Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Not at all what I expected...




I just completed a series of grueling tests to see what kind of learning disorder I have. I’ve known that I have some sort of spatial-pattern-perception deal that makes it difficult to do things like draw, cut a straight line with scissors, paint, sew, make clay pots, use a measuring tape or a ruler…anything that requires using my hands to follow a pattern or recreate anything in the natural world in some kind of art medium. I’m cool with that. I enjoy the creations other people have made for un-art or mechanically inclined people like me.
I also figured that the tests would show that I have dycalculia, which is a math/numbers disability. Math has been the bane of my scholastic existence since the second grade. I just didn’t get it, and I struggle with it now. I don’t want to go into how comepletely confused and stressed out I become by the words, “solve for x”. Just typing that freaks me out. However, the preliminary tests revealed that I scored “low average” in mathematical abilities. This isn’t conclusive, but it indicates that I do have a limited ability to figure out how to solve a few math problems, and given about ten years, I MIGHT pass an Algebra 1 class.
These preliminary scores also say that i scored in the “high superior” range for verbal ability, which is the ability to communicate through written and spoken words. Well, that’s not much of a surprise. I’ve focused on using that ability for well over 50 years, so of course it would be well developed. Mom always said, “practice makes perfect”.  I practiced what was already easy for me. I don’t think there’s much of a challenge or achievement in repeatedly doing something that has come to me naturally.
But this is the real surprise—I have a very noticeable loss of memory, especially short term memory. I suspected that, especially since people in my life have repeatably said to, “Angela, don’t you remember talking about this?” or “Mom (my now adult children), I already talked to you about this yesterday (or last week)!” I try to search my memory, but I can’t recall anything. It’s been scary. I’m only 55. Do I have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease already? 
Well, apparently during the screening interviews, I was asked about head trauma. Again, I have no memory of this. I answered honestly, which, quite frankly, I kind of regret: My father once hit me when I was around 14 years old in a Vietnam War related PTSD incident. I can’t believe I said that; I NEVER talked about that before to anyone. He slapped me so hard that I flew across my bed and hit the wall. I don’t remember the circumstances that brought about that attack. I remember him telling me to do something, and I got up, albeit very slowly, to do it. I vaguely remember him saying that I “didn’t move fast enough”. That doesn’t seem like a valid reason to slap someone. The right side of my face was black and blue, and I wasn’t allowed to go to school until the bruises healed.  I have no idea how long that took, and I never received any medical treatment. I have no other recollection of the incident. My impression is that I stayed in bed and I felt like I had done something horribly wrong. No one in the family ever said anything about it to me, or as far as I know, to anyone else. I think my mother solemnly warned me against talking about it. 
I wish that was the last violent incident in my life, but it wasn’t. Less that two months after my oldest daughter was born, my ex husband pinned me down in the back seat of his mother’s car (we were on our way to a Fourth of July celebration), and punched me repeatedly in the face. Again, I don’t remember much. We were parked outside of my ex-mother ih law’s friends’ house, and I was taken inside somehow and laid on a mattress in one of the bedrooms. I didn’t move for two days. I saw my face in the mirror once, and I looked like Frankenstein. 
All of the details of that time are blurry, and I’m not sure of the chronological order. I know my parents showed up at some point, but I don’t know when, who called them or why. I was taken to a hospital emergency room, but again, the who, what, when, and how of it is a huge question mark in my brain. I can remember a doctor reviewing my X-rays, and telling me if I had been hit just one centimeter over, my temple would have been crushed. He also said that I would’ve never known that because I would have been dead. To this day, what I remember him saying to me seems like a crazy, surreal movie clip. It doesn’t feel like it actually happened to me.
I had to have surgery on my face, and I think my cheekbone was caved in. Even that much information is fuzzy. I don’t remember the diagnosis, but I remember waking up after surgery with a lot of bandages around my face. I probably looked like a mummy.
Back to learning disability assessment—the preliminary results showed that I have memory loss due to traumatic brain injury. It’s inconclusive right now, and there are more tests that I took that need to be scored over the next two weeks. The psychologist also said that after the final results are in, I should aske my physician for a brain scan of some type. I can’t remember what type she mentioned. CT? PET? MRI? Which one was it? It’s rather frustrating that I can remember some things, and others are a complete mystery.
There is an upside to this. I want to emphasize the need for increased, diligent ACTION to stop all forms of domestic violence, whether it is against a woman, a man or a child. It has absolutely NO PURPOSE in any society. We cannot call ourselves human beings if we continue to physically, mentally and verbally abuse each other. The effects of abuse are profound, and a lot more long-lasting than I ever imagined. I can’t believe that incidents that took place 41 and 32 years ago still have a huge impact on my life. It’s…sad. Very, very sad.
If you hear or see someone being abused, call the police. Just do it. Don’t rationalize or minimize anything you see or hear. It doesn’t matter if “she’ll just stay with him”, or “it’s no one’s business what happens in another person’s home”. It does matter. You might save a life. Or you might save someone from degenerative memory loss. 

    Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 21, 2013

Angela goes on yet another HULK SMASH rant

Here's the situation--the website oaklandlocal.com published an article titled : "75 Percent of Juvenile Arrests in Oakland are Black Males, says report", which I urge all five of my readers to check out. All right, I'm just messing with you--I do know that I have more than five readers on most days except today. Zero readers. I would be upset if it weren't for the fact that a whole lot of stuff has been going on in this country lately, and most of you probably have a lot better things to do besides read my crazy rants. Back to the subject at hand: I had a pretty good idea of what the article was going to be about, and since I have an extremely bad habit of reading the comments posted on articles like these (yeah, I know; I need to stop doing that), I figured I would probably get pretty P.O.ed by some of them. Wanna read a few? No? Too bad, I'm spreadin' the sufferin'!









I’d be scared to death to be a teacher at a Oakland school. Even though these people are only teenagers there mentality is not. These kids are savages (YES, HE WENT THERE!) ready to fight or even kill for anything. Counselors won’t help. Removing them from society and incarcerating them sadly is the only option.




I hope the efforts of the (sadly, race-based) achievement groups bears fruit. This kind of personal involvement and honest leadership usually does (again, sad that race is used to separate boys out into groups by OUSD).
What the article wanted to say: black boys are arrested and expelled at a higher rate through no fault of their own, but because the police are not properly monitored – code for the race card. Flawed or nebulous reasoning and the umbrella lie to just ‘blame society’, are trotted out yet again. Thud.
Understand how race-based policy (born of a political correctness and a willful, perpetual, self-disenfranchisement) always fails to help, and often harms, the group it intended to help. From affirmative action to racial quotas, weak public policy (aka race-based) will always have the inevitable effect of diminishing or destroying any positive return. Look at the numbers.
So here again we have a baseless ‘fact’ being repeated and even cosigned by ‘leaders’ in education. In lieu of a factual, demonstrable foundation, or anything beyond meaningless arrest stats (to spin), the are told that the problem with young black boys is actually “… combination of social, economic, and historic societal factors that Black communities in Oakland have been underserved for generations, and we’re seeing that culminate in these arrest records…”.
Talk about meaningless. People are getting paid to inculcate the exact fantasies and obfuscations that have left young black boys isolated and hamstrung. One wing of the culture says to despise education and any non-black neighbors and classmates. The other (smaller) voice prompts them to work hard toward their goals, be a man people can look up to and respect, and to strive for excellence. One wing trumpets all the victimizations and defends all the cultural lies. In doing so they provide the exact excuse-structure many young boys (of any stripe) are susceptible to. Stop trying, the inherent message implores, because you were ‘underserved’.
The restorative and preventive justice practices mentioned are a good idea. I have seen the program plan and intent. The problem is that it will be unequally applied, and it takes a backbone to make it work. One boy (let’s say White), commits act ‘A’ and gets suspended. The next boy (let’s say Black) commits the same act ‘A’ and is sent for a restorative justice session with a counselor. DO you see a problem with that? Unequal justice being perpetrated all in the hopes of, not solving a problem, but trying to make the expulsion numbers look better.
As bad policy most often does, it will end up hurting the exact people it was meant to help. Black boys must be (by necessity it would seem to classmates) treated differently. The kids hear the message the educators are so clearly sending: something about black boys requires a different standard or expectation of behavior. They cannot (the inference is) be expected to learn and behave the same way as the Asian, Latino, White or whatever-child who grew up next door to them. The perpetual self-disenfranchisement comes full circle – now everyone believes it.
To add insult to injury, the call is now for more oversight of the police. There are already more people ‘overseeing’ the police than there are police investigating homicides in Oakland. OPD is a dysfunctional mess, and they are losing good people. Adding bureaucracy is the ‘instead of a solution’ solution. It is the cop out of public policy. When no one wants to address the big (aka real) problems, spend more money and create/blame a racist.

