Ain’t Going Back to the Stupid Times

Something you should probably know about me before I go off on this—I grew up in the (American) Deep South during the 1960’s, and came of age in the late 1970’s. And when I say “Deep South”, I mean you couldn’t go much deeper. To us, Tennessee was a border state, ‘mkay? This was a time when a guy like me couldn’t take a walk down a dirt road without some yahoo in a pickup pulling over to ask if I needed a ride to the Klan rally, and if you think I’m exaggerating, well, you weren’t there. All by way of saying that I learned about racism the way all my peers did—by being taught it. To be fair, it wasn’t as if we had classes and homework on the subject, it’s just that every day we were led by example: if I was part of a seasonal crew hauling hay, for instance, that had both black and white members, at lunch time we didn’t eat together. We ate the exact same things, but at separate tables set up for the purpose. And, like I imagine most everyone else did, when I was younger I asked why that was. The only answer I ever got from the adults was “because that’s the way it is.” I never found that answer particularly satisfying, but I finally realized that they weren’t holding out on me—it was the only answer they had. I had been told that Martin Luther King was a dangerous radical, and the ones who told me that believed it. Then I listened to MLK give a radio speech on the Viet Nam war and realized, somewhat to my own surprise, that I agreed with everything he said. By this time I definitely had the feeling that “something wasn’t right.” Continue reading