I wish it wasn’t something I felt the need to point out, but I’ll take the time to do it in any case, since I believe it is. The vague rememberings of childhood from a man over the age of fifty hardly qualify as “statistical data.” Indeed, they are more or less by definition, anecdotal in nature. Accordingly, you should take what I say for what it’s worth.
To begin with, you shouldn’t go building court cases off my words. Additionally, you shouldn’t assume my experiences sum up the whole of (or even a large part of) those of even the World very near by me at the times about which I speak.
I was a child (under and around the age of eight), in what is in some folks’ minds, the “Deep South” of the United States.
It could be argued that my earliest years—after leaving Illinois at the ripe old age of roughly six months—were lived in the West (depending on exactly how you choose to couch Texas in the nation’s geography).
That being said, from about my fourth year of life, I lived in Southern Louisiana. In fact, the area in which I resided was at the time, a reasonable distance from New Orleans. These days, Slidell is all but a suburb of that city, but that wasn’t the case at the time (starting in around 1968).
I left that area around the beginning of my eighth year of life—in fact, I left the U.S. as a whole, when my family moved to Australia.
It’s absolutely fair to say I was very young at that time, but it’s equally fair to say, looking back, that I can remember just one case of what can be termed “overt racism.”
I had a neighbor who was likely from the local area (I never actually had the foresight to ask him one way or another). His child was either my age, or a tiny bit younger, but in my “neighborhood” those around us were typically more than a little spatially distant. The result was, you could apply the term, “beggars can’t be choosers,” to those with whom I could play. I had siblings, and that was a good thing, for I was a serious introvert; I think it probable, though I don’t know with certainty, that I’m mildly Autistic.
My next eldest brother was far more of an extrovert than was I. The result was, he befriended our neighbor’s son. Because there were so few choices, I spent a reasonable amount of time playing with the two of them.
The neighbor, whose last name I recall to this day (but won’t divulge, even though he’s probably long since passed), was a quiet, hard working man. He grew corn, carrots, and other vegetables. He had at least one horse. He had chickens (which more than once, I watched him slaughter for food), and mallard ducks. He had managed to capture a raccoon, and kept it as a pet. This man worked, as I get it, as a carpenter. I much doubt he had more than a high school education, if that.
One day, he actually sat down and talked with me. The conversation went something like this as I recall:
Him: “I heard you were moving.”
Me: “We’re going to Australia.”
Him: “There’s n-words over there ain’t there?”
At this point, I was lost, and where he wasn’t embarrassed, I think he realized he’d asked me something that was beyond my understanding in any sense.
That was our most in-depth conversation. Anything else about which we spoke, generally had to do with him, his son or how his “property” was to be used (that mostly meant his horse and his garden).
That was also the sum total of my experience with racism as a boy (at least where open activities were concerned). Past that, nobody talked about race, or about other races, and I never saw folks of other races until I moved to New Orleans proper for about a year, after which time we left the country.
New Orleans was full of people of various other cultural groups, and though there was a fair amount of crime in the area where we lived, I generally felt little concern interacting with others, regardless their familial origin. In fact, one of my better friends at that time, was hispanic.
Australia proved to be a whole different kettle of fish. My first home there, was in the not-too-big, but not-too-small town of Rockhampton, in Queensland (more or less the upper half of the east coast), where most of the folks I knew, were Australians of European family. After that, my family moved to Darwin, in the Northern Territory (central north coast), which I like to call the “real melting pot.” I knew people and had friends, from more places than in any other location I’ve lived before or since.
These days, I’m back in the South of the U.S. (though not the Deep South, being in Arkansas).
What’s interesting to note is, since that first encounter with out-in-the-open racism (which funnily, wasn’t even directed at anybody in the Americas), I’ve had just one more experience of anything remotely similar.
I worked with a young man, more than twenty five years ago, who had had a brother drown. Those present when it happened were all black. He blamed those folks for the death of his brother. He harbored (typically silently) racist attitudes towards black folks.
Never once did I see that “spill over into” action. In fact, though his words were often privately harsh, his actions were almost invariably kind and gentle. There were times he “took anger out on” others, for the most part though, they were not black folks (he used to largely take advantage of folks who were drunk).
I’m well aware my experiences are not some sort of “standard sampling.” On the other hand, I also know that almost all memories I’m not sharing here, are not even tinged with racism.
Funnily, I’ve been called racist because folks I dealt with assumed that because they were black, I responded to them differently than I would’ve done had they been white (not ever the case, by the way). Past that though, I’ve seen little to no racism from anyone I’ve know—white or black.
You want to know what my experience of racism looks like? I present it here for you to see.
Thanks for reading, and may your time be good.