Tag Archives: Parkland Hospital

“I’m White and He’s Black!”

Growing up in then recent post-colonial Kenya, I don’t recall when, if ever, race consciousness hit me. My earliest recollections are a blended hue of white, black and brown.

Kikuyu herdsmen, young boys actually, are among my earliest memories. They regularly traveled by our front gate as they tended cattle, sheep and goats. I loved their weathered 1.5 meter long herding sticks, and the ease with which they shrilly whistled at their livestock; similar to what I remember trail hand and cook Frank McGrath shouting and whistling out to his team of horses on the 1960’s TV show, Wagon Train.

I remember our maid occasionally taking me on a long, winding footpath to a local, all-Kikuyu village market where she bought a loaf of white bread. When we arrived home she would cut thick slices, slather on a thick coating of delicious Blue Band margarine, then make hot, sweet, white tea for dipping.

blue_band

If any negative remembrance of racial encounter during Kindergarten to 2nd grade, it would be a 1st grade bully, who not only convinced and panicked me that our family’s post office box had been left wide open (my khaki school short’s fly/zipper), but regularly threatened me into sharing my food. It would be untrue to call this incident racial just because I was bullied by a black boy. After all, only a few years later in the seventh grade, I was bullied by a white classmate when he sprayed cologne in my eyes following football practice.

For my eldest child and only son (who, incidentally, was born at Parkland Hospital, the same hospital where JFK was taken after being shot, and from where his death was announced), racial consciousness arose out of an apartheid versus colonial context.

At one year of age, my son, plus my wife and I boarded a KLM, Johannesburg bound flight in Amsterdam for what was then apartheid South Africa. It was 1989. We were headed for Thohoyandou (literally “head of elephant”), Venda, one of several so-called independent Bantu homelands within South Africa. In reality they were mere international, geopolitical window dressings, attempts by a white government to legitimate a “separate but equal” racial segregation policy.

What at first was a significant discomfiture – a white and young American family living in and amongst an all-black Venda neighborhood in apartheid South Africa – became a transformative experience for us. For many Venda people who frequented our home, it was their first experience of being in a white person’s home, much less being welcomed as guests.

Our willingness to disengage from our traditional and accustomed racial and economic community of belonging, and live within the constrictions of a people, who knew and experienced first-hand and often on a daily basis the effects of racial bigotry and discrimination spoke louder than any words possibly could.

When we relocated from Venda to another South African province three years later, our residential Block G neighbors hosted a farewell for us. A principal of a local high school was the master of ceremony. He surely said more than this, but all I remember these many years later is his expression of gratitude on behalf of those present, for our having come and lived with and among them – sharing life and a partial history of discrimination alongside them.

It wasn’t long after settling into our new, small, yet quaint home in Block G that our son found a friend to play with. Gabriel (*not his real name) lived two houses down (a mere 30 to 40 meters away), and a neat feature of his house was the courtyard and driveway “tarred” with wet cow manure, that when dry can be drawn on, sat on, played on, driven on, eaten on and which leaves little to no odor, nor attracts flies. Unlike carpet that frequently induces apoplexy in adults each time children eat or drink on it, a floor protected and sealed with cow manure is extremely absorbent, and stress free!

Anyway, back to our son and his Venda friend. They were best friends, riding their three-wheeled plastic motorcycles up and down the driveway together, watching TV together on our bed as they reclined against our pillows, and enjoying raiding the dry Epol dog food together – stuffing their pockets and mouths with it, as they hid their dastardly deed behind our corner wall.

D&Naki

During three years in Venda, and up until the age of four, Daniel never once seemed conscious of or mentioned racial, ethnic or cultural differences. When we returned to Texas for a few months at the end of 1992, however, and just prior to our relocating to Zululand, my wife remembers him noticing and commenting on a few African-Americans he saw on our way to or from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, “There’s some Zulus!”

Sometime after our return to South Africa in 1993, and during a brief visit back to Thohoyandou after a year-plus absence, I remember driving toward town with Daniel and his friend Gabriel, both of whom were now somewhat shy around each other. Out of nowhere my five-year-old son suddenly made the following observation, “Hey, I’m white and he’s black!” And fortunately that was that. No malice intended. Just a childish observation derived no doubt from some developmental context.

