Race Relations (1960s….. and on)

Black Humor 

I first met Stanley at High School wrestling practice. He was in the 118-pound weight class, having filled in for me when I moved up to the 128-pound division. Stanley was black, as was another team member, Albert, while one of the better wrestlers on the squad was a white kid named Billy. Because of our common bond on the wrestling team, we ate lunch together every day, along with another black kid named Donald. Unfortunately, having lunch together never became an exercise in boosting team spirit, because for the most part we had already accepted ourselves as mediocre athletes.

The school system itself was rated class ‘C’ in New York State, a designation that relegated all of us as being nothing more than small fish in a large pond. But we did share the additional common bond of being straight ‘A’ students and thus additionally lumped together in the “Advanced Classes.” It was a time in American history when brains were still more highly regarded than brawns.

Stanley gave me a moniker, based on the fact of my temporary summer sojourns to the Hamptons. He perpetually referred to me as “Rich Al”, while I referred to him as “Stan the Man.” Either way the nicknames were infinitely better than “Four Eyes” for me, and who knows what else for him.

The concept of racial segregation in the New York public school system was nonexistent, accounting for why I had so much trouble with it when I visited my relatives in the South. There was no “back of the bus” in New York.

Actually in those days we referred to “people of color” as Negroes, because it was not until the Civil Rights movement of the concurrent coming decade that the black people of this country re-labeled themselves as either being “Black” or as “Afro-Americans.” Although it was still true that the slang term “nigger” would occasionally be heard, it was also true that I would also occasionally hear the term “wop” or “dego.” I guess the big difference was that I never took verbal racial slang seriously or personally. Also nobody was being lynched, and the only known local discriminatory murders were relegated to the shocking yet entertaining mafia mob hits that made front-page news in the big city New York newspapers; degos killing degos so to speak.

My roommate in medical school, who was Jewish tried to explain it to me in the context that slang terminology should be reserved only for the worst elements of a particular minority group, such as Kike, Frog, Limey, Mick, Wop, Dego, Wetback, Spic, and Nigger, while proudly pointing out that he personally had too much class to ever be called a “Kike” himself. He said that it was the Kikes who gave the rest of the Jewish people a bad name. This was a concept I could easily embrace because not only did I never think of myself as being a “Wop” but also as I went through life certainly came to know plenty of Aryan protestant white supremacist morons and their toothless “Trailer Park Trash” cousins.

Thus coming from a background where schools had already been integrated, but unlike my bigoted southern relatives, I never thought of my black friends as being different from myself. We had common bonds, we liked each other and we had fun together. The black boys did not attempt to segregate themselves in any way or to draw attention to any potential differences between themselves and anyone else. We simply did not think about skin color. In fact there were times in high school that I wish my black body guard Vernon had been able to come along to protect me from a few of the local, relatively oafish white goon athletic jocks who seemed to have the same distain for students with brains that was shared by our ever endearing gym coach.

None of my black friends spoke with the patois that later came to be known as “Ebonics.” They all eventually went to college and as far as I know they all went on to have very successful careers. Their parents were upwardly mobile people who had ingrained in their children a sense that success was measured by fully integrating themselves into a predominantly white culture via the path of higher education. How strange and yet how very similar this credo was to the ethics imparted to his children by my Italian grandfather. “It’s America. Speak English.”

Many years later when I was in medical practice, I frequently played tennis with a Black community activist who spent a great deal of time with local underprivileged Black children. He actually ran a cultural center that specifically catered to their needs. However, he got himself into considerable trouble when he tried to make these children understand that successful integration into society was also predicated on playing by the rules of that society.

For example, he would tell them that they would get no where fast if they went to job interviews wearing: baggy shorts with the ass seams hanging halfway down to the cuffs revealing their butt cracks, low rider jeans with chubby bellies and navel rings spilling out the front, idiotic or intimidating logo tee shirts, high top sneakers, nose rings, multiple earrings, or shoes adorned with sparkling twinkle lights. He also explained to them that the better their elocution and the better they physically presented themselves, the better the chance of getting ahead in the job or salary market. But generally speaking this is the case for all of us and unfortunately now applies to a new sub-segment of  tattooed, body-pierced functionally illiterate multi-racial teenage population in general; “Like, you know, right?”

Local black political groups severely criticized him for his efforts describing it as an attempt to undermine “Black culture” and “Black history” while simultaneously accusing him of making a flagrant attempt to ruin the cultural roots of their children. This is the same insanity that prevails in the Sons of Italy organization when they keep trying to become Italians again.

What’s the point? This is America and as long as any group of Americans separates itself, then highlights or harps on its unique differences, the very visual imagery of smelting, which evokes perfect integrated admixing, becomes lost in a country that had for centuries touted itself as being the world’s melting pot. It is recidivistic logic.

Although Afro-Americans should certainly retain pride in their ancestral roots and to the sorry point that they are the only minority group who did not voluntarily come to America, they should also realize that to a great extent as a result of tribal warfare, it was their own African brothers who sold them into bondage in the first place. Also, by the same token there is nothing that would prohibit anyone, be he White, Black, Yellow or Green, from emigrating and returning to any supposed country of lovable origin. If anyone feels as though America is such a horrible place to live; there is nothing preventing them or any other person at any time from packing a bag, getting out and going “home” again.

It was not until I understood politics a little better that I came to realize politicians in general derive power bases specifically by polarizing constituents. The problem then, not only with Black Leadership in the United States, but with any group purposefully promulgating racial, cultural or ideological differences, is that the sub-rosa agenda is solely to retain the power derived by what should really be referred to as “reverse bigotry.” Unfortunately, in this country, the next “minority” group standing in line is the ever-growing Hispanic population; that will only create yet another set of pre-conditions for more intense minority racial unrest.

