I am White and What does that Mean?

Growing up in West Lafayette, Indiana, I lived in a very white world.   People of color were almost exclusively Purdue foreign graduate students and their families.   I remember one black person who lived in West Lafayette, a professor, whose wife was white.   During my freshman year in high school there was one black student, a sophomore, whose family had moved I think from Gary.   I heard that they moved back to Gary, after one year in West Lafayette because she couldn't handle being the sole black student at our high school.

One summer during high school, there was an Upward Bound Program for academically promising "inner city" kids at Purdue.   I went to a meal there, hoping to meet and talk with Leroy Spikener:

Leroy Spikener (Gary Froebel 1966-1968) who was known as ‘Cap Man’ because he wore a baseball cap and tossed it to the infield as he began his vicious kick down the backstretch.  Leroy was shot to death in Gary on August 24, 1998, but the positive side of his life and his smile as ‘wide as the Mississippi’ is what I want to convey in my bio of him.”

Indiana Run Community Forum contributor “CrocoODile1 wrote: “The state meet in 1968 was held at Indianapolis Tech.  Leroy Spikener did his famous hat throw down and won the 880 in a then record time of 1:52.7.  When he was ready to put the hammer down he threw his hat down and took off. 

(I saw the aforementioned race and was very impressed! )  A white Upward Bound participant told me, when I was in there that the black students stuck together and that white and black students did not mix.   I listened to him and decided not to seek Spikener out.  I can't imagine (now) what I could possibly said to this young man then if I had approached him.

I was taught, as a child, that black people were our equals.   In about 1961, I remember a civil rights related march around the square in Lafayette.   People stared at us.  They had never seen a demonstration.

In 1969, my mother hosted James Farmer (co-founder of C.O.R.E., noted Civil Rights Activist) for dinner at our house when he was speaking at Purdue University that evening.  He was the highest Black official in the Nixon administration then (he resigned in frustration soon thereafter).

A few years later I remember being at an interstate highway rest stop and talking with a middle-aged black man there.   I asked him if he was into blues music.  He told me that he was into jazz music, not blues music.   I was not aware that "the blues" was traditionally "working class" music and jazz commonly "middle-class" music then.

Despite my background I recall around 1979 being told by a Black co-worker/friend that I should not be referring to a young black co-worker as "boy".  I protested that I was doing this because of his age, not his race.  I desisted.

I have been married to B, a black women for over 14 years and we have been together for over 16 years.   Just after Christmas, last December, we were walking in the very crowded South Beach Area of Miami Beach.   Due to the congestion of the sidewalk, oft times one had to move to avoid colliding with people walking the other way.

B told me after we had left the area that consistently white women did not yield to her ever during that walk.  She also told me that this was far from the first time that this had happened.  I didn't see anything - while being with her.  No doubt, this was sub-conscious racism at play.   It was invisible to me.

I have my "work to do".   I am racist.   I am not racist because I am bad.   I am not racist because I have done something significantly wrong.   I am anti-racist as well as being racist.   I am racist, because I have grown up as a white person in the United States.   I will be working on my racism for the rest of my life (I'm 67 years old).

As a white person, generally I can avoid talking about racism or doing anything about it.   My wife and all others who are black (and most other people of color) don't have that option.   Racism affects them every day.


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