The young men in this picture have been identified as members 
of a North Oakland gang.  Source: The Bay Citizen

And here's my response:
"These kids are savages ready to fight or even kill for anything." Really? I find it interesting how people view young African American men, especially when the few interactions they ever have with them is what they or read in the media, or what they THINK they are seeing when they pass these young men on the street. I live in Oakland, and even more importantly, I'm a middle aged, disabled woman who has to use a wheel chair to get around because of severe arthritis. I should be an automatic target for those "savages", right? I mean, really...how could I defend myself against all those young, super-humanly strong men with nothing more on their minds except doing drugs, committing crimes, and listening to rap music? I don't stand a chance, right?

There might be SOME who (and I'm giving the benefit of the doubt here) fit that description. Notice that I used the word "some" in the previous sentence. What does that mean? Most?  All? No, this is what it means (definition courtesy of dictionary.com):  “at least a small amount or number of people or things”.It does not mean "most" or "all", and I used the pronoun specifically for the purpose of steering the conversation away from absurd generalities. Language, both written and spoken, profoundly affects thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. Let me explain how this relates to the issue of describing African American young men as "savages".

I moved from Sacramento to Oakland almost three years ago, and I can tell you right now that I've had a lot less trouble being out and about here than I did in the Capitol. Young African American men have pushed me in my wheelchair across crowded streets; picked up things for me when I've dropped them; taken items down from the grocery stores top shelves when they saw me struggling to reach them. Yes, they were wearing hoodies and sagging pants, and some of them smelled of that "whacky tobacky".  But they were always extremely polite ("Here, Ms. Lady, let me get that for you"), never asked for any money in return (which often happened in Sacramento); and, most importantly, never threatened me in any way at all. Quite the opposite, in fact, when a babbling old crazy guy approached me in a way that seemed inappropriate, a group of young African American men promptly told him, "Leave the lady alone, man!"

This is anecdotal evidence, of course. But what concrete evidence and personal experiences do you have that backs up your claim that they are "savages"? How many personal experiences have you had where you didn't automatically become tense and nervous because of your preconceived ideas? And if you had some bad experiences that verified your summation that they are all "savages", does that mean that each and every African American male is nothing more than that? Really? 

My son is African American (as I am), is a lifelong geek who was consistently on the honor roll throughout elementary, middle and high school; never had behavioral issues in class; used drugs or worn baggy pants; he read Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" when he was in the 6th grade; was 1st cello in the All City orchestra and won a scholarship in music to the Berklee College of Music, where he graduated.

Despite all that, he was twice handcuffed and put in a police car for the crime of arriving too early at a friend's house and sitting on the porch steps waiting for them to arrive (he was on the bus, and he didn't see the need to go all the way back home.) He couldn't believe the police would try to take him to juvenile hall because he wanted to go roller skating with his other geeky friends and arrived at the designated meeting place too early. Luckily for my son, his friends (who were of all different races) arrived in time to protest and explain to the police what was happening. This is the type of behavior that comes out of believing that African American males are "savages". Even the innocent have to endure the consequences of your prejudgment.

And let me head off that "bleeding heart liberal" accusation right now because I'm sick of it. Before I became too disabled to continue working, I taught MANY young African American teenagers and young adults who had problems with writing and reading and how to use the English language much more precisely and efficiently. I have never cared about where they came from or what they did before they came into my classroom, My job was to help them do something that their grossly and unjustly underfunded schools could not, and that was to teach them how to write in a logical and concise way that defies most pedagogical techniques. (I don't why writing skills are not taught like that in schools; the knowledge certainly exists in academia, which is where I learned it.)  I never tolerated BS or excuses in my classroom, and they knew it from the moment they walked in. I taught kids who came in through the Educational Opportunity Program from Compton, East L.A., Hunter's Point, "Deep" East and West Oakland, the Oak Park and Del Paso Heights areas of Sacramento--young people who came from "broken" and/or "bad" homes. Some had committed crimes. I didn't care. My job was to teach them so they would be successful in college; I wasn't trained to be social worker. And they understood that.

