"We weren't just whitebread, we were racist."
That's a pretty courageous comment that was left at the end of an earlier post, and although it's easier to see this 40 years later, some folks never do figure it out.
I had exactly one black kid in a class with me the whole time I was at Woodson, and that was my senior year in symphonic band. I don't know if I ever met anyone who talked less than Larry Smith, although he may have been so intimidated that he figured the smartest thing to say was nothing.
The defining moment for me in high school came as a senior. I don't know if any of you were in the same homeroom I was; the teacher was a woman whose name I can't remember. It may have been Howell. She was a German teacher who I think actually had come from Germany.
It was the fall of 1966 and there had been quite a few riots that summer. I remember her comment: "The black people don't want to work at all. All they want is the welfare."
She already wasn't real fond of me, but when I spoke up, it got a lot worse. I couldn't believe myself when I said out loud, "That's a really racist thing to say."
A few days later we elected our homeroom representative to the Student Government. The class elected me, but she refused to allow it. A week later, when she was told she didn't have the right to block an election, I was elected again.
But I digress.
The black kids I remember from Woodson dressed pretty much like we did and talked pretty much like we did. Can you imagine how we would have reacted if they had worn dashikis to school?
In the fall of 1968, when I was in the Jefferson Society at the University of Virginia, we had a guest speaker. Charles Hamilton was the co-author of "Black Power" with Stokely Carmichael, and during the Q&A period, one of our Southern gentlemen asked him, "Mr. Hamilton, would you like to be white?"
I always thought he missed a bet with his answer. "That's an insulting question."
I would have liked it if he had talked about how being white might make life easier, but that didn't mean it was better.
I don't think we knew that.