Sunday, June 1, 2014

Neither Injured Nor Innocent

"Neither Injured Nor Innocent" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Inspired by the essay ‘Injured Innocents’ by Patricia Limerick Please don’t get me wrong- although this essay may be a bit harsh or blunt, it is not meant to offend. Rather, it is meant to be the subjective opinion of another, as seen through the life of me. – Author 

Injured innocents is one way Patricia Limerick describes those who, for the most part, brought their victimization upon themselves, and then turned elsewhere to seek blame. This topic is part of my essay, but along these lines- imagine an attitude of a different sort where there are not thought of as any specific injuries or innocence- only life situations that we all must face and deal with in some form or fashion, at one point in time or another.
 I have lived in a certain stigmatized area of the United States three times at length, once by choice. All three times, I was offended by acts of, in my opinion, extremely hateful racism. The first two times were not by choice, and occurred when I was eleven and fifteen years old.
Now, not all of the people I meet are cut of this cloth. Since I don’t regard skin color and heritage as a qualifying factor for friendship, I meet many people of all walks of life and interact with those who were open-minded enough to share and relate customs. I have also directly witnessed both sides of the racism coin.
 My first memories were of living in Stockton, California, where we had moved when I was three and my parents had divorced. We must have lived there until I was almost five, because I remember my brother being in a body cast due to a rare illness, and me facing him towards the wall when cartoons came on when he pissed me off. He was about three years old then.
We moved to Phoenix and lived there for a short time. Besides Kindergarten, my first fight, learning to spit like a snake, there is nothing much else to report.
 First through fourth grade I lived in Vancouver, Washington. Mt. Saint Helens erupted while I was there. Pretty much an all-white environment. I do remember a black kid who played t-ball when I was about six or seven. He was on the best team that year, one that was sponsored by a bank.
At any rate, this kid could hit the ball farther than any other kid, and more consistently. While my position on the opposing team was just standing in right field hoping for a ball to come my way, this guy was their center-fielder, and could gun out guys at second base and home better than anyone else in t-ball. He only had one arm. Needless to say, twenty-two years later, I am still impressed.
When I was eleven years old and living just outside of Houston, there was the one time my brother probably saved us both. This was during the period of time when I was just learning about smarting off to the wrong people.
I must have been talking smack when the next thing I know, my brother and I are trapped up against someone’s wooden privacy fence, surrounded by a sea of hostile black faces. At one point, a girl younger than me slapped me in the face from the side. I was becoming angry, but because I was also scared, I wasn’t sure what to do. I was hollering primarily with two or three of the older kids when one of the other kids yelled out, "Hey! He’s beating him up!"
Sure enough, my brother, who was in the first grade, had the known toughest second grader on the ground and was straight kicking his ass. It was quite an achievement that had an immediate effect on my confidence. I began to cheer on my brother.
 In the meantime, an older, freckle-faced, red-haired, perpetually mean-looking kid had noticed this and taken off his belt and wrapped the end around his hand a couple of times. At the lethal end was a belt buckle roughly the size of a dinner plate. He shouted something at the group as he neared, buckle spinning around his head fatally and with frenzied importance. I remember, for what was probably the first time, another classmate using the word ‘nigger’ with me being in earshot. This same kid who had descended upon my brother and my doomed state to break up the group with seemingly no regard for his personal risk, was using this word over and over again.
I was old enough to recognize his prejudice, as I had recently witnessed my sister, who was two and learning to talk at the time, teach a temporary family acquaintance a lesson.
 She was on his shoulders, at a trendy sit-down style restaurant. He was fond of teaching my sister words that she wasn’t supposed to say. This man was of large stature, about six foot three and three hundred pounds. He talked very big when certain people were around, I had noticed. Mostly his friends, I suppose. The conversations would occasionally contain racism and racist comments.
 A smiling, pleasant black man walked past us in the restaurant. As he did, my sister asked this temporary family acquaintance if the man who was walking by was a nigger. When my sister did this, the acquaintance lost all color in his face and appeared to have been suddenly plagued by agonizing cramps. I did not like this acquaintance anyway, as he was a bully to my brother and me. Inside, I was cheering his pain and discomfort.
To his credit, the man walking by either chose to ignore the comment as ignorance, or did not hear. I suppose then that I knew that the acquaintance was inherently wrong. I’m glad he was temporary, and I am thankful of the lessons I learned even at the expense of his mean ways.
I was allowed to choose where to live when I was twelve. I chose to live with my dad, in the town of my birth on the dry side of Washington State. I was fortunate to attend a brand-new junior high school. It cost over ten million to build, and included solar air and heat, as well as the most advanced computer lab in the district.
Agriculture plays an important role concerning the racial make-up of the town. The area is a central hub for Hispanic migrant workers, and the percent of Hispanics in the area fluctuates. Overall, the Hispanic population is extremely well represented. It has always been common to see low-riders in the neighborhood with the red, white and green flag as a front license plate.
 The free school bus went through the East Side before it came to my stop. By the time I boarded, there was usually just enough room to stand in the middle of the bus where the back door is. Only a thirty minute trip to the school from there.
 Even though my neighborhood was becoming increasingly a majority Hispanic, the East Side was considered Latino central. I could have taken the city transit bus that cost thirty-five cents for school kids, but didn’t travel through the East Side, and I did when I occasionally missed the ‘A-street bus.’ For the most part, though, I rode the free one.
 Realize that I crudely resembled ‘Spanky’, from the Little Rascals. I was short and stubby, with straight, bowl-cut blonde hair and nerdy glasses. My step-mom had a stubbornness concerning my school clothes. She figured discount jeans a size too big were appropriate for junior high, and I did not realize the how wrong she was until I had been in school awhile. At any rate, I hadn’t realized it at this point, and there I would ride- a pale, nerdy speck in a brown, festive ocean.