These negative references to the supposed primitive nature of your fellow human beings must end, period. I could go on and on about how your perceptions have created bias in the educational system, but you probably wouldn't believe me. I could also bring up how the professed science-based sociological theories about "lack of parental values, guidance and responsibility" has done more harm than good for these students. You would disregard this as baseless accusations. Consider this, however, if you are truly interested in a solution to this problem: I've been with these young people, and they KNOW what you think of them. All that bravado you see? That's a facade to disguise the hurt. Sure, some parents have abandoned their children. But NOT ALL OF THEM are terrible parents. Many work in low paying jobs for very long hours because their children aren't the only recipients of an educational system that has forsaken them; their educational backgrounds are lacking, too. They want to help their children, but they simply don’t have the skills to do so. 

Furthermore, most of their time and energy is wrapped up in paying the bills each month.
I am going to say something unpopular and I refuse to back down from it because it is the truth: State funding formulas for public education favor the wealthy suburbs, especially here in post-Proposition 13 California. You know this. Higher property values means more available tax money for the outlying school districts--put that together with state and federal funds that “makes things equal” (such a laugh), and what we have is suburban schools who have access to resources that inner city schools do not, and an attending attitude of who is deserving of a better education and who isn't, as exemplified by “savage” comment. Public school funding has been “separate and unequal” ever since Brown versus the Board of Education, and it is getting worse. As I have read all too often, the fervent belief seems to be, why should taxpayers "throw more money at failing schools when the parents don't care about their kids anyway"?

And here's the often wryly coded, rarely voiced, yet presumptuous explanation for this belief: at the end of the day, the most African Americans can hope to achieve (if they aren't lucky enough to become athletes, singers or rappers) is to work in low level jobs, anyway.* After all, someone has to do them; there's nothing wrong with that those people doing manual labor. Certainly kids growing up in the suburbs can’t be expected to do that work. At any rate, that’s better than going to jail. They shouldn't expect anything more than that because, after all, they aren't very intelligent. Besides, who would wash the dishes in the restaurants, work as security guards, nursing assistants, stock clerks, or do janitorial work? They certainly can't expect to be high powered attorneys, bank presidents or hedge fund managers! There's "dignity" in hard work and they should be grateful to have a job. We all have our places in this society!

Right. And as I read over the responses to this article and many others on the Internet, it is clear to me that the perception is that we “savages” have been getting away with trying to get more than we deserve for far too long. It’s time to “take your country back”.  There’s a problem with that—we are Americans, too. I know what my parents wanted for me was the same thing those West and East Oakland parents want for their children—a quality education so they can have a better future. Even the terrible parents who have beat their kids and can’t get them fed, dressed and on school on time STILL want their kids to be well educated. Is that difficult to believe? Get over it. It’s true, even if their actions do not seem to support that belief.


As illogical as it may seem to you, those parents know that the great equalizer for their children is a good education. They didn't receive that themselves, but that doesn't mean they don’t want it for them. There’s even a rather self-centered logic for this: if their children are better educated, they will be qualified for better jobs than the lousy ones they have. This also means that their children will be in better position, financially speaking, to take care of them as they grow old. You may scoff or become appalled all you want, but this is a concern for inner city parents. They know their jobs working as security guards or licensed vocational nurses have virtually no pension plans, and Social Security can’t be relied upon. So they hope their children will do better so they won’t waste away out on the streets. After all, they can’t expect their employers to provide them with sufficient retirement benefits, can they? There’s not enough money available in this country to provide for everyone’s “golden years”, or so we've been told. You decide if that’s true or not. Be aware that there are societal consequences related to your beliefs.

