NO LOS ODIABAMOS

mgid_uma_artist_mtvNota: Hay cosas de que nunca hablamos. Sencillamente las sabemos, o así creemos. Nadie tuvo que sentarme para decirme que las vidas de algunas personas valían menos que la mía. Lo sabía sin que me lo dijeran. 

En el borrador, usaba la palabra Nigger, porque es la palabra enterrada en los recuerdos de mi niñez. En revisión, veo que la palabra ellos, aunque sea políticamente correcta, es aún más escalofriante que aquella antigua palabra despectiva. Entretejidos en los pensamientos infantiles, encuentro algunas palabras y frases asombrosamente terribles, palabras que yo casi no asociaba con el racismo. Eran simplemente palabras. O no. La gente solía decir, “Eso era muy de blancos,” cuando alguien les hacía un favor. Yo era muy adulta cuando me di cuenta que tal frase tenia algo que ver con la raza. Era un dicho nada mas. Acaso el color blanco no es el color de todo lo bueno? Había Nigger Chasers (Perseguidores de negros), cohetes que se lanzaban al nivel de las rodillas, dándole un buen susto a cualquiera de cualquier tono de piel, que se encontraba en su trayectoria. En Navidad, en las tradicionales medias, encontrábamos Nigger Toes (Dedos de negro), palabra coloquial para las nueces de Brasil. No era un Tigre que agarrábamos por el dedo y si gritaba lo hacíamos pagar cincuenta dólares cada día al cantar, “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe,” la versión inglesa de “Tin marin.”

Nos deleitábamos con historietas del pequeño Negro Sambo y sus montones de hot cakes, Topsy con su “pelo lanudo hecho en pequeñas trenzas que se salían por todos lados,” y los cvuentos del bondadoso Tío Remus. 

Mi familia no los odiaba. No conocía a nadie que los odiaba.En la Escuela Bíblica de Vacaciones, cantábamos,

Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/ Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in His sight (Cristo ama a los niños/Todos los ninos del mundo/Rojos y amarillos, negros y blancos/Son preciosos a sus ojos)

Y mas o menos lo creíamos. Veíamos películas de misioneros blancos entre africanos casi desnudos, y con lagrimas en los ojos, buscábamos cambio en los monederos para ayudar a predicar Jesus a aquellos niños y comprarles algo de ropa. Cruzábamos medio pueblo para ensenar Jesus a los niños de la Vivienda Popular. Warsh, cuyo nombre completo era  George Washington Carver Scott, nos hizo reír con sus chistes. Natalie, cuyas trenzas apretaban tanto que parecía mas bien chinita, se acurrucaba en mi regazo y me decía que yo era muy bonita mientras acariciaba mi pelo castaño sedoso.

No los odiábamos. La canción “Darling, You Send Me” de Sam Cooke era mi favorita en la prepa. Ni siquiera pensaba en lo negro que era Sam, al igual que no pensaba en lo blanco que era Elvis. Sam, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole cantaban en el fondo mientras yo me enamoraba y desenamoraba en la escuela. Lloraba con mi mama cuando vimos An Imitation of Life (Imitación de la Vida) acerca de Susan Kohner haciendo el papel de una negra de tez clara que se hizo pasar por blanca en la escuela y trataba mal a Juanita Moore, en el papel de la mama morena de Susan. Su mama también era la sirvienta y la mejor amiga de Lana Turner en la película.

No los odiábamos y no los queríamos lastimar cuando nos reíamos de las cosas tontas que decían, o que nos contaban que decían. Cuando se asustaban, sus ojos grandes se veían chistosos, y hablaban de una manera sumamente graciosa. Amos y Andy y el amigo inseparable de Jack Benny, Rochester, nos hicieron reír hasta que nos dolían las panzas. Sonreíamos con cariño con Hattie McDaniels y Butterfly McQueen en Lo que el viento se llevo.

No os odiábamos. Nos encantaba su música y su estilo. En la primaria, cada ano nos pintábamos las caritas blancas con corcho quemado y cantábamos canciones de los negros en un Minstrel Show. Cantabamos “Swanee” con Asa Yoelsen, hijo de un inmigrante judío lituano quien era rabino y cantor. Asa, cuyo nombre de escenario era  Al Jolson, en guantes blancos y un smoking, se pintaba de negro y cantaba de como añoraba estar con su Mammy entre su pueblo en D-I-X-I-E. En los anos treinta lo llamaban el “Artista Mas Grande del Mundo.”

