SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Bart L. Black
End of Innocence

“Just the attitudes of ignorance,” my mother explained.I really did not understand what she was talking about at the time, but I wish I could have remained in that state of ignorant bliss.The period of youth before the concept of racism seeps in through the cracks of our consciousness and attempts to blur our vision is a marvelous age of innocence.I heard a Chinese proverb once that claimed, “It is a wise man that looks at life through the eyes of a child.”This is especially true when it comes to the topic of racism.My first indication of a racial attitude between humans came as such astonishment that I really did not understand it, let alone believe it.

My initial introduction to the “borderlands” of race lies at the outer limits of my rememory.The year was 1964, a period involving much racial unrest across the nation.I was seven years old and at this young age none of the madness of racism really had entered my world.My focus in life was having a good time and playing with my friends.I was raised in a single parent family by my mother.A regular quick escape for mother and me was to travel to Oklahoma City for the weekend.She had numerous friends that lived there and they would all get a room at the Ramada Inn, not exactly a luxury resort, but the price was right.The tacky rooms were decorated with burnt orange, avocado green, harvest gold, and all those other decorating casualties that possessed people in the 60’s.Nevertheless, it was sufficient for a weekend of rest for the adults and endless escapades for the kids.

On one particular trip to Oklahoma City, all of the other kids in our regular group were away, which left me to my own devices to discover entertainment.This was no big deal to me.As long as I could spend the weekend at the pool, I was in heaven.The pool was my favorite place to escape, with the sounds of everyone’s transistor radios blaring, and the smell of Coppertone in the air from the oiled down bodies of women attempting to intensify every cancer causing ray of sun that tanned and aged their bikini clad bodies.Meeting new friends at this age is so uncomplicated with the only requirement being willingness to have a good time.I quickly teamed up with a willing partner in crime who was a year older named James.We spent the morning at the pool doing all the things a couple of small boys would do: diving for pennies on the bottom of the pool, racing to determine the fastest swimmer in the whole world, and soaking any girls that may be brave enough to walk near the diving board with our infamous cannonball dive.We were having a great time and life was just about as good as it gets, when my mother yells at me to get ready for lunch.Of course, not wanting to part with my new best friend, I begged for James to come with us for lunch.She naturally agreed, as this was a good method to keep me occupied and out of her hair.

I put on my trunks and decided to go hang at the pool and see what kind of mischief I can get into.The only people that were at the pool were a bunch of girls catching some sun and one kid that seemed to be about my age.With any luck, he will be just as bored as I am and ready to have some fun.Before I had a chance to go talk to him, he was already introducing himself to me.He was in the same position as I; stuck here all weekend with his parent.We quickly became best friends and started playing all those pool games kids play.By the way, I won the race as the fastest human in the world.Just when we thought we could have no greater fun, Bart’s mother came and tried to ruin everything by dragging Bart off to lunch.Since we were now best friends, I of course had to have lunch with him.
When we got to the restaurant, they seated us in a booth way in the back of the dining room.I wondered why they stuck us way back in the corner by ourselves, but because we were right next to the kitchen, it was sort of fun watching all the commotion, so I didn’t mind that much.We could hear all the cooks slamming pans, calling out orders and yelling at the waitresses in a threatening tone, “I got food diein’ in the window.”Whap, whap, whap, whap went the swinging kitchen door every time a white stocking, polyester clad waitress would rush through with hot plates of food precariously balanced all up and down her arm.While we were doing our best to be patient waiting for our food, the adults seemed to be sharing some sort of a secret.Murmuring to each other, spelling out words, the kind of talk that goes on when adults wish to be allusive in the presence of the kids.We really did not care what they were talking about.Our highest priority was to get this lunch over with so that we could get back to the pool.
I wondered why they stuck us in the back of the dining room in the corner.Oh well, as long as I got pancakes, I really did not care where we sat.Lunch was really good but something seemed odd.People at the other tables kept looking at us.Some people gave me unknowing glances but quickly turned away when I looked back at them.They had that blameless demeanor suggesting, “Oh, I wasn’t looking at you.”Others delivered judgmental and accusing stares suggesting that I should have known better than to sit at the same table with “their” people.The adults at our table kept spelling out words instead of just saying them, like they were telling dirty jokes or something.I just wanted to get finished so we can get back to swimming
Once we had finished lunch and the three of us were on our way back to the hotel, I started working on my mother to determine what all the secrecy was about.Why were they spelling out everything they said?“Did you notice that everyone was staring at us and talking behind our backs in the restaurant,” she asked me?“No, not really,” I told her.She explained to me that some people do not feel that it is correct for a black person to eat at the same table with white people.This was certainly news to me.Yes, I knew that my new friend James was different then I was.Yes, he did have dark skin, but was he really “a black”?“What does that mean,” I asked?“Just the attitudes of ignorance,” my mother exclaimed.
That spelling out the words thing never worked for me.It only makes me more want to know what is going on.Apparently Bart too, because as soon as we were in the car he started trying to pry it out of his mother.She would not say a thing at first.Just kept telling us that we would understand when we got older.The heck with that, I wanted to understand now.I knew what she meant when she started talking about different people eating with each other.It’s that old black thing again.I had heard the other people talking at the restaurant.They thought I could not hear their silent whispers, but I heard every venomous accusation, even from across the room.Their references to the “boy,” except this title had nothing to do with my age.I had heard this story before and I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t like it one bit.But Bart’s mom was really nice, she told me not to worry, this was “just the attitude of ignorance.”I don’t know why all people can’t think like that.Maybe “some day” they will realize that I am just like them.
It is hard to imagine that just a short time before this event, a black person would not ever have been “allowed” to eat lunch at the same table with us.Only a few years earlier, four African American students had sat at a lunch counter of a F.W. Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina.When they were asked to leave, they refused and began a “passive sit-down demand” that began a movement to challenge racial inequality.Their boldness brought great awareness to many Americans of racial injustices in place at that time.In 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans took part in the March on Washington to make a call for racial equality.At this event, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech.This episode motivated Black Americans to fight a political and social battle towards justice for all people.Although I was unaware of any of these occurrences, they still influenced the incident in which I was involved.Little did I realize, this event was the end of my innocence.

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