* Don't go there with me about the President. There's always exceptions to these generalized perceptions. Exceptions serve a great purpose--they get society's attention (which isn't always good--look at the madness the President has to put up with), and the prevailing national conversation usually becomes focused on statements something like these:  "There's no more excuses! (i.e., you're lazy and/or stupid because you are not like the exceptional one), followed by, "He (or she) did it; why can't you?" or "Why can't you people be like him (or her)? And there we are again, back at the education funding issue again and education-is-the-great-equalizer that is somehow not equal at all, with the counter arguments focused on everything but the inequitable ways public schools are funded. We KNOW we can't EVER talk about that; no siree!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Joining some celebs in thanking my teachers



(Unfortunately, I can only remember three names in this video, and that's James McAvoy, Minnie Driver, and Juliette Lewis. I recognize a few of the others. The guy holding the sign is really familiar, but his name escapes me. The rest of the actors are completely unknown to me, probably because I don't keep up with a lot of popular entertainment. Help me out with the names of these people, folks!) 

Thank you, Mr. Peterson, my history teacher in summer school at Luther Burbank Senior High, who, in 1975, challenged all of us to question history and how it has been taught. He was a very tall and imposing man of Swedish descent whose thunderous voice instantly silenced us when he strolled into the classroom at 8 am sharp. And he told us something that no history teacher had the audacity to say before or since: "Forget all the economic arguments you've read in your textbooks about the causes of the Civil War. There was only one way the wealthy plantation owners could convince poor whites to fight that war for them, and that was RACISM." It was like the hammer of Thor had rained its full force of thunder and lightening on us. All we could do was stare at him. Did he, a White man, just say racism was the cause of the Civil War? 

Let's put this into perspective: it was the summer of 1975, right before my junior year in high school. That history class was required by the California Department of Education for students who wished to enroll in either the University of California or State University systems, which is what I wanted to do. And it was the summer in Sacramento, California, where the daylight temperatures regularly climbed over 100 degrees by 10 am. Even worse than that, we had NO air conditioning in our classroom! We were all on the verge of passing out by the time we took our mid-morning break.

Yet, we all hung onto every word he said as he launched his very detailed lecture, with REFERENCES, as to why racism was the motivating factor in getting so many young White Southern men to fight and die for a cause in which they would never have any financial benefit, even if the South had won the war. (A note: Luther Burbank Senior High's student population was composed of mostly White students back then. Counting myself, there were only five Black kids in a class of about 25 students. I wish I could have taken a picture of my White classmates' faces at that moment. Seriously priceless.) "Watch carefully," he warned us. "Those who run this country are doing the same thing, right now. In fact, they are much sophisticated in their methods"  Best history lecture I've ever had. And he was so right about the methods the plantation owners used to gain support for their cause. The plantations have been replaced by corporations. 

Thank you, Mr. Johnson, one of my high school English teachers (and the best) at Luther Burbank, and a very enthusiastic young lady whose name I can't remember, but she was the student teacher in one of my journalism classes. Both of them recognized and encouraged my love of writing, which led to me declaring myself as an English major when I transferred to CSUS from Cosumnes River College. 

And thank you, Professors Bertanasco, Ridley, Castellano, Mackey, and Dorman at California State University at Sacramento's English department for illuminating, challenging and sharpening my mind. They were unremittingly demanding but fair, as far as their grading standards were concerned.  I remember anxiously typing my essays and research papers at 3 am because I had written three drafts two weeks earlier, and the final one was due later that day. They were old school professors, no warm, fuzzy lectures or peer writing workshops/reviews. You either did the work or you didn't. If you didn't, you received the grade you deserved. That motivated me to work very hard to earn those As.  

Actually, Professor Dorman was part of the Journalism Department at CSUS, but he taught an English/Journalism hybrid class called "New Journalism" back in the 80s that blended the techniques of literary writing with journalism that forced me to set aside the old carved in stone boundaries between the genres. It was one of the most difficult classes I've ever taken at the university. However, the efforts on the part of professional writers to blend the two disciplines has created a genre now called "Creative Nonfiction", which isn't so "weird" now as it was back in the 1960s, when writers like Hunter S. Thompson, John McPhee, Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe and others were first publishing in this new style. I was so excited to be learning about this nascent literary movement. But I never expected it to grow in acceptance the way it is today. Back then, we spent a lot of time either defending Hunter S. Thompson contributions to the genre or damning it because the more traditional writers and critics felt he was nothing more than an undisciplined addict/alcoholic who was tainting the reputations hard working, "legitimate" writers in the business with his literary excesses. (Yes, I love that insane man's writings, aka drug and alcohol addled ramblings. Rest in peace, Hunter.)

