Just a Home Town Boy (a 30:30 report)
“The fundamental human imaginative act is to see the other, guess what the other needs, to engage with the other, to be the other, and to make thereby our own selves.” — John Tarrant
Maybe this is brain-food, or soul-food, personal nourishment for my cosmology, as I review, as I think back and try to pull from the spider webs of my mind, the cheddar-cheesing of my brain, what it was like, how it was, what it felt and how I felt, this about experience and whatever attention was being paid by me back then, though with osmosis a scientific reality it’s pretty hard to miss everything, meaning a blind squirrel will find an acorn once in a while, and
Yay for all that because I am thinking about being back in my hometown, the place where I did a lot of my physical and perhaps more than a smidgeon of my emotional growing up. So, historically, I grew up in Wareham, Massachusetts, which I always like to describe as hard by the body of water known as Buzzards Bay, which when I think about it figure that must sound a little weird to folks not knowing it but to me it was just the water, it was what the Wareham River flowed into down from Mill Pond, and also the name of the town next store which was part of the contributing area of our rival high school but also had a cool community center and a movie theater way longer in terms of the years it stayed open than ours did, though I had a lot of fun in ours, mostly Saturday afternoons and with inexpensive mint julep candy,
But this isn’t about that, though I suppose you don’t get to pick and choose what’s osmotic, it all seeps in, and here now, this particular time when racism is so public, so everywhere, so spectacular in its dawning awareness on white folks blinded by the white, I would like to point out that in Wareham, where I grew up, there was something like 25 – 33%, in that ballpark for certain, of the population which was made up of people of color, which I’ll refer to going forward as black people, though it is not an accurate description of actual color all the time, I guess not even lots of the time, in Wareham many if not most of the folks of color had roots in the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, which had been annexed/claimed/stolen way back when by the country of Portugal – which is where I have my roots – but eventually set free, and many people traveled over to Southeast Massachusetts via New Bedford, where I was born, probably a large conduit of entry, and anyway, let me just say that every fourth or third person in Wareham when I was growing up – the year-round population — was a black person.
And the gist of this is is that made me a lucky guy. I can speak specifically to that here in a minute, time allowing, but to give perspective, when I graduated from high school I went on to Cape Cod Community College down in Hyannis on Cape Cod, the Cape also being a place of a significant percentage of colored population, and after graduating from there transferred up to Salem State on the north shore of our state and was literally shocked at the blowback I heard from nearly one and all, and including the student government when the 50 or so black kids from Dorchester and Roxbury and around there who were part of the 4000 (3950 white) or so students applied to create a black student union organization and were summarily denied – too restrictive they got told — and when you’d ask about it the reasons expressed and more than that, the words coming out of the mouths of most of the white students were straight fucking racist. Hello!!! Racism rules, and this was ’69 and it turns out the communities on the north shore of Boston, all around Salem and all the way up to the New Hampshire border were pretty much so-called lily white and people had no experience with people of color, except what they’d heard from their parents and grandparents and friends and read and seen in movies and maybe on TV, and
Oh by the way one of the annual fund-raisers at Salem State was the “slave auction” they held in the boy’s dorm, though that got turned around in a hurry one night when a large contingent of those Boston area black kids showed up and politely asked “What the fuck?” Yeah, it became a crisis on campus and classes got cancelled the next day and something like 800 students and faculty jammed the auditorium to hash it out and play music that resonated with doing the right thing (“United We Stand” ) and I was glad I was on the side of fairness and equality and even stevens because why not, that’s the way it was, though let me tell you, time here reversing,
My second year at Cape Cod Community one of my two roommates was a black kid from my home town, his name was Julius, and he’d been one of the football team’s quarterbacks and was an all-around athlete and a hugely sociable and likeable guy, really smart, and a big flirt with the young ladies and just a fabulous human- and it is no exaggeration at all to say he outshone me in every one of those areas, unless we add quantity of beers guzzled in which I had him hands down – and he told me one day in our Cape Cod cottage that the guidance counselor at Wareham High who had encouraged me to apply at CCCC and a couple of state schools had urged him, instead, to maybe think about a technical college, something vocational, which he thankfully ignored and it was one of the best living situations of my life, and, here more time reversal,
Even though there was heavy drinking involved on occasion, me with the heaviest lifting, the kid I hung around the most with my final two years of high school was a black kid named Nicky, and staying connected for years after graduation,
And I tell you these things in my non-stop 30:30 minutes of writing because racism has always pissed me off seriously, and I was one of the leaders of a “radical” student organization at SSC which had the week before the black kids were turned down we, our Union for Student Involvement, had been approved as an organization so – after the black kids got nixed – what we did was say “fuck you, no thanks” to the student government and gave back our official approval and wrote a very nasty flyer about the racism inherent in their decisions, which we accidently on purpose managed to hand out all over the campus, which caused the student government to say, “gee, you got us all wrong, take it back” before approving the black student union as legit.
In other words, act up, flip out, label people’s stuff, and shit happens. Why people hit the streets – and why they have to. And these are only a few examples, another when my dad died in 1980 and the local paper, of which he had been Editor many years, wrote a story and interviewed a lot of the town folk, the head of the town maintenance department, a black man named Tony, told the reporter that my dad had been his best friend. And even another, me and my honkie pal Donnie fishing on a ledge over said Wareham River and I fall in and the current grabs me and I’m going to be a goner and Donnie yells for help and an old black man – who didn’t check my color and find his life-saving option too restrictive – ran over and jumped in and saved my shriveling white ass. I was maybe 12.
And I tell you these things this Saturday because I have a life-long attitude that racists suck and racism is about the worse thing there is and just maybe possibly now more people will get the guts to talk about how we can really change stuff for the better – to make it all fair and square, equal chances, the same opportunities. Do the right thing. Plus you never know that you just might make some cool new friends.