60 Years of Racism as Seen Through My Blue Eyes
I am one those leading-edge Boomers, having now seen nearly 75 years pass. Given the present threats to our health, especially we older folks, I am compelled to offer here some expert witness testimony on the matter of racism, rather than wait to complete a book on the same subject, as I do not know what tomorrow holds for me (not that I am losing sleep wondering!).
So if one subtracts 60 from 75, leaving 15, those first 15 years of my life were lived behind the veil of whiteness of the world in which I was raised. Most of that time was spent as a country boy in southwest Texas, not far from the Mexican border. Historically in that area there had been extreme racism by whites against the Hispanic people — Mexican-Americans. “Remember the Alamo,” was a slogan we white boys would holler on the playground sometimes as we had skirmishes with the brown boys. The schools had just integrated when I was in the 4th grade. Yes, the brown kids then had to go to separate schools from us white kids. There were only one or two, maybe three families of African-Americans in that town, as frankly the history of racism in those small Texas towns never was inviting to Blacks after the Civil War.
Having filled in that background, I can now say that there existed within my boyhood mind this sense of a dichotomy between the fact that right after I was born my mother’s mother — a white woman from South Carolina — had married a handsome Mexican-American man in San Antonio, and the dislike that I could even subconsciously discern in the goings on locally. Grandma and her husband, who became in my life one of my grandpa’s, almost immediately decided to move to Los Angeles to escape the hateful attention the pair attracted.
When I was 12 my family of four moved to San Diego, as my parents had had enough of the ranching life and near-poverty, and wanted to find the American Dream. My father was able to secure a good technical job (he had been a WW2 bomber pilot and later an aircraft electrician) with the Atlas ICBM program, and he and mother bought us a nice small home, one of the “tract houses” of that era that were being built at lightning speed across northern San Diego. So the next three years, through the 9th grade, I became a California teen, enjoying the weather, riding bikes at breakneck speed, hitchhiking all over San Diego County, and body surfing at Pacific Beach while ogling the girls, a few sporting their “polka-dot bikinis.” Where we went to the beach, to the bay, and so on, I do not recall seeing any black people, although I suppose a few were around, just not “on my radar.” During those three years I went to school with about 3000 kids, almost all being “Anglos,” as we called ourselves back in Texas.
The summer after my 9th grade, we up and moved back to Texas, for several reasons, but the main one was that my father was able to transfer to the field on the installation of the ICBM Atlas missiles being placed in underground silos around Abilene, Texas. While there, my parents decided I should join the Civil Air Patrol, which is sort of an Air Force auxiliary. They often assist in searching for downed aircraft, and so forth. This is where my consciousness of race began to be elevated from the depths of my childhood ignorance.
There was one black boy in our group, and I remember sitting one evening while we waited for the meeting to start, and I probably said I was excited about the upcoming ride in a C-47 from Abilene to Randolf AFB in San Antonio. I remember he hung his head, then mumbled something like, “I can’t go,” and I asked why, and he said “because I go to the colored school.” This was 1962, and segregation was very real across the south, but having lived behind the white veil of ignorance and distortion, I was just now bumping into that fact of life in America.
After one year in Abilene, my parents decided to move us back to where we had started, as my father had inherited a ranch from his father, and ranching was “in his blood.” I completed high school there, and what I clearly remember was that at school we Anglo kids sat on one side of the classrooms and the brown kids on the other side. Integrated, but not socially. Sports allowed us to have interaction, but outside of school there was no open mixing. I was one of the first probably, in that after returning the summer after my freshman year in college, I met a Latina girl who was in my graduation class and we “got together” for a short while, until she had enough maturity to break it off for us both.
Up to this point, my story has been pretty much just background for what I will now go on to tell. While I was at college, a large university, black students began to show as freshman, not as law students or graduate students as before. I befriended a few guys in my dorm, and as a result and as my destiny would have it, I met the most beautiful black girl on campus, a true campus queen. We dated for the next three years, and jumping ahead, in 1971 married in her mother’s home in Dallas.
Now this story is about my witnessing — through my white blue eyes (and yes I know even black people can have blue eyes) — racism. My first-hand, up-close experience with racists happened during those years in college. One evening she and I were strolling down the main “drag” going to a movie likely, when a Coke bottle was flung from a moving car, fortunately not hitting us, but with the two men in the car yelling “Heh man, your date’s a N — -! I won’t bother to fill in the rest of that incident, but then there was the white guy who saw us coming one evening, on campus, and got up on a table and put his hand on his heart and began belting “I met my little brown-eyed girl down by the riverside.” I won’t bother filling in the rest of that incident either.
Then there was getting fired from my gas station job for having introduced her in a cafe to the owner of the gas station. “How dare you introduce me to that black gal in public’! Oh, and then having my flying instructor in college say a “funny” diddy, which is way to vulgar to even repeat. He didn’t know I was dating my black, future wife, so that was a bit puzzling. I just gave him a quizzical look and changed the subject.
Upon graduating as an engineer, I received my USAF commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, and was off to pilot training in west Texas. There the fact that I was dating a black girl was no secret among some of my fellow cadets, and a couple of them even tried to injure me during a football keep-away session. About halfway through training I decided to quit, even though I was ranked at the midpoint of my class: one reason was that it was obvious that I was being ostracized, and I was not feeling like going to war in the air with men who were still so biased. After that, I got my orders to go to a missile base in North Dakota, after getting some training for a new job.
It was there that I was able to see clearly the racism practiced in the service, and from what I have read in the news over decades, even up to today, still exist and can even be rampant in some units. Several times I was called “N-lover” by superior officers, and there was little to no recourse I could take, especially since I was ready to say “adios” to the Air Force and cold weather.
Over the next 25 years of my married life, until losing my love to cancer, I can say that because of racism, our social lives were with black friends and family. My own parents and sister were accepting, and a few others from my hometown area, but socially whites and blacks just did not mix then — nor do they now from what I can tell from my life as a virtual suburban hermit today.
After I lost her, eventually I was blessed to become a godfather to six black children, and participated in their uprearing, and today they are all productive, professional adults. This I count as my greatest achievement in life. But I can say there were numerous incidents involving them over the years, from blatant racism to subtle bias, from one of my four year old girls being accused of trying to walk out of a store with a toy that the store did not even sell (she brought it into the store), to a suburban school trying to penalize my boys for wearing their “locs” below their ears. (Today their mother is a leader in the CROWN ACT movement in Texas — I suggest the reader looks up this movement.)
I give thanks every day that my black children got to where they are today without being overly scarred by racism, and that none were subjected to gun violence and of course, police brutality. This does not mean they will not be, although I pray daily, for anytime my black sons in their late 20-s to early 30’s could be pulled over and not know what awaits them.
So, this has been my testimony. I have seen all this through my own blue eyes.