Minority group leaders instead should be encouraging their constituents to do everything they can to learn the common vernacular and to play by the rules subscribed to by polite civilized society.

In honest truth, as they fly around the country in private jets clothed in three thousand dollar suits; lashing out on their on their pulpits; it is the sad fact that after over four decades of preaching hateful diatribe and rhetoric, I have not seen the likes of a Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or (now) Barack Obama constructively improve the plights of their own people. They know that the key to improving the financial bottom line of the inflammatory power broker is by keeping their constituents poor, ignorant, barefoot, pregnant, living in slums or shanties; then by perpetually stirring them to be angered by the political ploy of blame shifting. Most of these venal rabble-rousers would sell their souls to maintain a lifestyle their constituents could never even remotely hope to achieve.

Instead of constantly harping on what makes us all different from one another by ladling out pointed imprecations we should be cultivating more of what we all have in common. We should take all the positive elements each culture has to offer, and then integrate them so tightly into the structure of our society, that no one could ever actually remember their origins.

Worse yet reverse bigotry is also played out every day in the world’s political theaters, is disgracefully counterproductive, and by constantly sowing the seeds of dissent only succeeds in fomenting or perpetuating wars. Thus, as long as pre-existing hatred can be cultured or artificially manufactured where none already exists, and as long as it is predicated on perceived critical physical, social, cultural or religious differences, there will always be leaders who derive a power base by fully exploiting the ‘Principle of the Scapegoat.’ Adolf Hitler used this tool to the extreme.

On the positive side, one indigenous gift that my Black friends owned and then shared with me was a unique style of humor predicated on the ability of a person to be able to laugh at oneself; or more importantly to always wear a laugh on a shirtsleeve. My less than desirable personality traits of being shy, humorless, tight-assed, and stiff-lipped were entirely changed by my lunchtime friends.

They tirelessly poked fun at me until I learned to undo the psychological damage of my brother’s malicious teasing, and then translated that teasing to more subliminal levels. This opened a world of laughter by teaching me for the first time the counter productivity of taking oneself too seriously.

I eventually graduated the social scene with honors when I capitulated to the soul-soothing phenomenon known as the belly chuckle along with a final understanding that double entendre escalating interpersonal banter is so completely harmless, that if left to itself can reach the pinnacle of sidesplitting laughter.

On the macro level the television situation comedy show, Amos and Andy, was a prime example of black humor, or just plain humor at its best. To this day I cannot understand why American Black leadership, deeming it to be a degrading portrayal of black people, had it perpetually banned from the airwaves. I never thought of it as degrading but simply a series of funny scenarios about the general human condition, the ever diminishing rewards that come from deceit or investing excessively wasted time in schemes and dreams to “get rich quick.” Were the lovable characters of the King Fish and Andy any more racially degrading than the character portrayals of the doltish Lou Abbott, the idiotic Three Stooges, the perpetually angry obese blue-collar bus driver Ralph Kramden or the moronic half witted pseudo-palsied Jerry Lewis?

These friends also went a long way to advance my retarded socialization process as they repeatedly pointed out that I would never get a date or ever get a girlfriend by simply standing around the high school canteen hoping against hope that some girl would come up and ask me to dance. They constantly explained that nothing was ever really going to happen unless I made it happen first or became more of a protagonist. In so doing they became the first ones who taught me how to approach members of the opposite sex without excessively shy fear.

In having a more realistic and down to earth approach to sexuality than the rigid brainwashing doctrine of the Catholic Church, they gave me pointers on “the how to try to feel a girl’s tits by sneaking the arm around under the blouse in the RKO movie theater while she was distracted by eating her popcorn maneuver,” or by explaining to me what it might really take to turn a woman on and to have her actually enjoy it. Their approach and counsel was infinitely more palatable than the tenet that procreation was a divine mystery intended to be devoid of pleasure, that women do not really enjoy sex, and that the act itself for both genders should be an obligation primarily performed to keep the Catholic Church in business by: “Making an army for Christ.”

This coaching was “all the things you really wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask your father, your mother or your local parish Priest.” Or perhaps it was more like what these mentors were really afraid to tell you. But the black kids finally corrected once and for all any gross misconceptions that my old friend Eddy had conveyed about his own perverted version or interpretation of the so-called “facks-a life.” No, the idea is not to stick your penis into a woman’s ass and then piss in it.

Come to think of it, I do not believe my father ever really did tell me about those facts or even remotely approached anything about them in explicit detail. Or if he did, it was with a half embarrassed preamble that would begin as: “You know you are getting to the age where you are becoming a man….;” which would then progress through a series of oblique, intangible or non-biological vagaries becoming just about as good as the version one gets at the age of five when a child asks his father where babies come from.

  • Well son, when a man and woman really love each other, the man plants a seed inside of the woman.
  • Oh, now I get it dad. The man eats a cherry and then spits the pit down her throat.
  • Not quite son. It’s more like how they do it on a farm.
  • So it’s like plowing a furrow and planting a field?
  • Not quite. Anyway; you’ll figure it out or maybe your mother can tell you.

However as I grew up and learned the truth more or less on my own, somehow I could never bring myself to refer to my penis as “The Little Tractor” or “My Seed Hod.”

Then of course there was my mother’s allegorical version of planting the seed on a farm. When I finally did get to the stage in my senior year of seriously wanting to date someone, it was simply stated and tersely boiled down to this dire caveat:

  • Just don’t get anyone pregnant. If you do, you’ll have to marry her, move out and get a job; because your father and I certainly won’t support you and some loose legged whore who ruts around like a barnyard pig and then has your bastard kid.

Tell me quick, before I faint.

Is you my friend.

Or is you ain’t?

(My lunch buddy, Stanley)

 

 

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