I’m not sure if this blog has any intended message or purpose, other than what you take from it.

It does have a context, I suppose. The 50th anniversary of MLK’s famous speech. As I listened to the 50th anniversary events and speeches this past Wednesday, a radio commentator, in referring to one African-American participant, who marched with MLK and who was still alive, described this gentleman with the words, “He experienced violence.”

EXPERIENCE . . . Seems this is the essential one-word white elephant among so many fellow and white Americans, who glibly and from a protective and sheltered confine of some type argue that we live in a post-racial society, and who become angry and condescending to the many who need and desire to confront and talk through persistent, de facto racism and racial bigotry that persists and continues to be experienced by so many today.

I am forever grateful that my family and I had the forced (we didn’t have a choice where we would live) opportunity to experience life with and from the perspective of a disenfranchised and discriminated against South African people.

It was the first of what would be many future steps out of the safe, yet sheltered identity cocoon of my American, Christian and Anglo-Saxon heritage, and into the storied lives of people who knew and had experienced little in the way of political or socioeconomic privilege and power.

For this inestimable gift of exposure and life experience we are forever grateful.

Maybe it’s time the socio-economically privileged – irrespective of race, culture or ethnicity – reconsider what has traditionally been referred to as “white flight,” or its more racially neutral and nuanced term “suburban sprawl,” and give some thought to participating in the potentially transformative experiences of living with and among transitional communities and neighborhoods, as detailed in the article, “Here Comes The Neighborhood.” At the least, let’s work on attitudes so that we’re communicating respect and dignity and not their opposites.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Culture and Africa, Diversity, Family, Life, Memories, Pedagogy, Perspective, Relationships, Religion and Faith

Grandparents | Person and Place Specialness

When it comes to a grandparent or great-grandparent, memories of person are inseparable from place.

My three younger daughters and I returned yesterday from a quick, 3-night trip to El Paso, where we visited “Bueli” (short for Abuelita), my wife’s mother. We never knew “Abuelo,” as he died of leukemia four years prior to my dating his only child (Whew! – not his death, obviously, but that I didn’t have to ask his permission).

A visit to Bueli generates a lot of excitement, which is a combination of cozy/fun memories, and of at least two forgettable ones: the drive distance required to reach her, and the cramped sleeping quarters for our family of 7 once we arrive (Bueli lives in a small, two-bedroom condominium near William Beaumont Medical Center).

Memories that rapid fire in the kids’ minds when they hear a trip to ELP is in the works, include:

-The “cozy smell” of Bueli’s house (as one daughter described it)

-Getting to finger-stick her for one of her many daily glucose testings

-Playing tea with the stainless steel tea set we gave Bueli on one of her trips to South Africa

-Evening roundtrip family walks to the Amphitheater in nearby McKelligon Canyon

-The stunning early morning and late evening beauty of the surrounding desert and Franklin Mountains

-ELP’s famous lit at night “mountain star”

-Eating Mexican food and drinking horchata at Tierra Del Sol Restaurant

-Pigging out at Cattleman’s Restaurant (as a younger man, I once ate a 32-ounce T-bone, which dangled off at both ends of the plate when the server brought it), and . . .

-A morning jaunt across Transmountain pass to shop, plus, of course, Starbucks’s coffee at Barnes & Noble adjacent to Sunland Park Mall.

Evening walk up McKelligon Canyon

Would you like tea?

Desert beauty

Recently I came across pictures (memories) of our first three years of marriage, which we spent living with my dad’s dad, “Daddy D” (DD), in Pleasant Grove, Dallas.  This came about during my first semester of Master’s studies because my grandmother (Mamaw) passed away.  Of Mamaw – she remembered her first encounter with an automobile.  One passed her family’s residence in Mississippi, whereupon she and her sister ran quickly out to the dirt road, placing their noses to the ground in an effort to catch whiff of the car’s rubber tires.

Since we were a financially strapped newlywed couple (like most) it was suggested that we live with DD and commute to school (50 miles). It would save us money, plus help stave off his certain-to-be loneliness. At the time he was 82. We were 22!

DD probably had a side to his character and person, which Ana and I might find unpleasant, but after three years living with him, we never discovered what it was.

