, handicapped people, anyone, everyone, everyone except white people that is.
As a child, some jokes were funny. I didn't understand racism and because of the incident with the slide... Ugh. I hate that I even think of it that way, but at the same time, I'm trying to minimalize my own agony over it. My incident was not with the slide. It was my ignorance with Nathan. Because of my own self loathing, I accepted a lot of the degrading things others did to me. Kids making fun of me because of my clothing, my hair cut, my looks, my everything... It was nothing I did, nothing I deserved, but I took it and I accepted it as normal because, that's what I was taught. People make fun of other people for being different, and that's how it is. You gotta be strong, suck it up and endure. Only the strong survive. Ignore the bullies, and they'll eventually leave you alone... yeah, right.
When I was thirteen going on twenty, my mother got a divorce and we were forced to move around a bit, and things went haywire for a while. Another story - again, read all about it in one of my upcoming stories I'll publish soon. Anyway, in the end, me, my brother and my two sisters ended up back with my father, and back where it all started, Eight mile and Inkster, Southfield Michigan, less than a black from my old home in Redford, literally right across the street.
We had a couple months off for summer break and got to know the kid across the street, his name is Tony and he seemed pretty fucking cool. He did dirt bike racing professionally and had a lot of medals and stuff. We rode bikes all summer and when school started, very first day, I saw Tony in the hallway and shouted out to him. He turned, saw me, waved, and backed into a kid who was probably doing the same thing in the opposite direction. Tony turned around, took one look at the kid, and then threw him through the trophy case. Glass shattered and rained everywhere, teachers flooded the halls. Tony got suspended for two weeks I think. Do I need to mention it? Tony was a big white guy who loved lifting weights and showing off for the girls how bad ass he was. The other kid was a medium build black kid who had probably never even met Tony before.
While I agonize about Nathan, I never once considered that if I hadn't shouted out to Tony, needing that little bit of recognition in the hallway on my first day of... seventh grade I think... that kid might not have been thrown through a glass trophy case? Maybe it's that Nathan was the only black kid at Byron. The kid Tony assaulted was one black kid among many. I would say the percentages were still pretty white. 75% white kids, 25% black kids? Maybe it was more or less, but that's what I remember, and what's even more shocking to me, back then I mean, is that the black kids didn't seem like they were nightmarish devils, violent heathens, or anything else everyone in my life had told me about black people. If anything, it was completely opposite. Every perpetrator I saw, every person to wrong someone else, every time... was white.
Now, I'm not white hating or anything like that. I'm pointing out my own observations from my life. The news was reporting on black people, black criminals, black hip-hop and rap, black this and black that... but what I saw with my own two eyes, was white. White kids starting a fire in my high school. White kids stabbing each other at McDonalds after school. White kids beating each other up in the middle of the night at the local playground when they should have been home in bed, asleep. White kids doing drugs. White kids breaking into stuff. White people shooting each other. White people dealing drugs. White, white, white, white, white.
Remember that nice old guy who lived on a farm with the big cross on the top of the grain silo? That nice old guy who'd wired our bumper back into place after my mother side swiped his mailbox? Yeah. That was Robert. Robert also happens to be my middle name. No, no relation, thank god. The old man was none other than Robert Miles, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. The crosses atop his grain silos were burned many times and while I thought that those gatherings and celebrations were just a bunch of people having a gigantic party, I never knew the true reason... not until much later when I did my own research and miraculously, I was able to put two and two together.
After that, I started researching symbols and other representations of white supremacy and it was then I realized, a lot of my friends and acquaintances from when I was a kid, lived in households that were deeply ingrained with racism. Confederate flags were the least conspicuous and most prevalent. Nazi symbols, German eagles and militaristic white supremacist undertones became beacons from my childhood. From hillbilly wife beaters to hog raising drunkards, (some of them were one and the same) I came to realize, most, and I can say that with a confident heart, most of the people I knew were racist assholes back then. Some are probably the same today.
In my years since my childhood, in fact, as a teenager and attending Southfield Highschool which was chalk full of racial diversity, I came to realize something. YES, some black kids tended to hang out with only black kids. Some white kids only hung out with white kids. But a lot of kids actually... just tended to be kids. My best friend in Mr. Leknarb's Biology class was a kid named Franklin. I think English was his second language, and he cracked me up every day. I never got to hang out with him, other than school, but he was cool. So were a lot of other black and brown kids I knew. From that point on, I didn't look at black or brown or white. I tried to look at people as people, and make a determination on who they were for what they did and how they interacted with me.
