I believe that God gave mankind several gifts that, once we fell, we were completely unable to handle; with these gifts, we are like a toddler with a loaded gun. An obvious example is sex. We’ve been messed up on that one from the beginning, with no cure in sight. Another obvious one, one that has been coming up over and over lately, is race.
I should have known better. I’ve watched every Super Bowl since 1971; I should have known that every little thing gets amplified by a power of 100 during the hyped-up week of the Big Game. In the back of my mind, I had to have known that having two African American coaches would be hyped and examined to the nth degree. I DID know, and I expected what happened. Those of us who advocate societal color-blindedness should have seen it for what it was (just typical SB hype), and kept our mouths shut.
But, they sucked me in anyway. It’s near impossible for me to avoid these discussions at TCP, mainly because Aunt B’s over-the-top sledgehammer approach is fascinating to a subtle, scapel guy like me. Regardless, the damage is done, and now I feel a need to explain where I come from.
I realised when thinking about my readership, that I don’t know any of you who are both my age and from Nashville. The closest, I think, is Hutchmo, but he’s a little older than me, so his experience would have been different. But if any of you are 38-43, and were born and raised in Nashville, I’d love to hear about your experiences to compare them to mine.
I started first grade at Charlotte Park Elementary in the fall of 1970. Later in the school year, the US Supreme Court approved bussing as a means to achieve immediate desegregation. Apparently there was quite a fuss over this in Nashville, but little 6 year old Slarti knew nothing of such things. By 2nd grade, my family had moved and I now attended Martha Vaught; my beloved teacher (Mrs Prince) and best friend Moses were both what we called at the time “black”. I didn’t think anything about it.
We moved several more times, mostly because my parents always seemed to be in money trouble, but I’m sure we were also caught up in the white flight of the time. Once again, I didn’t know about or understand “white flight”, I was a grade schooler concerned with collecting Wacky Packages stickers and getting my Evil Knevil motorcycle to jump over my brother.
My Dad never really gave an opinion on Martin Luther King, Jr, but my Mom sure looked up to him. I remember her beaming when the news would show footage of his “I Have A Dream” speech. I was a little too young to understand what Dr King was talking about, so Mom explained that we should always ignore the “color” of other people and just treat people like people. She explained that some people didn’t do this, and that’s why Dr King made the speech. I was a mama’s boy; I got my love of flowery prose from her. I can tell you, if Mom looked up to Dr King, so would I.
As a boy growing up in the 70’s, it seemed almost every adult of influence that I encountered was trying to teach me color-blindedness. It was in the curriculum, it was taught at church, they had Norman Lear shows on TV that preached it. It seemed like a natural point of view for a pre-teen like me, so I was a good boy and adopted the mindset as my own.
In the late 70’s, I went to Bellevue Junior and Senior high. At Bellevue, I was known as the slightly strange little brother of a highly-popular basketball star. I wasn’t popular myself, but I was tolerated. I liked my life (which, during puberty is about all you can ask for). I was too busy daydreaming about Tracy Whatshername to think about the fact that there were only four or five African Americans in our entire school. That was about to change.
In 1979, Judge Thomas Wiseman (funny how I can still remember his name) ordered several Nashville schools closed, and one of them was Bellevue HS. You must understand, the high schoool was the absolute center of the community back then. Bellevue had a McDonald’s, a Kroger, and the high school. All of community life revolved around the school. The residents fought the closing for a year, but 1980 was the last graduating class of Bellevue High School.
Starting in 1981, I had to get up before 5 in the morning to get ready for my over an hour bus ride. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong; all I knew is that because adults couldn’t get their act together about race, my life sucked. I was forced to go to a new school where I didn’t even have the “little brother of a basketball star” reputation; now I was just a weird kid. I was bullied and treated horribly, especially on that long bus ride.
Here’s the funny thing: the kids from Cohn and Pearl, who were also being bussed into Hillwood from the city, also resented the lives they had known being ripped apart. They also had hour long bus rides. And, the local Hillwood kids resented all of us, city and country “bussers”. The city had closed and consolidated three schools, so we were incredibly overcrowded. The teachers did the best they could, but it was a very hard environment in which to learn. Whatever lesson the adults were trying to teach us by throwing all of us together, we were learning an entirely different one.
I spent two tumultous years at Hillwood.
Through it all, I retained the color blindedness that Mom, the school system, and Norman Lear had taught me. It served me well and allowed me to have a wide, racially diverse circle of friends. To me (and I keep this viewpoint to this day), skin color is just another physical characteristic, like eye color and shoe size. Then, in the early 90’s, I remember watching the news and learning that my outlook was considered passe.
There was some kind of race conference at Fisk, and I remember like it was yesterday, some panelist said that the goal should no longer be color blindedness. Son of a gun. They had moved the goalposts on me while I wasn’t looking. My reaction was anger. When I calmed down, I decided I wasn’t going to play the game anymore.
By that time, I was a Christian, and I had adjusted my outlook to just living the Golden Rule. Like Jesus, I would treat all human beings as children of God – everything else was just a distraction. This is my attitude to this day. If anybody else gets hung up on anything else, that’s between them and God. I’m getting off the race merry-go-round.
I am now on a lifelong experiment to see just what a colorblind life looks like. It’s been interesting, and I’ve gotten criticism from some very unexpected quarters. But I don’t really care what anybody else thinks. This is between me and my Lord. He will judge my life by its fruits.
I will fight injustice no matter what the reasons for the injustice. In my mind, phrases such as “racial justice” mean nothing to me; there is only justice. I realise this is a radical approach, but I’m trying to follow the example of Jesus.
Anyway, there’s the context of my attitude about race.