When I was a child in McDowell County, West Virginia, half a century ago, all the black adults in Anawalt (and it was about 50/50 Black/White) called me "Mr. Jimmy". I swear to God that was true. People older than my parents called me "Mr. Jimmy" and I called them by their first names: "Gene and Lauretha and Marcus and Richard and Flo." As a kid, I called a 60 year old woman who worked for my Uncle Russell and Aunt Gladys, "Flo". And she called me, 13 or so at the time, "Mr. Jimmy."
It makes me want to puke. It was just the way it was but I should have realized a lot sooner than I did that it was wrong. Dead wrong. Damn wrong.
So, fast forward to today. Our President is Black. Most of the most wealthy entertainers and professional athletes are Black. Black is beautiful, right? "I want to be like Mike," (meaning Jordan) is the rule, not the exception.
Integration has worked, right?
When I was in college at WVU, I became friends with the first black friend I ever had. Truth was, Ron grew up 8 miles from me and we went to high school about 1/4 mile apart. But we never met. When Ron would introduce me to other black folks, he would say, "Jim and I went to separate high schools together." I thought we were on the cusp of something wondrous and magic. The culture was going to be ONE, finally.
And then I was the priest of an almost all-black church in Charleston, West Virginia. Ron's sister and brother and law and niece were members there. We were all middle-class and college educated. This was the wave we'd be waiting to break over us all. Right?
Today I talked to a young white man who has begun his practice teaching in an urban middle school in a major metropolitan area. The school is almost 100% Black and any relationship to Dodd Middle School in Cheshire is purely coincidental. Dodd is a great school, 99% white and Asian. My friend's school, he told me, in a nightmare. He said he'd been called "white boy" by dozens of students when, in his mind, being 'white', wasn't anything of interest.
Discipline and learning in his school is all but non-existent. Hope isn't even in the equation. Most of the teachers have given up and are just going through the motions. He was very depressed, though he had decided to resist depression and give it his all.
Republican state legislatures around the country are being creative in how to deny the vote to Black and Hispanic folks. Nobody--not our Black President or anyone else--talks about the poverty gap or the racial inequality these days.
I notice that most of the drivers pulled over in Cheshire, where I live, by the police, are people of color.
Where is Lyndon Johnson when we need him?
Why is no one talking about the racial divide that colors our culture? What happened to Martin Luther King's dream?
Does anyone care? That's the question that haunts me--does anyone care?
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