Yesterday my dad and I watched F.ly Boys: Western Pennsylvani.a's Tuskeege.e A.irmen. It was pretty good. But most of all, it sparked conversation with my father. It started off with a stark look at the racism the pilots faced from the beginning. How they weren't allowed a black leader because of a study which said blacks weren't smart enough to lead themselves. I realized that when you achieve and go about your day without being constantly reminded you're black and told you're inferior, sometimes you forget that the struggle is not that far removed and for some, still daily. You read about local mayors who pretend nigger was a happy word and of course about nooses. And yet, sometimes it still seems a bit removed from my personal reality.
Then I talk to my father. He's only 61, but never went to an integrated school. This despite the fact he was 8 years old when Brown v. Board was passed. He can remember the first time he saw a white person. Think about that. I can't even imagine such a thing. We moved into my predominately white neighborhood when I was 4. My sister had just turned 3. (We're only 19 months apart.) Growing up all my friends in my neighborhood were white. There were only a handful of black people at my elementary school. I saw black people at church and of course with my large extended family (36 first cousins).
His first time remembering seeing a white person was when there was a knock on the door. When he answered it, a white police officer asked for his father. When my dad told my grandfather there was a policeman at the door, he ran to the bathroom to pour out his moonshine, then went to the door. My dad said at that time he didn't realize how nervous my grandfather was in his own home of a white person at the door. At any time, for any minor infraction, real or imaginary, my grandfather could have been snatched from his home. HIS home. The home he owned.
My dad also talked about how much nicer the white schools were than the black schools. And how his teachers complained about their subpar old books. And that he didn't understand why they couldn't have new books like the white children. The only white people he saw were the ones who waited on them in stores and watched them like hawks to make sure they didn't steal anything. He says because he lived in a rural area racism was less obvious than in a city where blacks and whites shared closer quarters. By the time he moved to Charlotte, integration had taken hold.
He also joined the AirForce. He knew another airman who had a black mother, but was passing for white. He thanked my father for not ratting him out. My father said it didn't matter to him and wasn't his business to tell. He's still like that. He's talkative, but if it's not his business, he won't necessarily get into it. At Clar.kAFB in the Philippines, he served under a black 3-star general named Benjami.nDavis, who was featured prominently in the movie we watched last night for his leadership over the Tuskege.eAirmen. Davis signed a commendation for my father because he had the 3rd highest score on the base out of 500 test takers.
FlyB.oys talked about how difficult it was for the airmen to get jobs as commercial pilots. So difficult that none of them were hired to fly for any U.S. airline for more than 20 years. They were good enough to fight and win for their country, but could not get hired. My father experienced the same thing when he returned. He wasn't a pilot, but was certified in construction and heavy equipment operation. When he came back to the States in the 1970s, only whites were being hired for those types of jobs or any type of high-paying job. At the time, people in those positions were already earning $25/hour and my dad couldn't even get a job earning $1/hour. ONE DOLLAR. Even with a commendation signed by a general.
My father is number 4 out of 9 children. I asked him what dreams he had for his children before he had any. He said, "That I wouldn't have so many kids that I couldn't take care of them. That they would go to school and make something of themselves." I teared up when he said that because it makes it that much clearer why he spoiled us and continues to push us to do our best. He wants the best for us. He wants us to go farther than he did, do more and get the most we possibly can out of life. Unfortunately, talking to anyone who works in our school systems, you will find for many children, a parent who cares is an almost unheard of luxury, and I had two.
He didn't want us to have to struggle, or ever know hunger and on the most basic levels, we never did. We never had to worry about where our next meal was coming from. My dad grew up in one of the poorest counties in North Carolina (and when you visit, you can instantly tell there is little progress there). His father was a farmer so food wasn't necessarily an issue, but when there are nine children, there are a lot more mouths than is common now to stretch to feed. Both of my great-grandparents owned land. My grandmother's land came from her mother who was also a store owner. I'm proud that my great-grandparents were landowners on both sides.
Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. 24 states are holding caucuses or primaries to decide who they think should win the nomination for the Democratic and Republican primaries. There were times when we couldn't vote. If your state's primary is tomorrow, even if you're not supporting the best candidate (tell me that pic on the front page of the website isn't adorable!!), go support someone. Sydnee is getting one of these. She should know from birth that "There is nothing false about hope... YES WE CAN!" You have to be dead not to get chills from that one. If you click on no other link on this page, watch that one.
But of course, it's not all seriousness.
"What's the flavor?" I ask after he offers me a piece of gum.
*sigh... and giggle* My dad traveled a lot when we were younger so he could make money and provide for us. He's some sort of engineer and works with welding and turbines. I'm glad I'm getting the opportunity to get to know him now. Moving to Pittsburgh was good for me if for no other reason (and there are others), than to allow me to better understand my dad.
State of Black America:
Part XI: High Yella Women Stealin' All the Men
Part X: Noosely Speaking
Part IX: Let Someone In
Part VIII: Nappy-Headed Hos
Part VII: "I'm A Conservative"
Part VI: Education
Part V: Names
Part IV: Rapists and Child Molesters
Part III: Hair
Part II: Katrina
Part I: The Athlete