Bottom line: I've been blessed with fantastic teachers, and I'm so grateful for that! And do me a favor -- think about your teachers, and thank the ones who've had the most profound effect on your development as a human being. Sure, your parents were probably your first teachers. You can thank them, too. (Thanks Mom and Dad, for lining so many of the walls of our home with bookcases overflowing with books in every conceivable category and encouraging your three children to read!)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thoughts as a result of the #MarchOnWashington

Georgia's 5th District Representative John Lewis looking up while speaking in the Great Hall of the Libary of Congress on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington 2013 By Djembayz (Own work) 
Note: I wrote this as a reaction to an article on Ebony magazine's website that discusses the exclusion of youth in the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington. I was five, and rather irritated by parents' constant "shhhh" to me and my sister when we said we wanted to watch something else. Of course, I didn't see the significance of the event at the time. I was more interested in Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle cartoons, and, as I noted in my response to the article, my first day of school. As of now, I'm waiting to see if my comment will be approved for publication, a necessary process that doesn't bother me in the least. The site has probably been hit by the deluge of the typical Internet troll brigade who love to espouse the doctrine of "reverse racism" found on web sites like The Root and The Griot, thus creating the necessity of moderators. In the meantime, I decided to post it here as a tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. I watched (and cried during) the Interfaith Service on PBS and the rest of the March's commemorative events that took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial on NBC's D.C.'s web site.  
However, I completely missed the 20th anniversary of the March On Washington, probably because I was in a very dysfunctional marriage, further complicated by the fact that despite matrimony, I was essentially raising two toddlers by myself. Quite frankly, I don't even remember hearing or seeing anything about the 20th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Thank God, I'm no longer in such a desperately isolated situation. I wonder if I would have had the presence of mind to appreciate the event at that time in my life. I don't take that for granted today. I am keenly aware that through my belief in the Baha'i Faith, my continued prayers and study of the Writings of Baha'u'llah, the Ba'b, 'Abdu'l-Baha' and Shoghi Effendi, and my participation 12 step recovery from food addiction and codependency has created the capacity for me to eliminate the chaos and distractions that used to plague my life, and made it difficult for me to even imagine anything beyond my immediate circumstances. For these evidences of God's Eternal Grace in my life over the past 23 years, I am abundantly filled with gratitude.
By the way, I have done some editing on this post, so the one that might appear on Ebony's site will be different from this one. You know how writers are--never, ever satisfied. I'm constantly appalled by how much I drop words in my sentences and make unacceptable grammar mistakes.
I need an editor with me every time I sit down in front of my computer. :)

