Friday Firesmith – Colored Outside The Lines

Friday firesmithAs a white man who is over fifty, who was born in The South, and who has a predilection towards solitude, I have to be careful when I write about race and racism. You see, I grew up in a segregated society. There were “Coloreds” and there were “Whites”. If you were “white” you knew it and if you were “colored” you knew it, too. And if you forgot that you were “colored” it was perfectly legal, or at the minimum acceptable, for either the police or someone “white” to remind you.

It was illegal, punishable by beating, for certain people to go into certain places. This was the world I lived in as a child, until I was ten years old, and even then there was a resistance to changing. Some of this was ignorance and some of it was evil, but it happened. And it happened in my lifetime and it happened in my life.

Culturally speaking, I’m tainted.

As someone who grew up inside of that system there will always be a shadow of doubt if I ever truly left it behind. And rightfully so. I’ve spent many a night listening to someone who was, in public, as liberal as anyone who has ever planted a tree in Max Yasgur’s name preach the gospel of the equality but once the wine bottle started running on empty the same words I heard as a child came bubbling up like liquid virus from a herpes sore.

I have something most don’t have; people who don’t know me assume I will, at a minimum, listen to racial rants.

I hope I never lose this. I hope I can live out my life and listen to this sort of thing. You should have seen the look on the guy’s face when after he went off the deep end cussing about welfare and the end of the world, I looked up and said, “My mama’s black”. She isn’t, but he didn’t know that.

My friend Steve and his wife adopted a biracial baby and people would ask him, in public, and out loud, “Is that your child?” Steve, who packs about two fifty and none of it fat, always looked at them and said, “Yeah, doesn’t he look just like me?” And who dared disagree?

It broke my heart, but cleared my vision when a good friend of mine told me to never invite Steve and “that young’un” over to her house.

So I hope people keep making the mistake of assuming the grey hair and white skin means that I’m living in the past with the other cavemen. This lets me know where they stand. This lets me know who they are and where they are. It reminds me that as far as we’ve come there are those that give lip service to justice and a stiff armed salute to their own heart.

Take Care,
Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

 

22 comments to Friday Firesmith – Colored Outside The Lines

  • I am in your position, people assume that I have low values because I came from a poor area, always worked blue collar jobs and I look a certain way? I let them vent their spleen and then always let them know just where I really stand. I don’t resent people from other countries living here (after all my wife is foreign) I don’t think gay marriage is disgusting and wrong, I don’t think that all Muslims are terrorists and I know that all black people are not pimps and drug dealers
    They usually end up calling me a Communist or socialist? Both of which are fine by me so I consider it “job done” :-D

  • Mike Firesmith

    Mick,
    I always wondered if this sort of thing was going on in other countries. It’s encouraging to find other people like me out there but a little discouraging that we’re needed world wide

  • that1chick

    My grandfather was a white man, my grand mother was a Cherokee woman, when they got married it was not looked upon nicely either. They also had a sister(hers) and brother(his) who married one another, so we have what we call “double cousins.” On my birth certificate my father is listed as white, when , he is in fact a half-breed. So are his siblings, they heard it from everyone, as did their cousins. Who cares, you can’t help who you love.
    My grandfather and my uncle Arthur served this country in WWII, my grandfather was a POW in a German stalag for 18 months. He was a great man by all accounts. My father and his cousin Thomas both served in the Army during Vietnam. Thomas was killed there, his name is on the wall in D.C.
    I don’t think the white blood messed up my family too badly, but we are still pissed about the Trail of Tears. (Yes, we can Trace it back to that)

    • Chick,
      I have some native blood in me as well and back then, yep, same shit, different timeline. I’m still pissed about the Trail of Tears myself, and I’m still unhappy about Nam, when it gets right down to it and it does.

      Thank you, for the service of your father, and his cousin in that war. It wasn’t very pretty and we did not do well by those men when they returned.

      • that1chick

        Eventually, I think we don’t do well by any of these men and women when they return from war. It seems to be the first place the government cuts. The fact that there are Vets living on the streets in our country sickens me.
        I don’t care about race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or any other label society wants to put on a person. I believe we should all have the right to basic human needs. Shelter, food, clean water….what has happened to our “society” when the rich live in their ivory towers and the poorest of the poor starve to death or die of a disease that is treatable, but they can not be treated because they haven’t got the money?
        We all need the same things, no matter color, creed and all the other identifiers the government uses to keep the unrest.

        • I think that’s true to a larger degree than most. I also think they intentionally dishonor the vets to show people that those who go to war really don’t mean anything so it’s okay to send them in the first place.

  • Well said, Mike. We are all going to go forward together, or not at all.

  • xoxoxoBruce

    Talking to younger guys at work, I was amazed by stories of daily skirmishes going to and from school, in the Philly suburbs, with occasional pitched battles.

    Grew up in a small New England town that was all white, except for Rufus the chauffeur who had a room over the garage of the banker he drove for. I’d see the separate water fountains and rest rooms going to Florida but until I left home to go to school in Boston, race relations was an abstract.