For more than two decades DD worked at the Aggie Feed and Chick Store, still operational at 9105 C. F. Hawn Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75217.

Aggie Feed & Chick Store

From 4th to 6th grade I kept a garden and raised broiler and hen chickens, which upon slaughter or collection of eggs, I sold to my only paying customers – my parents! Specific to DD, the only time in any family member’s recollection that he ever wrote a personal letter to anyone was to me!

I was always dreaming and drawing up plans on how I was going to be a big-time, rich chicken farmer, and in order to succeed, I needed to know current prices for chicks, feed, and supplies.  DD was the person I wrote to with my many questions, and he responded: listing the prices for a variety of different breed chickens, plus how much feed I’d need for X-number of chickens, et cetera.

DD was a simple (do not read stupid) elderly man, who was ever-so-softly always whistling, and had a habit of slightly rocking one or both arms back and forth when experiencing pleasant discomfort (e.g., when he was being light heartedly teased).

Every single day, at day’s end, he would sit in his tan-colored recliner, and while watching the likes of The Dukes of Hazzard, T.J. Hooker, or Adam-12, peel an apple or an orange, which he, of course, then ate.  He didn’t just peel the fruit, though. He peeled them so as to have long, thin streamers of peel or skin.

DD’s house was simple too.  Nothing fancy, just a 3-bedroom non-brick house on a large, maybe one acre plot.  Most of the backyard was “under garden” or tillage. He also had a green house, which at the age of 92 he climbed up on top of to replace the roof!

We grew everything from red potatoes to asparagus.  My poor, poor young bride learned quickly how to can tomatoes and sweet corn! One pleasant and painful memory I have of harvest time, was pulling up potatoes.  It was fun and like drilling for oil or water because you never knew what size or how many “taters” you were going to get. One problem, though, were fire ants, which liked to make their home among the potatoes, and feed on your burrowing and exposed hands.

Washing red potatoes

Me digging up potatoes

DaddyD6

Daddy Dee

Post-workout

Post-workout

At the age of 83 DD decided it was time to take up golf and it was up to me to both coach and partner with him.  We would go out back together and hit plastic golf balls.  On at least two occasions we went to a nearby municipal golf course – memories for me of agonizingly slow-paced play and constantly spotting (because of his cataracts) and informing him where his golf ball went (usually a distance of no more than 50 to 75 yards, and always it seemed at a 90-degree angle to where he was walking:). Obviously his age and loss of agility prevented him from a full-rounded swing, so instead he would quickly hatchet the ball – taking both rigidly straight arms with club in hand backward about 4 feet, then swiftly pushing them forward, connecting with and shot-putting the ball forward.

We two hitting golf balls in backyard

Our years with DD were special for many reasons, not least of which is that our first-born was born. I remember when Ana informed me she was pregnant.  I was watching TV with DD.  She came in from work at Parkland Hospital and stood in front of me (obstructing view of TV). Smiling, she extended her arm, handing me “the clue”: a baby rattle. I was very slow to catch-on!

Our final months with DD were good, but sad. We were soon leaving to work in South Africa. Once again he was confronted with singleness. At some point in time after he knew we were leaving, he began dating a much younger woman (59) from a nearby Baptist church. DD was informed by his conservative pastor that he would not agree to DD continuing his long-held deaconship responsibilities, in that, his wife-to-be was a divorcee! This budding romance was alarming to DD’s children as well, because after all, surely this much younger woman couldn’t actually be in love with an 86-year-old, and must be out for his money (not that a feed store hourly wage employee would have generated much cash reserves).

So . . . guess who was called upon to “counsel” and hopefully show my granddad the error of his ways?!  You got it! I was too young at the time to refuse both pastor and family request. I remember the night I went in to DD’s bedroom, where he was seated in relative darkness in his dark green bedroom recliner. I don’t recall what I said or how I spoke, but I do remember what DD said and did. Tears rolled down his cheeks and he quietly stated, “Scott, I just don’t want to be lonely!”

Thankfully DD didn’t listen to his detractors and went ahead and married this much younger woman.  They remained married (happily, I think) for 12 years, until DD’s death at 98.

My wife and I will always remember the man and the house at 3322 Pleasant Drive, Dallas, Texas.

7 Comments

Filed under Family, Life, Loss, Memories, Perspective, Relationships