Some random thoughts today.

I’ve always been tall. This would seem to make me a natural basketball player except for the fact that I’m horribly uncoordinated and can’t dribble a ball to save my life. Nevertheless for two years in middle school I tried to play basketball for the local YMCA league. The first year our team did pretty horrible. I think we won maybe one or two games. I actually scored a basket once but more often than not I was there to act as a traffic stop for the little guys on the other team.

I noticed sometime during the second or third game that probably half of our team was black. It didn’t bother me but I could tell it was a concern for my parents. We finished the season and I brought up playing again. My parents didn’t discourage me playing the next season but they didn’t encourage it either. I wanted to play so they signed me up.

The next season I was the only white kid on my team. My parents were perplexed and worried by this. They’d make fun of me and the situation by calling me “The White Shadow” after a TV show that was on at the time. When they’d go to games they’d sit off by themselves at the top of the bleachers. At least they were pretty easy to spot in the crowd. Mom eventually stopped coming to my games leaving dad to bring me. I could tell that he was coming for me but he obviously felt uncomfortable. My dad was not an outgoing person but he seemed even more isolated at the games. I didn’t even think about asking to play again next season. I knew what the answer would be. Instead I went back to soccer where I actually had some talent and where a lot of the kids were Catholic and, therefore, mostly white.

When I was a teenager The Cosby Show was very popular. Kids at school were talking about it and how funny it was. I’d never seen it and I wanted to watch it. After supper one night I turned it on in the living room and watched about 10 minutes of it. It was funny of course and my parents heard me laughing. My mom came in from the kitchen and asked me what I was watching. When she saw what was on TV I could see the look on her face change. I’ll never forget what she said next. “That’s a show for black people Paul. We don’t watch those shows. We watch shows about our own kind.” And she turned it off.

My parents occasionally had arguments with the neighbors over parking. It didn’t happen all the time but it was a fairly consistent feature of my childhood and adolescence. One time in particular I remember the neighbor had parked in a way that made it difficult for us to back out of our driveway. My dad went over and had words with them. When he came back he was angrier than I had ever seen him. My mom asked him what happened. My dad replied “I told them that if they ever did that again I’d put this house on the market and sell it to a nigger!”

How do children respond when they grow up in an environment like this? I’m sure many identify with the racism. It is coming from their parents after all and parents are supposed to be our role models. But I did not identify with it – I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with my parents’ attitudes about race.

This would all be tested when I entered Junior High.