 Most of the rowdier, older kids sat in the back. There were mostly girls who sat around the back exit, with the exception of two older boys- Tony and his sidekick. They were to only torment me temporarily.
The first couple of days of school, someone had stolen my lunch by the time the bus arrived at the junior high. The first day, I didn’t notice my lunch missing until the bus completed its trip. The second day, I remember noticing the bag missing well before arriving at school. I glanced around. Nothing but girls. A cacophony of Spanish language was loud and never idle. Tony and his sidekick were sarcastically sitting, waiting for me to challenge. I asked if they knew who stole my lunch. They asked if I was “calling them a thief”. I said, "Well, tell me who you think took it!" He said he didn’t know, at which point I turned my back to them and faced the front. Either Tony or his sidekick punched me squarely between the shoulder blades. I winced and gritted my teeth. I then spun around and savagely and instinctively clocked Tony’s gourd with my backpack. I probably doled out some meaningless, emotional hollering, and then waited for a response. None came, but my lunch was never stolen again.
I lived there for a few years, until my father shipped me off to live with my mother again, this time in a different part of the Houston suburbs. Actually, it was a small town about thirty miles outside of Houston, founded on old oil money. By this time I was in high school.
From the very beginning, I was out of sorts with the place. First, I was there against my will. Second, there were conformist sanctions placed against me by the high school. These were namely to keep my hair trimmed neatly above my collar, no facial hair and no earrings. Since I had just recently pierced my ear, kept my hair in a ponytail and never shaved, this chapped my hide. What individualism could be encouraged in such a limited domain? The conformist attitude was only beginning to dawn on me.
 After hiding my earring with a Band-Aid and biting the bullet on the hair length and facial hair, I attended class with the frame of mind that surely there would be sympathizers within the student body.
Although after some time I found out they were in fact present, they weren’t the ones to re-introduce me to the proud state of Texas. It was a cliquish if not clannish group of imitation cowboys that aggressively sought out every clue that I was not a native. I asked for a pop and was enthusiastically taunted for being a ‘Yankee’. I guess they say soda.
When I quickly grew tired of being a foreigner in a restrictive society, I began saying things like, "If you split Alaska in two, Texas would be the third largest state". I was beat up a lot.
I was sneered at and watched guys literally named Bubba talk with buddies they were raised with in this perpetuating cesspool of pride. I was supposed to feel like an outsider, and Bubba and his clique were there to enforce this twisted slice of southern hospitality. I never did understand what they were so proud of. How can people be so comfortable in being so obviously ignorant? Why so vehement when actively practicing xenophobia?
 When I was eighteen, I moved to where I wanted to be; my birth town.
 I eventually lived in the house directly behind the alley from the one I where I had previously lived with my dad. Within a couple of years, I was married and the father of a two-year-old. We were the only white family within three blocks, and even further in some directions. We also had the only swing set between our house and the nearest park. At any given time, we had a yard full of children, and only one of them white. It was pretty funny when my daughter’s friends taught her to call the dog ‘loco cabeza.’
The gangs began to get worse in the neighborhood, and gun battles became more frequent. My buddies and I developed defensive attitudes and appointed ourselves protectors of our families.
While this was a fun and exciting time for my posse and me, gang busting was sure to be a short-lived lifestyle. Besides, my wife had no intentions of raising a kid in a hostile environment, or our daughter losing her dad due to stupidity. We decided to visit relatives we had never met.
My second child is an Okie. This was the one time I went there on purpose, and didn’t venture so far south. We made some dear friends that we consider family to this day. One group of our dearest friends shared much in common with us. Same aged parents, same aged kids. Vices and habits very similar. There were two points where we parted ways- religion and racism.
Apparently, there is some past link to the klan through one of their bloodlines. When my dear neighbor shared this with me, I was speechless, and for me, that’s saying something. Here were these slow-talking, very lovable people telling me they were not only accepting of racism, they encouraged it to some degree. To me, any sort of encouragement or acceptance along these lines is a step backwards.
There was one time the debate became increasingly heated. My neighbor asked me what I would do if my daughter "brung a nigger home" as a date. I assured him that it wouldn’t bother me a bit. I would not allow myself to be so ignorant. We agreed to disagree.
One question he never answered to my satisfaction- how can someone be held accountable for something they have no control over, such as pigment? That having been said, it stands to reason that skin tone and heritage should not be a victimizing situation. If it is understood that we are at the mercy of randomness to determine our genes, why then do people tend to focus on this and call it important?
 I have been labeled many things based solely on ignorant deductions, and have come to abhor labels. After all, if you believe a label, then you believe a tag that is supposed to sum up a person in one or a few words. You or someone else has invented this tag, either way subjective and open to interpretation.
Some have said that I have every right to label some of the more hateful people I have met, since they aren’t deserving enough to require a more in-depth investigation. I agree, since I believe it is human nature to categorize people we meet, despite how I abhor it. I just refuse to do so based on factors out of our control such as race. In fact, I’m usually the last person in any given room of people to even mention race unless someone else brings it up. Even then, there are more important issues to discuss. I have learned to not waste too much time on people who force this issue.
 It is funny to think that just because I am a white man with a family, I should represent a certain image that society has for me, and that I should allow some abuse because of it. I can’t help my heritage any more than anyone else can. Those who take the time to know what I stand for and meet my collage of a family can rest assured that I have no tolerance or time for racism, and the rest of society can kiss my ass. Add that to your labels of what a person like me should represent.
"Injured innocents" may have applied in order to relate a perspective, but I believe it is not an efficient way to displace the emotions people have about other people. Holding a grudge and creating enemies is the end result of someone who is an injured innocent.
I am not a victim because these things occur to me, I am a victim if I cannot deal with them.

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