My response to the Dream Defenders' #MarchOn article
I am 55 years old, so I am part of the "old folks". But I hope my story will serve as a precautionary measure for the Black Youth of today, because unfortunately, the years seem to zoom unacceptably fast after 30.
Fifty years ago, my parents watched in very grim, absorbed silence the news reports of the March on Washington. They couldn't participate; they had two little girls, myself and my younger sister; my mother was pregnant with my brother; and my father, as a loadmaster in the Air Force and on constant alert in the escalating Vietnam War, couldn't march without risking going AWOL, which would have been an economic disaster to our family. I was like many children--the nightly news was boring, grown up stuff (there was no such thing as more than one television in a household back then, at least not in the families I knew). Besides, I had my own problems--I was entering kindergarten in less than two weeks. I was very nervous and scared. My parents warned me that there probably wouldn't be many other Black children at the school I was going to attend.
They were wrong. I was the ONLY Black child in the school. I'll never forget the look of complete shock on my teacher's face, followed by a hurriedly professional smile. The other students stared at my mother and me, and continued staring as my teacher showed me to a desk and chair in the back of the classroom. She didn't seem to hear the whispers "She's a nigger!" and "What's SHE doing here?" like I did. I wanted desperately to go back home, and I considered running out and hopping back into the car with my mother. But my parents told me that getting an education was important, and that people DIED for the opportunity for me to sit in that classroom. So I choked back the tears and concentrated on what the teacher was saying, thereby giving the impression that the whispered taunts had no effect on me.
I didn't know much at five years old, but I figured that dying was permanent and usually unpleasant. If a complete stranger did that so I could get a good education, unlike the kind my parents received in the Jim Crow South that they grew up in, the very least I could do was sit there and learn. After all, I was somewhat certain that my White classmates weren't going to kill me at recess the same way my parents' told me the racists down South did Black people. However, I wasn't always convinced that murder was the farthest thing on my classmates' minds. It's probably worth mentioning that this took place in Sacramento, California in 1963, which, in terms of being on the West Coast, was as far away from the Deep South one can get in the U.S., with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii.
This scenario was repeated several times over the years. My sister followed me in elementary school the next year, and we integrated the schools as we walked through the doors. My father was often transferred to different bases, and since he was a non-commissioned officer, there wasn't always space for us on base and in the Department of Defense schools. Because of the military's hierarchy, we were forced to attend the local schools, where we had to contend with being part of post-Brown vs. The Board of Education integration movement. It was true that we received a much better education than what my parents had in the South. But my siblings and I had a difficult time understanding the open hostility, threats and taunting. At times, it was simply unbearable. Socially, I withdrew and walked around the playgrounds by myself, hoping that none of them would approach me and force me to do something that I knew would get me into trouble--fighting back with words and fists. That's what my parents told me to do if I encountered trouble at school. They had no idea that my claims of self-defense would not be honored when I did as they advised. Inevitably, I was the only one who suffered punishment, which was often corporal. I never told my parents about those experiences. Their lives were complicated enough. Besides, unless they had a magic potion for curing institutional and personal racism, their efforts at obtaining justice for me would have exacerbated my day to day situation at school.
I became more and more angry as I progressed through grade school. By the time I entered the 8th grade in 1971, I was in a constant state of rage. I started wearing an Afro, and I obsessively read novels, essays and poetry written by the Harlem Renaissance writers and modern writers like Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, june jordan, Lorraine Hansberry, Gayl Jones, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, LeRoi Jones, Eldridge Cleaver, Alex Haley, John Hope Franklin, Lerone Bennett and Dr. Alvin Poussaint. These were works provided by parents, who knew the schools I attended routinely ignored the contributions of Black writers and historians. I wanted to join the local Black Panther Party, but since I was only 13 and had no direct contact with the movement, I knew that was impossible. But I was very grateful for the sense of pride and self esteem that era gave me. For the first time in my life, I felt both empowered and emboldened to deal with the racist nonsense to which I had been exposed for years.
Unfortunately, it was mostly unfocused and emotionally-charged REACTIONS to my previous experiences in what I call the Great American Social Experiment, better known as integration. By the time I graduated from high school in 1976, both the Black Power and Civil Rights movement seemed to have run out of steam. My friends and I considered "all that stuff" old news, and the best way we could "fight the power" was to get a college education and lucrative careers. For me and my friends, we succeeded in the higher education. Our careers can't exactly be described as "lucrative" (especially mine), but we became working stiffs like our parents.
What happened? Did we think we had "arrived" at the Great American Dream? For me and the rest of my friends, we were very aware that many problems still existed, but the short answer is, yes, we foolishly thought we had "arrived" at a place of respect in this society. We honestly believed that the issues that my parents had to deal with were part of the distant past, and we could best deal with the current ones by having more economic, social and political power through our jobs. We should have been less self-absorbed and more pro-active to the warning signs of regressive measures that were being taken way back in the early 80s. We were arrogant in our so-called "success". And for those of us who didn't do the college/career thing, regrettably, they simply "lost it" to  drug, alcohol, sex and love and all various addictions, incarceration, and /or mental illnesses. It's not an endearing legacy to leave to our children.
It's amazing how fast it has turned around within my lifetime. I never thought I would see part of the Voting Rights Act stuck down, in spite of past and current issues, and laws enacted to basically empower vigilantes to legally execute Black men on the streets. But there is a lesson in all this--never stop, never take any aspect of your social/economic lives for granted. Stay aware and take action. Our inaction and inattention to what was happening around us has had dire consequences. Please learn from my generation's mistakes. Don't leave this world in the same shape it is now. Please help make it better. I don't have the luxury of years that you collectively have, but I intend to do whatever I can do with the time I have left in my life. The lives of my children, my grandson, as-of-now unborn grandchildren, and the rest of you are worth that.