When I was a junior in high school I moved yet again. Can you believe it, I went right back to a rural po-dunk area almost 100% exclusively, white people? It's probably still pretty much the same, although they have gotten some modern day conveniences there, like a Sub-Way and Papa-J's Pizza / Gas Station. I looked the area up on google cause it's easier than calling my mom. They have a burger joint called Burger Eatin Bastard. No shit.
I graduated in 1992. I will say, that place was as white as white can get, smaller than Byron, smaller than any place I have ever been, but I will also say, due to the extreme level of sports interaction and constant competitions with other schools, many of the students I went to school with seemed much more worldly than I would have assumed. Less racist for sure.
When I joined the military, my next wakeup call came in the form of basic training in Orlando Florida. If you ever wanted to find a melting pot of people from all walks of life, the military is where you'll find it. In basic training, there was NO ROOM for difference. We all busted our asses, we all sweat and hurt and bled the same color. We all wore the same uniform, slept in the same conditions, stood the same watch and wrote the same letters home. The color of our skin didn't matter.
Some people say the military breaks you down and builds you back up. It's true. They also break down all those stigmatisms you might have about other people, other sexes, other races, other religions. Strangers became brothers and fellow recruits. It was pure. It was simple. And then, I started my training at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Orlando Florida... and went right back to an all white academy. It's almost ironic if it wasn't so deafeningly stark. I saw maybe... MAYBE three black people in the entire building. None of my teachers were black. Not one.
I cover a lot of my time in the military in my other stories so I'm going to skip it for now. Just know, I changed rates and became a Storekeeper and went out to the fleet to serve onboard the USS Anzio, CG-68 out of Norfolk Virginia, the greatest missile cruiser in the entire United States Navy. While on board that ship, I got to know many sailors, some good, some bad, some indifferent. I would be lying if I said that there were no racial barriers between the men on that ship. That would be an outright lie. But, to a very large extent, the racism was kept to a minimum.
When I left the ship for shore duty in Sunny Panama City Beach Florida, I found racism once again. From the very first moment I walked into the Supply division and the Petty Officer started bad mouthing the Supply Officer who was a black woman, behind her back. When I was transferred to the boat division to serve as the replacement supply contact, I was subjected to even more. If it wasn't the occasional commentary from the senior and master chiefs who ran the boat division, it was the numerous boat division mechanics and sailors who sat for hours, lifting weights in the back of the shop and blasting neo-nazi grunge music while speaking in hushed tones about the next great race war that would expel all the minorities from America. I decided then, it was time to retire from the military and it was time for a new adventure.
As the years have gone on, I've experienced so many of these "ism's" that it's actually difficult to wrap my head around it. I was subjected to reverse racism in the post office, where my black post master gave all the highly lucrative and minimal effort positions to all of his friends, relatives, or just new black guys coming in the door. I was subjected to sexism at another post office and put in a very difficult and awkward position which ultimately left me with no other choice but to quit working for the post office and leave my career with the government behind. Most recently, the entire world around me has become a hot spot for white nationalism, nepotism, sexism, racism, and more.
I feel disgusted every time I see someone spouting this stuff and taking pride in the divide they so energetically seek to sow. Racist people yelling about how others are to blame for dividing America. How they are entitled by their freedom of speech to speak these racist opinions and any who seek to quiet them are the enemy. It's disgusting. I hate it. But there's really only one way to stop it.
The only way to get rid of racism, and all the other "isms", is to TEACH CHILDREN EARLY ON, that uniqueness is valuable, but that we are all human. Teach children to be able to separate and distinguish differences, but at the end of the day, value each other for more than our physical appearances, or characteristics. Teach children that racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are BAD and that engaging in these behaviors is deplorable. More than that, teach them that engaging in these kinds of behaviors has consequences.
No, you don't have to celebrate mediocrity, or give awards for dumb bullshit, but you should embrace respecting someone based on their character and their accomplishments, their attitude and good will, their hard work and their know how... and not discriminate against them because they have a different shade of skin than you. That goes the same for Sexism, Nepotism, and even extreme Nationalism. Look, it's fine to be proud, until you let your pride cloud your judgement or use it to discriminate against others. It's find to be strong and manly, or demure and pretty, as long as you use it in a positive manner, helping when you can. It's okay to show off! It's okay to compete! It's great to win, but there must always be a looser to have a winner! In the end, participating is valued! Being part of the TEAM is essential! But lording it over people, or using it to control or discriminate against others, is disgusting. Of course, I'm speaking from a male point of view, but I hope that one day, some time in the near future, we can all somehow get past all of our baseless insecurities and realize we are all human, no matter what we look like on the outside.
About the author
As a child I often said I wanted to be an astronaut. Big dreams for a small boy. My mother taught me to dream, my father, to fear. As an artist I've found a great afinity with being able to lie, a.k.a. create fiction. Here, I lie to you. :)