I’m white. I was born in Greenville SC in 1955. I was introduced formally to the issue of racism in America when I was 8 years old.
As I sat in the back of the all white school bus on the way home one afternoon, I heard a chant coming from a group of kids gathered at the front of the bus around the driver. It was a haunting sing song refrain and I distinctly remember thinking (a few seconds before I could make out the words) that whatever those kids were singing was scary. Then the words became clear to me. They were repeating over and over “The *igger lover’s dead, the *igger lover’s dead.”
When I got home I found my mother had come home early from work and she and our African American babysitter Mariah were huddled together on the couch crying hysterically. They just looked at me and shook their heads and went back to crying.
By the time I was 12 my family had moved to the Atlanta area. My younger siblings, Steve and Audrey and I were surprised to be told one morning by our mother June that we weren’t going to school that day. She dressed us up and we went to walk in the funeral procession of Martin Luther King. During the eulogy a large black man reached down and picked up my little blond haired eight year old brother without a word and put him on his shoulders so he could see the proceedings.
Although most white people I knew growing up in the South weren’t racist I had more than enough evidence to realize that ‘it was out there’ and I thought I had left that all behind when I moved to Boston MA in 1990.
Then one day as I walked down Commonwealth Avenue , in the shadow of the giant CITGO sign I passed an elderly black man walking the opposite way on the sidewalk. As I nodded a car full of young white men drove past us and shouted ‘*igger’ in unison. As I barked ‘Fuc* you!’ they retorted ‘*igger lover!’ and sped away. I looked back at the gentleman and said ‘I’m sorry about that.’ He just smiled a sad smile and said ‘That’s OK.’ and kept on walking.
Ironically, that’s the only time anyone ever called me that to my face, not far from John F. Kennedy’s birthplace. I don’t think America is worse than other nations in terms of racism. In some ways you can argue that the USA is the only place racially diverse enough to be considered a true test of a society’s ability to peacefully integrate different races.
Barack Obama being elected president surely won’t mean the end of racism in America, but in my opinion and I think that of my mother June who passed on some years back, I believe that it is the greatest moment in the history of our country.