For most people racism is a topic that is avoided, but for me it is something that I am completely unafraid to bring up in any conversation. My confidence in talking about this sensitive subject is not because I don’t feel uncomfortable about it, but because I have had to deal with it almost all my life. It is my experiences with racism and racist people growing up that have helped to make me the way I am today.
I am an avid supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and all the previous civil rights movements in American history. For me, Black Lives Matter is the movement that shows no compassion for white supremacy, police brutality, or any other racism and discrimination. I love the way they have empowered people to speak out proudly with confidence against others who have treated them unfairly. This movement makes me proud to be black in America, and has helped me to become more woke about a lot of the sociological issues taking place in our current American society.
For those who know me, they know that I do not shy away from conversations about racism, discrimination, police brutality, or cultural appropriation. I also don’t just stand up for black folks, I try to be someone who speaks up for other minorities that are under attack, including women. I grew up in the area of Pope County Arkansas, my biological father is black and my mother is white, who left each other when I was 3-years-old. Most
people consider me bi-racial, but I identify as black, because of the treatment I received from the white people that i grew up around.
The first time I remember being picked on for being different was at a school in Hector, Arkansas. There were fights on the playground, fights on the school bus, and the first time I heard the n-word used by a white person as an insult. The insult happened as we were looking at a globe in our classroom, where the kid looked at the country of Niger (ni-jair). The kid then smiled, looked me in the eye, and said the n-word.
While I didn’t understand the full meaning of the word, I knew it was an insult towards me, because I was the only black student in the school at the time. I was immediately hurt by this word, and angry, and I felt isolated from the rest of my white classmates.
The next time I would experience racism would be when I was about 7 or 8-years-old, in Pottsville, Arkansas. My mother and stepfather knew a family in Pottsville, and their son became my childhood friend for a while. Although I loved to spend the weekends playing at his house indoors or outdoors, he had an evil cousin, named Jared. Jared was older than us both, and was mean spirited. Sometimes he would come over to his house during the weekend, and he would normally bully me. For a while I didn’t understand why he did it, but I became and I didn’t know why.
Eventually, one day as I was leaving my friend’s house for the weekend, I heard Jared’s father using the n-word in a derogatory manner. By this time, I was able to understand what it meant, and that it was a horrible term to use, and that it was in reference to people who looked like me and my family. I told my mother, but there was little to be done.
Fast forwarding to the fourth grade, the year of 1992, I was now attending elementary school in Clarksville, Arkansas. Attending school in Clarksville was supposed to be easier for me, since the majority of the black half of my family attended this school for generations. However, I was still forced to deal with students who hated me for having darker skin than them, and showing interest in being friends the white girls. These students often felt brave enough to physically fight me over these issues, and normally lost them, if they were not broken up by teachers.
I was not a violent child but, my mother taught me to defend myself if I was bullied. And so that is what I became good at. By this time in my life, I had become confident enough in my fighting, that I would not stand down to anyone who bullied me. It became such a regular occurrence, that I began to look forward to kids calling me racist names or to try and push me around. Some of the names that I was referred to as besides the n-word, were oreo and zebra.
These names are silly, but the tone and derogatory usage was more annoying than insulting, but after a while, even the slightest comments became something that hurt my feelings. Sadly enough, by the end of the fourth grade, I was told I needed glasses, and so came another reason for kids to make fun of me in school.
When I reached the fifth grade, my time at Clarksville elementary school had come to an end, and it was time to transfer to the Dardanelle middle school. It was in Dardanelle where I faced the most opposition for being a shy, bi-racial kid, from out of town. As always, there were white boys ready to fight me because I was new to the school, and I looked different than them.
Dardanelle was different because I wasn’t the only black kid in my classes, but I would still be singled out and insulted for being non-white. It was at this point where an additional consciousness became apparent to me. It wasn’t that I was black, that bothered them so much, its the fact that I was also partially white that made them so insecure.
Also during this time, my mother went through a country music phase, which meant that I had to go through a country music phase. Not only did I have to listen to country music, but I also would end up dressed like a brown cowboy. Which just goes to show that no matter how much a black person assimilates to white culture, they will never be completely treated as an equal.
