2.04.2008

State of Black America Part XII: Talks with My Father

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.
"Purple."
*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

22 comments:

Epsilonicus said...

Older generations in my family used to feel that the military was the best way to get ahead. But to think that even there one way to get ahead was still fraught with strife and struggle is crazy. They had it rough. I can only be glad that they made sacrifices so that I never have to go through what they go through. My way s easier than they had it. Its not perfectly paved, but its definitely easier.

Stacie von Kutieboots said...

your dad is talkative LoL

all I could do was shake my head as I read your post. I HATE that black military men were allowed to put their lives on the line overseas but not able to care for their families once they returned. Its so disgusting that this is only a generation removed from us too.

Desy said...

You really sound like a reporter. That was an amazing account of your father's experiences... Thank you for being open and sharing

the joy said...

Wow. That's soo deep. I've been thinking how different life was for some people's parents versus our generation (my parents are from CT too, and our hometown was highly integrated, plus they grew up in the 70s). This exemplefies that so much. That's why I feel so lucky to be at the prime of my life when there's a good chance a black man or a woman could become a president. I feel it shows so much.

Vdizzle said...

NO on that onsie.

And all you know is that your dad's "some type of engineer?" Come on girlie!

Papa Jameil rox!!!

CNEL said...

For me one of the greatest things about going home, is listening to the stories from my granddad.It also amazing to see my mother revel in hearing from her father.
My mother always tells me to listen carefully to gain an understanding of the past, that even she doesn't have.

Then to hear my mother's stories about her coming up, huhlarious, and informative.

One of the great things about being a journalist is hearing people's stories, and gaining perspective. If something doesn't make since I say ask someone who was there, who lived that moment, it gives you perspective.

Tasha said...

It's amazing the stories our parents have and the history they've lived through. It's made all the more interesting when you get to know them as people outside of their role as 'parent'.

The Ink said...

I met a few of the Tuskegee Airmen at a reunion they had down here in TX.

Awe inspiring.

Love the post.

Pro said...

I ain't gone lie. Despite this entree` *LOL* being hella long, it got major kudos for several Tuskegee references! T-gotdamn-U! Alumna here! And my mom is also 61 and has had much of the same educational/nonsegregation experiences as your father.

Sandy C. said...

Wow...I'm sorry to be here so late, but I'm glad I made it today. A great post and very well written and documented. Your dad sounds amazing, with a wealth of memories to share.

Rashan Jamal said...

I'm always impressed with your father-daughter talks. It's really cool that you and he chop it up the way you do.

We've had our share of racism, but nothing like our parents and grandparents.

Great post!

Dreamlover said...

I love that your mum and dad have been such good parents and done everything they can to make sure their family succeeds!!

jameil1922 said...

epsi... word.

stace... lol ain't he tho? very disgusting.

desy... i'm a trained journalist! lol. thx and you're welcome.

joy... me too. BARACK THE VOTE!!

v... stop hating on the onesie. everytime he explains it it sounds so boring that i tune out.

cnel... i looove getting people's stories.

t... i know.

ink... thx and seriously! i love their stories.

pro... your school would be nothing without mine. we all know why. tuskegee founder booker t. washington-- a hampton alum. HOLLA!! my cuz went there for vet school. do y'all know you should ridiculous when you complain about my long entries? you know the way out!!

sandy... thanks! i'm hitting up my mom and my grandma, too.

rj... aww thanks!

dream... ME TOO!!

Chris said...

I hope I can be the provider and the overall man your dad seems to be. We need more brothers like him.

La said...

Wow. To be able to actually remember seeing your first white person like it was a special event is so deep. I certainly can't recall it.

I wish the older generations in my family were as talkative. They mostly refuse to speak on racial tensions from their childhood.

Sparkling Red said...

Thanks for sharing your family history. It's important to tell these stories.

My ex-father-in law is in his 60's. He once told me that when he was in grade school, a white girl asked him if she could see his tail. Her parents had taught her that black people have tails. That blows my mind every time I think about it.

jameil1922 said...

chris... we need more men who provide for their families of all races. black men don't corner the market on abandoning their children.

la... for real! i know i had a crazy look on his face when he said he remembered the first time he saw a black person. i was like, HOW DOES THIS EVEN HAPPEN!? so baffling. my grandmother doesn't like to talk about white people AT ALL.

red... it is. because i really don't want it to die with the people who lived it. TAILS!?!? that is amazing!! wow. just wow.

Open Grove Claudia said...

This is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing it.

I wish your father's experiences were "over". They continue all over this country.

It's very sad that we can grow about the middle but not about the heart.

Karamale said...

yo, my moms was a full 30 years old when my hometown school district desegregated! i don't know if i would have kept quiet about no passin' negro. yes, i would have indeed been a crab pullin his high-yella butt right back down with us.

(why is the word verif "azdik"?)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Your father is a great hero to have lived through such soul-destroying adversity and still kept his eye on his own goals for himself and his children.

I was a Civil Rights worker in the 60's and saw so much horrific racial abuse that I was ashamed to be white.

The concept of race seems outdated since most of us are of mixed ancestry. I really hope that one day soon, it will cease to matter more than eye color, and all the cultural richness that makes up America will be equally celebrated.

jameil1922 said...

claud... aww. thx and you're welcome.

kara... LMAO!! you're such a jerk. i believe this is why i love thee!

heart... the concept of race is ridiculous. if you look at some of the tuskegee airmen, they could've easily passed for white. the idea of no racism so baffling to me the idea of such a world is almost laughable. people love to hold on to whatever will make them feel superior.

yet another black guy said...

i try to tell my nephew these things so he never forgets that the struggle is real and still continues. we are only 40yrs removed from having to march on washington for our rights. think about that...