|The Brown Dirt Cowboy|
When I first came to Albany, GA in January 2010 the president of the small HBCU where I was hired to work told me that he was happy to see that there was going to be a “west coast attitude” on campus. After living in South West Georgia for almost four years I am starting to to understand what he meant.
I grew up in southern California where I was surrounded by 80% white folks and the rest were “other”. I did not know that I lived in a bad neighborhood until I was older and had moved away from it and told people where I was from. I spent my early childhood in what was called South Central Los Angeles or was lumped into being called Watts after the Watts Riots in 1965. I thought it was normal to live in a neighborhood with two rival gangs, the Crips and the Bloods. It was not until I moved to Pomona, CA that I realized that there were Hispanic gangs in California as well. It was not until I moved to La Jolla in north San Diego county that I realized that there was life without gangs.
It was not until I moved to La Jolla, CA that I realized that I was not a typical African American. While attending La Jolla High School I was surprised to hear folks say to me, “I do not think of you as being black”. I would hear this phrase all throughout my working career in California, Washington and Oregon. I remember getting so upset inside but external my emotions were always under control as I would give a simple smile in response to the comment and I would continue the conversation by ignoring the statement. Now that I have lived in a part of the country that is 80% African American and 20% other I have finally realized that the phrase, “I do not think of you as being black”, was true because I do not behave like most African Americans.
When I was a teenager I listened to Jimi Hendrix, Taj Mahal and Led Zeppelin. When I was in college I saw nothing wrong listening to Herbie Hancock and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I do not think it is odd to want to run out into the ocean and get my hair wet. I use to ride a knee board and my dad taught me to body surf at a beach in the flight path of LAX. I rode a skate board when you had to make on because you could not buy one already assembled. My African Americans called me an Oreo, black on the outside and white on the inside. Now that I am spending time in the deep south I realize that they were right.
So here I am the son of a preacher and a teacher that was raised to be color blind and to not fear people of another race and now I am living in a town where there are lots of folks that fear races other than their own. It really freaks me out to hear some folks that racial statements against whites and blacks and they are not joking. Nothing could prepare me for living in the bible belt. I can also appreciate what the civil rights movement went though way back when. I am however frustrated because of the way whites and blacks seem to be like ships passing in the night. On the one hand a generation of whites who may have wrong blacks is moving to the grave and their children are growing up more tolerant of racial diversity. On the other hand there are blacks who are coming of age and they are riding on the benefits of their parents who struggled for equal rights and now feel that the world is their oyster.
I have always felt that Dr. Martin Luther King was an advocate for human rights and equality for all people. When I think about the “I have a dream speech” I am sure that Dr. King also meant that white kids could go to an HBCU if they wanted to and were qualified. This past weekend I was appalled to see T-Shirts being sold with a slogan saying “Albany State, historically black and staying that way”
Quote from Thurgood Marshall Fund web site.
Today, HBCUs remain one of the surest ways for an African American, or student of any race, to receive a quality education.
I wish there was some way to erase this negative sentiment about HBCUs only being a place for African Americans to get an education. It seems to me that some African Americans in this community here in Albany is moving backwards away from racial tolerance and not towards racial tolerance.
I am intentionally leaving the names of my friends and acquaintances out of this article. If you are reading this and you know who you want to mentioned by name leave a comment and I will add you to the article.