While my classmates and other students didn’t always call me racial slurs, the reason for the hostility and bullying was still obvious, I wasn’t white. I had negative interactions with a math teacher (Mrs. Brown) who hated to help me, bullying from white students on the playground during recess. Everyday at recess was a struggle to survive for me. While I was able to form a couple friendships with some classmates, none were brave enough to stand between me and the white kids who would harass and attack me on a weekly basis. It was not uncommon for me to run around the playground during recess to avoid a fight, which only made me a faster runner, or for me to be involved in a shoving contest.
It was also in the fifth and sixth grades that I began to play sports for the Boys and Girls Club, where I played football and basketball. Of course, my life as an athlete would come to end earlier than planned.
Advancing to the sixth grade would present to me a new set of enemies to deal with. By this time, I didn’t need to fight as much, as more people began to accept me as I was. However, there were some that still did not like me, along with some faculty members that would join in on the bullying without cause.
One of my biggest bullies was a kid named Jason, close friends with him was a preppy white kid named Dustin, whose family owned a local business. While Dustin and I never exchanged words, I would regularly see him socializing with Jason before or during recess, which was of course followed by an attempt to fight me. It seems as though Dustin was too coward to fight me himself.
Other people that became evil in my eyes were my bus driver and the principal, Mrs. Cotton (Tom Cotton’s mother). While in school I was good student, I was at times a class clown, but I didn’t start any fights, I was polite to teachers, and I was nice to other students, and helped other kids when I could. I was never a trouble child for the educational system, the fights I was involved in was a matter of self defense.
None of that mattered to school bus driver, who decided one day to begin picking on me, and attempted to humiliate me, with the help of my school’s principal, Mrs. Cotton. I had been riding this particular bus for several months, because my mother had moved us into a new home with my new step father, into an area of Dardanelle called Wildcat Hollow. This area was a very secluded area, out of city limits, and to drive there meant driving on a dirt road.
One day my bus driver, decided to have the principal call me into her office, without any warning, and accused me of mistreating the student who sat next to me on the bus, the previous day. As they both forced me to watch the video in the office, trying to humiliate me and interrogating me for simply leaning forward in my seat.
My reason was very simple for leaning forward, I had sinus problems, but it really wasn’t any of their business, and I knew they were being spiteful by their town and their constant threats to kick me out of school. In their minds, they assumed I was endangering a white kid sitting in the seat next to me for the simple fact that I leaned forward where the school bus camera could not see me, but in reality I had a sinus issue, and was trying to clear my nose without being made fun of.
The irony is that as hard as I tried not to be made fun of, the principal tried her best to harass me for it. When I went home that day, the bus driver was constantly watching me, and harassing me about sitting where he could see me.
As soon as my mother found out about what happened from a letter she received, the threats and the accusations stopped, because they had no evidence that I did anything wrong, and their accusations were completely illogical. My mother then began to curse them both out, and told them to never do that to me again. It was great having my mother take up for me, I felt proud, and less embarrassed about the whole situation.
My next major highlights was a racist bully on the football team, a kid named Bryce Phillips, who wanted to fight me for no reason, and was even cheered on by his father to fight me at the practice. I had no parents at practice, so I had to find a way to survive on my own. The coaches would just stand by and act like they didn’t see or hear anything going on.
I denied him the opportunity to fight me, but the coaches would allow him to line up in front on me in practice drills. Once this happened, I would just drop when the ball snapped, and he would fall on top of me. I would laugh at him aloud, because he was so eager to hit me as hard as possible, it ended up backfiring on him. Eventually he gave up trying to attack me, after I told my parents what was going, and they attended the practices a few times to address the kid and his father.
I was relieved, that I didn’t have to attend football practice in fear anymore for the most part, and all I had to do was worry about surviving the domestic violence at home, with my step father.
Moving forward to the summer of 1994, two years earlier I remember hearing about Rodney King as a child, but didn’t really know anything except that he was beat up by police, now at this time, O. J. Simpson is being played all over television on every channel, all I knew was he ran from the police, and they assumed he killed his wife. Meanwhile, in the real world, I had been collecting sports cards and comic books for about 4 years, and finally had a pretty large collection.
It was also the summer I would move in with my biological father in Atlanta, coming from a home outside the city limits in a very rural Dardanelle. By July I was staying with my biological father, in a Holiday Inn Express, due to hurricane damage that had come through the Decatur area and destroyed the house. Soon after, I began the 7th grade at a school called Terry Mills, it was so different than all my previous schools. At this school I stood out because of my light skin, big glasses, and my habit of tucking in all my shirts. For like the first two years in Atlanta schools, a lot of kids called me Opie, like from the Andy Griffith show. They thought I was so weird and odd. I didn’t mind so much, because instead of having to fight about me being different, I only had to deal with being teased until I was able to acculturate to their norms.
By the fall of 1995, I was enrolled in Ronald E. McNair Junior High School in Decatur, for the eighth grade. I loved it, and I was more accepted, and had a lot more friends at this point. The best part was that there hardly any white students in Terry Mills, or McNair, and I was able to feel more at home. I was comfortable there, there were still the occasional bullies, but it wasn’t nearly as intense or motivated by race as it was at the white schools I attended.
In 1995, the Million Man March also took place, and I was able to attend it. We arrived there at the beginning of it, and stayed in a small hotel in Washington D.C. for the duration of the event. Every day we would venture out to different areas of the historical monuments, and listen to all the speakers talk, while we visited each of the major monuments within walking distance. To me it was like a dream, to see so many different types of black men, from so many different states and countries come together in peace and unity. It was the one thing that has remained with me ever since.
In the duration of the event, not one fight happened, in fact, the only anger I saw from the other visitors was a black man and a white man intensely arguing about race at the base of the Washington Monument. As they fiercely yell at each other opposing views, a crowd had slowly formed around them in a circle, ignoring the wind blowing everyone’s hair and scarves around. This was another moment that inspired me to stand my ground when voicing my opinions to white people, never give up, and demand respect. As the event came to a close I remember everyone stopped by the Capitol building, and listened to Louis Farrakhan speak, as the final speaker.
Farrakhan spoke of embracing each other, taking responsibilities for our actions, and coming together as a people. I remembered looking around at the very end of the event, as everyone held up a one-dollar-bill. I was amazed at the visuals of it all, the massive seas of black bodies peacefully assembled around the Capitol building, around the all the monuments, and flooding the streets. It was an amazing cite to see so many people come together, listen to constructive criticism, be peaceful, engaging in intellectual conversations, and observing the overall solidarity.
After moving back to Clarksville, Arkansas, from the life I learned to love in Decatur, Georgia, I was filled with resentment towards the idea of attending school in Arkansas in general. I knew what I was going back to, and I was furious. It wouldn’t even be happening except for a house fire and my sick paternal grandfather. While the house fire could’ve been prevented, the potential loss of a my grandpa couldn’t be overlooked. Another one of those moments when it felt like the universe is against you, and you can’t win no matter what you do.
Like I expected, my sophomore year in the Clarksville education system was met with racism, before we even made it half way through the school year. It was bad enough that my friends and cousins had to deal with white students using racial slurs towards us and being assaulted with the waving of rebel flags, but to deal with institutional racism coming from the school faculty was another level of anger and frustration.
The ignorant, yet clueless, small minded white faculty thought that it was a brilliant idea to hold a school sponsored slave auction as a fundraiser. It was mandatory, for all students to attend, they brought in a real auctioneer, it was treated as a joke; but it was undeniably racist and insulting to those of us whose ancestors were forced to endure this inhumane treatment of being auctioned off as cattle or furniture.
Needless to say, it was brought to an end after I reported it, and the argument from the faculty was that it had happened for the last 18 years, without complaint. Eventually they agreed to never host this event again, against their desires. Upon notification to remainder of the school via the loudspeakers, it was tense. I had reported a racist event, halfway through the school day, and had to sit in class with the same people who loved the event, and didn’t understand why it was offensive. Many classmates suspected it was me, but no one was brave enough to come out and say anything to my face. I was shy, but not defenseless.
My junior year, a fight broke out between one of my cousins and a white male at school. While trying to swing at the guy outside of the school, his girlfriend threw herself in front of his fist, to set him up for hitting her. It nearly sparked a riot at our school during lunch. It was warm outside that day, and our student body was clearly divided between white and black students standing at opposite sides of a patch of grass, in a heated stand-off. Nobody knew what to expect, but everyone was prepared to fight, because racial slurs had been yelled, and a rebel flag had been waived in response to an exchange of words.
The stand-off was resolved by teacher intervention, and the people at the center of the fight were sent to the principal’s office. While everyone else dispersed slowly, those of us who were aware of the whole situation, were still on guard to retaliate for any potential altercations that might take place afterward. I was scared, but ready to fight, because most of us black students had a sense of solidarity.
Another unexpected experience took place my junior year, I had trouble with my grades, for various reasons in and out of school. One of my punishments was attending a weekend study hall at Clarksville’s junior high school building on Saturday mornings. I attended this program on Saturday mornings for a while, and had come to terms with it, and was never a problem student while there. However, being black in a white school doesn’t mean that trouble won’t find you, even when you have done nothing wrong.
One particular Saturday morning, during the warmer months, I showed up for my study session, awaiting some University of the Ozarks college student to help me with my math or whatever homework I needed help with. Most of the class had arrived on time, except for some white guy who showed up a couple minutes after roll call. At some point a joke was made in class involving him, and everyone in the room was laughing, even the volunteers from the college. While everyone was laughing, the coach who was overseeing this program decided to single me out for laughing.
As always, I knew the true meaning behind me being singled out, while I wasn’t the only black student in that room, I was the only one who didn’t play any sports, and was thought of as a pushover. To his surprise I was not. He initially ordered me to leave and return home, while I asked him why, he began to turn red and get angry. He was unable to provide a reason, and so I insisted that he give me a reason, and told him that I was not leaving. He then raised his voice at me in front of the class, trying to intimidate me, but I refused to leave, at this point he began extremely mad and threatened to call the police on me. I began to get nervous, but I knew I had done nothing wrong, so I left the room and waited in the school building until the program was over so I could be picked up by my parents, because I lived several miles away form the school.
Within about 10 minutes the police arrive and he’s telling them to escort me out of the building, so now I’m being embarrassed and made to look like a troublemaker. The police explained to me that I needed to leave, and I explained to them that I had not broken any rules or laws, and was being treated unfairly. They only cared about the coach’s demand to make me leave the building and out of the parking lot. This situation ended with an apology from the coach about two weeks later, and I was allowed to return to the study program.
My last experience with the uncultured likes of Clarksville’s education system was a threat of physical violence from my biology teacher, my senior year. For those who don’t know, Clarksville is a school that believes in corporal punishment, in the way of paddling or spanking their students with a large wooden paddle.
Again it was my luck that one of the white students smarted off in the classroom to the biology teach Mr. Gibson, which again sparked laughter from everyone in the classroom. And like before, he attempted to single me out in front of the whole classroom. His threat was that he was going to paddle me outside the classroom, and for me to not get in trouble because he knew my father. This I would have no problem with, if I had actually done something wrong. In my true nature of angst against bullies, I told him that if he did, I would certainly hit him back. The classroom got quiet, as we stared each other down. I was nervous but wasn’t about to be insulted and degraded in front of the whole classroom.
His only defense was to attempt to insult me, by stating the reason I was in his remedial science class was due to my own failings in other science classes, which was a complete lie. The truth was that because I transferred from a school in Decatur, they did not offer the same science course at Clarksville, which meant that I had to take another science class in its place, because of their inability to match the level of curriculum of my previous high school. Needless to say, he never touched me or threatened me again, I graduated and never missed that school system since.
After graduating high school and escaping the many issues in Clarksville, Arkansas, I began my time at Arkansas Tech University (ATU), in the fall of 2000. While attending ATU I stayed on campus in Turner Hall, a three story co-ed dorm. While staying here, I roomed with a friend from my high school. Attending ATU was not something that was decorated with experiences of racism for me. It was a time for me to learn more about finding my place among other black students and coming out of my shell of shyness.
It was great time for me, I developed friendships with people of similar ideas and interests from Tyler, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Memphis, Arkansas; and Crossett, Arkansas. I felt like I was in a place where I finally felt comfortable and managed to find a role as a man who provided music en masse from the internet. Due to a large number of black football players living on my floor, I was able to join in their circle and learn about the multi-demsionality of blackness. Although I grew up around my black cousins, it was different being exposed to other black folk from other towns, with different ideas and interests.
The next summer, I dropped out of college, and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, through the Russellville recruitment office, while working part-time at Wal-Mart. On 9/11 I was in my recruiter’s office and reaffirmed him that I still wanted to join. The day after Thanksgiving, November 27, 2001, I was shipped off to basic training.
On November 27, 2007, I separated from the U.S. Air Force with an honorable discharge, and eventually moved back to Arkansas. One of the amazing things for me being in the Air Force was that I never had to deal with or experience racism while I was in. Never in my mind did I ever think it was possible to live, work, attend church, or learn in an environment absent of racism. I never thought I would be fortunate enough to coexist with so many people of so many nationalities or backgrounds after living in Atlanta either. My growth as a person due to a sincerely wonderful church family in Virginia where I was stationed, that I was finally able to overcome many of my childhood issues. Between overcoming these long standing issues and not having to deal with discrimination or racism, I was able to grow as a person with a lot less negativity, and a focus on helping others in whatever way I could.
After I separated from the military in November of 2007, I moved to North Carolina for a while, where I observed racism and discrimination towards Hispanic and Latino immigrants by pastors, law enforcement, and white residents, but very little towards myself. Due to the recession that had just begun it was hard to find work, and I was forced to move back to Arkansas so that I could get back on my feet.
Upon moving back to Arkansas in the winter of 2008, after leaving the military, I was greeted with new form of racism to me. White people eyeing me as they locked their car doors in the Wal-Mart parking lot, despite the fact that I had my own car that was paid off and in good condition. I had a Mazda sedan, no tinted windows, with stock everything, and normally dressed business casual, because I was trying to find a job. This became a trend that happened off and on for years, and until this day it still happens from time to time.
Moving back to Russellville, after traveling to big cities like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Las Vegas, Nevada; Anchorage, Alaska; Washingto D.C., and several major cities in Virginia and the Carolinas; made me realize how much this area had not grown culturally or socially. It was an eye opener for me, and made me feel like no matter how educated or patriotic I was as a black man, I would never be accepted by these small minded neanderthals because my skin is a different color.
With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the racism of white residents in Russellville and Pope county has really been made known more and more each year. With the murder of the Charleston 9, by the psychotic Dylan Roof, brought an onslaught of idiots hosting rebel flag rallies around the state, in an attempt to keep the flag from being banned everywhere, as if it was a bad thing. Obviously, to anyone with common sense and historical knowledge knows that this flag is a representation of slavery, racial hatred, oppression, and treason. It is associated with the KKK and nothing positive for society, yet the locals believe its an innocent representation of their heritage. Meanwhile in the real world, black and brown residents are forced to relive the racism of past decades.
It is in this attempt to return to an oppressive era of American history that I have become more unapologetic for my blackness, less patient with bigots, and more eager to expose the racism and discrimination behavior that exists in the Pope county and the surrounding areas, along with my blog postings about these related topics.
As of 2014, I returned to ATU with the help of my G.I. Bill, and am expected to graduate in 2018. I’m currently a journalism student, with a minor in sociology, which has helped me recognize and address many sociological concerns in the Russellville area. This is part of my personal story, I hope that it helps someone, or gives insight to why I am the way that I am. It is the racism that I experienced growing up since kindergarten, that has turned me into the man unafraid to confront and expose today’s racism, by any means necessary.
Hopefully this wont be continued…….