How I Saw the Light About Race (Part VI)
I never attended a school where the black population was more than 5 percent of the student body. When I was 22, I knew only three blacks by name. One was our family’s cleaning lady, a real gem. One was the founder and manager of a private consumer organization. Another was a college professor, who became one of the most fascinating friends I have ever had.
My experiences with blacks have thus been mixed. What were not mixed were my experiences with black crime.
I live on the edge of a black neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. Since moving here, I have been mugged six times, twice on the same night. The first pair of muggers stole all I had. The second pair were angry because I had nothing to steal, so they beat me so hard they nearly killed me. A black woman I know stopped the attack and drove me home.
I have had too many experiences with black crime to have illusions about the black race as a whole. Yet I have had too many black friends to dislike them all as individuals.
I served in the US military during the Vietnam war.
My two-month training cycle —October and November, 1967—at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, first opened my eyes to black racism against whites. Black servers in any chow line would short a white trainees’ chow and then high-five each other and cackle. They’d give the white trainee a hard look and tell him to move on. If you were white, you went hungry and there was no recourse. In the barracks, if your foot or wall locker happened to be where a group of blacks were jiving and high-fiving, in the interest of your own physical safety, you had better wait until they dispersed to get anything out of it.
When I got to Vietnam, I learned a little-known fact about the Vietnam war: At some fire support bases, there were areas where whites better not go if they did not want to be stomped or worse. The blacks were always armed. Stepping out of a wooden latrine one morning, I saw three hostile blacks maybe 50 yards away behind some stacked culvert liners. The three of them stared at me with hatred. One pointed an M16 right at me and—bam! bam! bam!—three .223 rounds went past my head and lodged in the wood door behind me. Ten inches closer and my name would have been on the wall. At this time, all such US casualties would have been classified as killed by enemy fire. My parents and kin would have never known I was killed by black US soldiers who hated whites.
Once in a sweep in the Que Son Valley, I was separated from my platoon and saw guys in US olive drab uniforms. As I walked toward them, I saw they were black. One of them pointed a loaded M16 at my chest and asked me what state I was from. When I told him Indiana, he said, “It’s a damned good thing you didn’t say Mississippi or Alabama.” They then started walking, and I walked on alone in enemy country rather than with them. On two separate occasions, black militants tried to murder the commanding officer and first sergeant with fragmentation grenades and a claymore mine. These were reported officially as enemy attacks. The command echelons in the US military at that time simply were not trained or schooled in how to handle militant blacks, and it showed.
In the first grade, I rode a bus filled with white children to and from a small rural school in Columbus, Georgia. At the start of second grade, my father’s work moved us north to Canton, Ohio. Our temporary apartment happened to be on the cusp of a black neighborhood, and the school was majority black. It was my first up-close encounter with black children. They were loud, boisterous, and constantly moving, and they seemed strange, alien, and yet fascinating. I was terrified, but couldn’t look away.
One day early on, I stared in amazement at a group of black girls gyrating and chatting until they shouted at me, “What you lookin’ at?” Naively, I admitted, “At you.” This sealed my doom. From then, until the end of the entire month we lived there, they chased me home from school every day. The bell that meant the day’s end—an moment most found joyful—held only terror for me. Immediately out the door, a group of girls would try to surround me, pull my hair, slap at me, and give chase. My older brother, four years my senior but just as fearful of our situation, would grab my hand and drag me down the street as fast as we could go. His presence never deterred the girls; we had traded our happy homogeneous school days for constant conflict and anxiety.
One day, before we could start to run home, my brother was accosted by a black boy from his class, one who constantly called him “souse kid”—meaning “South kid.” I watched nervously as my brother shed his coat and began to fight the black. A teacher must have heard the ruckus and came to break up the fight. We needed to leave quickly while a teacher was still close by, and my brother searched the ground for his coat, without success. On this bitterly cold day, someone had stolen it.