SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Dawn Creighton

Two-Tone Rip Off!

    It was both a good and a frightening time to be a Black man in the United States
1967. Not that it hasn’t always been frightening to be a Black man in America.  There is always someone who would prefer to see you either dead or on a boat back to Africa.  I am on high alert as I drive through this all white Denver suburb to pick up one of my loan officers.  Her car is broken down and her husband is unreliable when it comes to tending to his family.  Not that Dean complains.  Far from it, but I know she needs my help, so here I am driving down the streets of Englewood, where I know I am the odd-man-out.

I believe I was seven when I first met him.  Mr. Gaitor was perhaps the only Black person I had ever seen up close, let alone in my house.  He was tall, or he seemed tall to me, and he was a husky fellow.  He had a very dark complexion and I remember standing in my living room, staring rather rudely at him.  He only smiled and introduced himself to me, waving his hand at me.  I was stunned.  Mom came into the room and I remember saying, “Mom, his hands are two different colors.  My hands aren’t two different colors.  Why do his get to be two different colors?”

I couldn’t help myself, I laughed out loud.  Dean is shocked that her child should ask such a thing, but I thought it was great.  I bent down to show Dawn Ann that my hands are two colors and they didn’t rub off, which she tried to do, but it was the way God had made me.  I even told her my feet are the same.  Dawn Ann is impressed I can tell.  Always amazing the perception of children. 

When I told my two of my friends about Mr. Gaitor having two-tone hands, they all laughed at me and told me I was dumb.  Both of their families had moved to Denver from New York City where they had lived in integrated neighborhoods, so they spoke with great authority that all black people had two different colors of hands, even the Blacks that were lighter in color.  I remember thinking, they come in different colors?  How cool is that?  I just get to be white, but they are multicolored.  I was pretty sure I had gotten ripped off some where down the line because I was just white, with hands that were the same color on both sides. 

I was glad that Dean’s daughter was not afraid of me and was willing to express curiosity about something she did not understand.  It was refreshing to hear such a simple question, when being Black in America is not a simple thing to be.  Learning more about one another is important and it can often begin with a simple question.

I grew up in a suburb of Denver, Colorado called Englewood.  It was the typical suburb that anyone would think of when they thought of suburbia in the 1960s.  Two-children families, two cars in the garage, televisions in the family room, good schools to send those two children to.  It was an ideal place to grow up in.  Oh, did I mention it was also all white?  There were no Blacks, Hispanics or heaven forbid, those Orientals.  Every family who lived in my neighborhood were of European ethnic decent.  It was a good childhood, with typical ups-and-downs, and overall I have fond memories of my home in Englewood.

I can feel the eyes of the neighborhood on me as I park in front of Dean’s house and get out of my car.  Even though I am wearing an expensive suit and driving a nice car, I know people are wondering what I am here to steal.  As I wait for someone to answer the door, I feel as if I have a target on my back.  The door opens and a tiny elderly woman looks me over before remembering to smile.  She invites me in and shouts to Dean that her guest has arrived. 

My incident still impacts me today as an adult for a number of reasons.  The most obvious of those reasons is Mr. Gaitor was the first man of color that I had ever seen up close.  I am not saying that I was unaware that there were other races in America or even in Denver, but seeing things on television is not the same thing as having the facts confront you in your own home.  In other words, I can know there is a thing called snow, but unless I get to roll around in it, touch it, taste it and watch it fall from the sky, the experience of snow does not exist in reality.  Having Mr. Gaitor in my house, made me aware for the first time that not everyone was like me and my white family.

    My mother’s family is very prejudiced.  I grew up hearing every conceivable racial slur  from my grandmother and my aunt.  My mother would tell me not to repeat those things, because she said everyone should be given a chance no matter the color of their skin.  She always encouraged me to allow a person’s actions to determine whether or not I would like them.  Mother would say skin is an organ, like a heart and its only purpose is to keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  So, in my house, I saw and heard both sides of the racial argument, because my mother and my grandmother discussed current events at the dinner table.

The other reason this incident stays in my memory, I think, is because of the time in which I grew up.  The sixties were such a time of turmoil and change in the United States as well as the world.  One of my first memories is watching the funeral of President John F. Kennedy on the television.  I remember hearing speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, seeing images of race riots, war protests and women demanding equal pay and equal rights.  In that time when people seemed to be waking up and seeing the world with new eyes, how could I not be affected and changed?  My experience made me more aware there was discrimination and it was based on the color of skin and how this difference was perceived. 

It wasn’t until I was much older and given the opportunity to read and learn more about the deeply rooted bigoted fuel supplying the fire of racial discrimination in the United States that I came to see just how sweet Mr. Gaitor’s response was to me.  He took the opportunity to teach a child that there is nothing wrong with being different because there is beauty in our differences.  It is this lesson that I want to hold onto and share.


Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage