Mid 60's in a small town in North Carolina, I went to the pool with some kids from my grandma's neighborhood. It was unfiltered, something this California kid had never seen. It was also segregated, I found out that day. On Friday the pool was drained and cleaned and refilled so it was sparkling clean on the weekend. Saturday through Wednesday, as it grew slowly greener and mossier it was whites only. Thursday was the day for the colored's. Little hot black kids hung on the fence the day I went. I never went back. I didn't have words, I didn't know how to express the confused feelings in my heart. I just didn't go back.
It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and MLK was already a martyr. We marched and we voted and we picketed for civil rights. And we all said things were getting better. And we knew some people still wanted to live in a segregated world, but they would learn, we would grow, it would get better.
In 1970 just before I started High School in small town Florida in the middle of the first year it was integrated, a friend of my dad's told me a little of the town's history. No blacks lived in Ocoee. They chased them all out years ago. Burned a church down, with the people inside. Now they were bussing black kids in from the next town over, things were getting better. So much better that there was a cross burned on the school grass that spring.
Things were getting better, I mean, I remembered the Watts Riots. We were getting better, it would never be that way again. Yet, decades later, I cried as I watched South Central burn in the wake of Rodney King.
I can go into an electronics store by myself, with money in my pocket, ready to buy a computer or a TV, and be completely ignored, cannot even get anyone to talk to me. If I want to get my questions answered I have to take one of my adult children, and even though I ask the questions, the answers are addressed to them. I walk in with my black son in law, and from the moment we walk in the door, they are trying to help him. In the meantime, I think I could walk out with my pockets full. And no one would even see me. But of course, it's the same rules for everybody.
He stopped off for a soda one day, on the way to a friends house, and he was detained by the police, held in front of the store on the busy street where a lot of people know him. Heck, even one of the cops knew him, because he is one of those social guys that has friends everywhere. But he fit the description of someone who had robbed the store the day before. The description was "a tall black man wearing jeans and a dark t shirt." They checked him out and let him go, only took an hour or so. Good thing one of the cops knew him. But yeah, it's getting better, except when it isn't.
People are saying the only difference now is the cameras. We see more, we know more. The beatings and the violence are harder to keep secret. We are supposed to be getting better.
And you want to nitpic over the wording of a slogan, or the definition of a word. I guess that is easier than talking about what is actually happening.
How can we actually make things better? How can we be better?
Can you please stop arguing and start listening?
I know you, white person, you person who looks a lot like me, you person who has struggled in the economy the last few years, you person who just wants a safe neighborhood, who just wants to take care of your kids. I know you are worried about your way of life. You see the popular media thugs based on the real life problems that have been created by an oppressive system, and all you see is a threat. Please can you find a way to learn about the real problems, to know the real people. Can you think about your actions, your votes, your voice; are your choices helping or hurting?
Don't be afraid to talk to someone who looks different than you. Do you think what they want is any different? I know open dialog won't solve everything, but denying that it is happening doesn't solve anything, either. We have to try.
I have to believe that we can be better. I have to believe that it can get better.