    When civil rights hit the fan a couple years later, it was easy to take the high road with no dog in the hunt, although a book on my mother’s family, tells of a Willie Freeman among the Jebediahs and Hezekiahs of the late 1700s. Guess they got involved.

  • Ellie

    Truly excellent essay, Mike.

    I’m 64 years old and grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I was brought up, however, by intelligent, well educated parents who made it clear to me that the segregation we lived with was wrong. Everyone in our family was called “n*****lover in those days.

    And, after all we went through during the movement, I’m just horrified sometimes by how much racism still exists (and is so strongly defended) in our country.

    • Thank you, Ellie.

      Hold the high ground and sooner or later, and I’m guessing later, we’ll outlast them. I don’t think I will live to see if but I can make sure that someone does.

  • grumpy

    We are born innocent. Imagine, no religion…etc (listen to the song).
    We are mostly products of our parents, THEIR religion, THEIR prejudices, THEIR politics, THEIR attitudes on right or wrong. And yes, THEIR hypocrisys.

    The offspring (you) rationalizing YOUR personal hypocrisys are the reason WE are all in a mess.

    What would Jesus do if he was President of the USA?

    • How did you manage to be raised perfect?
      I imagine if Jesus was President he would do Jesus stuff. You know, turn water into wine, feed 5000 with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, walk on water, care for the poor, take money from the rich, raise people from the dead, but most likely he would be pissed at the selectiveness of Christians who choose to only follow some of his teachings, not all of them.

    • rodzilla

      Are you aware that the composer of the song you refer to was a vile, spiteful person, who was guilty of physical violence against his first wife? Yeah, “Imagine” that he lived what he wrote.
      You seem to have also deluded yourself into thinking that Bible characters were actual miracle workers, rather than fictional entities, made up by people who had not yet figured out that the Earth was round, and orbited the Sun, in order to scare people into following their own wishes, and try to give a blanket explanation to the mysteries of life. “Where did we come from?” “God made us. In fact, God made every single thing, both good and bad. He also made this magical place, where you will live, forever, without any wants, or needs. But he is going to make you suffer for your entire time on Earth if you wish to end up there”. So much pain and suffering has been inflicted upon this world, in the name of Christianity. Seriously, just be a good person, and try not to do harm to others. The Ten Commandments are good rules to live by, but Christianity is also responsible for the persecution of homosexuals, and creating “the glass ceiling”. And what kind of organization forces its members to refrain from such a natural urge as sex? Well, if you are correct, and there actually is a HELL, I guess I know where I am headed.

  • Miss Silver

    In Malaysia, we have racial policies enacted; only natives may buy lands in certain zones, only natives may benefit from the government trust fund, only natives may apply to certain university. .. it’s all out of fear that the chinese will ‘take over.’ The chinese were rich enough, so why not use the law to help the poor helpless natives. I argued that this only allows complacency amongst natives, that it’s wrong to hold people back just because you can’t compete on an even playing field. He pulled the emotional ‘poor natives will weep if they see your comments.’

    As if that were a good excuse to be racist.

    When I pointed this out, my brother and I got into an argument (he went to one of said university) and the defense that he argued was because of how poor the natives are and how some companies where the majority of the employees and employers are chinese are also racist towards natives. I said said uni was not only racist but also sexist because one of the essay questions he asked me to help him with was ‘explain how men are better than women.’ He denied it, though I remember clear as day that he did ask me for help on the essay because I was pissed, but it was the set topic, so what to do. But we argued, and I am still pissed. That uni also targets queer boys by not allowing them in the dance troupe; I remembered because I was so angry, I cried.

    I argued that racism to combat racism isn’t right either, and he said I only argued for one side of the fence. He said i generalized things; I don’t. That university only allows a small amount of non natives to enroll; if that isn’t racist, then i am the Banana Queen of Palm Island. He kept trying to guilt me into seeing his point of view, but i told him no, it’s still fucking racism, goddamn you. I told him to stop talking to me for the day before I punch something; I was too mentally exhausted worrying about my Spartiate who is sick in Christchurch. I still get pissed thinking about it.

  • xoxoxoBruce

    As frustrating as it gets, especially with kin, you know you’re right, Miss Silver. Good for you.

  • rodzilla

    Another excellent article. I have wondered, more than once, what I would do if I saw a racially motivated physical attack. Hopefully, I never have to actually find out. I have, however, involved myself in a lot of arguments about whether offensive racial (and other) comments can be defended, by saying that “they were just jokes”. To me, if someone thinks discrimination is humorous, it indicates that they are more than a little bit OK with it. So, it is all right to make offensive jokes, but it is not acceptable for me to be offended by them? There is more than one way to cause someone pain, and a verbal beatdown may be harder to defend against than a physical one. Especially when it is directed at an entire group of people that you just happen to be part of. If “free speech” allows these “jokes” to be told, in public, then free speech also allows me to say that I think saying it, even thinking it, is wrong. Excuse me for rambling on, but thank you for listening.

    • Rod, “imagine” living in a place where such attacks are not only common but legal and expected.

      That was the world I grew up in.

      There are people more than willing to return to that world and I am not going back without a fight.

 
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