A Big White Lie

Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel, Sept. 18

Every family has its secrets. There are things parents never tell children. There are lies that become family legend. There are stories that were never meant to be told.

Judith Hartmann’s secret, when she married Bill Myers in 1959, was that she was pregnant by a black man.

When the baby born to two white parents came out black, the secret became a lie.

Throughout his childhood, David Myers was told that his skin color was a disease called melanism. He was lucky, his mother said, because the skin discoloration was all over his body, instead of just splotches of brown like most people had.

So despite his dark skin, Myers grew up in white, middle-class neighborhoods in Ohio and New York believing he was white.

“For many years I thought I was white. I thought like a white kid. There was a feeling in me that I didn’t want to be associated with blacks. I wanted the story to be true,” says Myers, a 45-year-old Orlando tennis teacher.

{snip}

As much as family members acted as though Dave was just like the other kids, they knew he wasn’t. And the difference started showing up in his behavior.

As Dave Myers entered adolescence, the trouble started. He became defiant, hostile and sometimes threatening.

At one point, Myers was sent to live with a foster family. Another time, he was kicked out of the house and lived in his car.

“I was the black sheep of the family—literally and figuratively,” he says. “I was always in the doghouse or always getting out of the doghouse.”

If Dave was treated differently, it was because of his behavior, not his skin color, his mother says. “He was just uncontrollable. None of my other children acted this way,” Judy says.

{snip}

But if shedding the skin-disease story liberated Judith Myers, it plunged David Myers into an identity crisis.

“When my mother told me the truth, I went through a period of being homeless—three years,” he says.

He was a black man who knew nothing about being black. His family wasn’t black. None of his neighbors had been black. None of his classmates had been black. Few of his friends were black.

Myers embarked on a self-education about all the things he never learned about black history, black culture, and race relations.

{snip}

After years of trying on different identities, Myers now believes he knows who he is and what he needs to do. He is the product of a black man and a white woman who must tell his story—and his family’s secrets—so that blacks and whites can better understand each other.

“I hope that people can learn from my experience,” he says.

So Myers has started his own Web site—discuss race.com—that features “The Dave Myers Story” and a list of books he has read.

{snip}

His parents and sister complain that they cannot have a normal relationship with Myers. Every family gathering, every conversation, leads to a past they have no interest in reliving. He wants them to face the truth; they want to eat chicken supper without guilt.

“He always has to get into racial discussions or the ‘poor me’ discussions,” says Bill Myers. “He can’t accept the way things are and go forward with his life. He has to keep stirring up the dirty water.”

Dave’s contention that racism is responsible for the problems in his life, his mother says, has made her more prejudiced against blacks.

“He has with his actions totally soured me on the black race,” she says.

{snip}

Dave Myers stands alone in the community room of the Southwest Public Library in the Dr. Phillips area with his three tables of books on race.

Dressed in a white shirt, tie, striped suspenders and dark slacks, Myers leans against a table, waiting for the crowd to arrive.

For weeks, he posted fliers on “The Race Myth . . . debunked.” The fliers identify him as “Dave Myers—Subject Matter Expert” and direct people to his Web site.

But nearly two hours after the doors open at 10 a.m., nobody has arrived. Even the person he hired to set up audiovisual equipment hasn’t shown up.

{snip}

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