No los odiábamos, pero si les teníamos mucha lastima. Yo le daba gracias al Señor que había nacido blanca en América, y me preguntaba como fue que El, in su infinita sabiduría, había decretado que Warsh y Natalie serian morenos de destinados a vivir en aquella sector del pueblo, mientras que yo seria blanca y permitida vivir dondequiera que pudiera pagar la renta. Me preguntaba porque los pequeños en la película del misionero habían nacido en África y tenían que andar casi desnudos, mientras yo había nacido en América y tenia mucha ropa y zapatos de sobra.

En verdad, no los odiábamos.

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INSIDIOUS INVISIBILITY

When #BlackLivesMatter is countered with hateful slogans or the faux-egalitarian #AllLivesMatter, I recall sadly how for many years of my life, Black Lives really didn’t matter. Wichita Falls, Texas, didn’t hate black people. Many of us even kind of liked black people. We loved Sammy Davis, Jr., Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, and Louis Armstrong. We expressed our racial bias in a manner even more insidious than hate or aggression. We simply didn’t see black people. The evidence of this can be found in vintage issues of my hometown newspaper, which lack evidence of any black population at all.

 I love newspapers. One of the most joyful sounds of my late childhood was the thump of The Wichita Falls Times, artfully folded into a kind of double boomerang that eased its flight from the hand of the boy on the bicycle to our front porch. (That sound was second for anticipated joy only to the postman’s footsteps on that porch, followed by the shuffling of papers, and the dull tinny ding of the letter box closing.) I would retrieve the folded newspaper, unfold it, and plop myself down on the living room floor to peruse the headlines, read Dear Abby, Dr. Crane, letters to the editor, a few comic strips and cartoons, and, on Thursdays, the high school news roundup, “Teen Times.”

My family was too busy for the morning newspaper, The Wichita Falls Record News, but on Sundays, the two newspapers were combined into an extravaganza for all subscribers to either or both papers: The Sunday Times-Record News. It was rolled, not folded, because it was so thick, and it hit the porch with a thud rather than a thump. On rainy Sundays, it came encased in plastic.

After church on Sunday mornings, my family members would divide the paper into sections and then exchange them as we finished. I always wanted first shot at the full-color comics or the society pages. I was enthralled by the photographs of beautiful brides in full wedding dress and the artfully retouched portraits of brides-to-be with their engagement announcements. I would watch for news and photographs of the Junior Forum Debutante Ball in May and the more elite Cotillion Debutante White Tie Ball in December.

Before 1964, black people were required by law to live in designated sections of town. In Wichita Falls, that area was east of the railroad tracks, Flood Street and beyond. Mexicans lived there too, by custom rather than law, clustered on the side closer to the tracks. A few of them lived in the “white” part of town, like Dr. Martinez from Mexico City and his pale and elegant wife and daughters, whom the town people called “Spanish” to distinguish them from darker and less prestigious “Mexicans.”

There were two high schools in Wichita Falls then, but if you ask any white citizen over 65 how many there were, he or she will invariably answer, “One.” Wichita Falls High School was not the white high school. It was the high school. Booker T. Washington High School had excellent facilities, although even now I can’t say where they are located–somewhere, I assume, way beyond Flood Street. I have never seen them. Booker T had a championship football team, an outstanding marching band, and a choir that was recognized statewide and occasionally came to sing in the elegant churches of the white people.

This is where my love of The Wichita Falls Times connects with the myth of one high school in Wichita Falls. You see, the newspaper was, for me, a mirror of my world. I knew that there was Flood Street and beyond. I knew that kids who lived there went to Booker T. Washington High School. I even ventured a few times to their home football games to watch the jazzy marching band. There were black people in town working in the few jobs open to them. I went on mission expeditions to teach Vacation Bible School in the Projects. Some white people even trekked across muddy Flood Street to benefit from the excellent work and lower prices of the “colored” dentist at his elegant home with a built-on clinic.

I didn’t hate black people. I thought racism was evil and spoke against it on occasion. I didn’t hate or dislike black people, but I didn’t see black people. The mirror of my world, The Wichita Falls Times, didn’t report Booker T.’s sports news. Their many band and choir awards got no recognition or photographs in “Teen Times.” There were no photographs of black students doing anything at all. Black brides and debutantes were never featured on the society pages. Black churches were not included in Saturday’s “guide to worship services.” Even black crimes were usually reported only in the police notes at the back of the news. Black people were not allowed to patronize the same local restaurants where I ate or the stores where I shopped. When I traveled by bus, they had their sections in the station and on the bus, and they used the toilets and drinking fountains marked “colored.”

No, Wichita Falls, Texas, had no problem with black people. We simply ignored them to the point of near non-existence. There were no black faces reflected in our mirror on the world.