Growing up didn’t seem so hard–at the time anyway! But then again, there were the riots–“The Watts Riots” that is.
I was born November 28, 1959 in the Los Angeles County Hospital. As far as I know, we lived in Inglewood, California at the time. The first place I really remember is a house we lived in on Inglewood Ave, I believe just south of Arbor Vitae St. I was not quite two years old and I can actually remember the first day we went into the house with the landlord and then moving in, but the place we moved from is a blur.
When I was around three, I should interject here that due to our mothers health (alcoholism), my older sister Pam was defaulted as the built in babysitter–which actually worked out pretty well for her as she now admits. This is because she liked using me as a buffer on dates, of course having a kid brother with my energy around helped to keep the boys from getting too “touchy” (pretty good excuse if you ask me). Anyway, I remember one particular time that Pam and I were on our way to “Downtown Inglewood”, Pam’s favorite Saturday activity. We would first go to Sears, where in those days they had a candy counter in the basement that a kid would die for–1963 is about the time this memory finds itself. We would then “window shop”, I had no idea why we were out to look at windows, but I was three and was just happy to go out. “J. J.. Newberry”, “Rexall Drugs”, a small “Jewish Deli”–all out of that 1950’s “post-war, baby-boomer, American dream”–“White American Dream” that is.
Why I was aware of this at age three is odd, but it seems I was puzzled as to what all the fuss over “Race” and “Gender” was all about, but it was the sixties after all! The most vivid memory I have of that day in 1963 was our boarding of the city bus that was to take us to our “downtown playground”. A bus I suppose I had ridden on a dozen, if not dozens of times with no recollection at all. This particular time was to prove different and I have never forgotten it to this day. First of all, I was beginning to read quite early and I was aware that on Inglewood busses, or at least some of them, they still had signs in the front of the bus that said “Whites Only”. But that is only part of the reason I so vividly remember that day. As we boarded the bus, I noticed an African-American person, I don’t recall if it were a man, woman; young, old or anything else, other than that is the first time I can ever remember identifying with race, or at least responding to racial difference in public. It’s not what I saw or thought at that moment that became so indellable, but rather what I had said. Right in the middle of the boarding crowd, with absolutly no warning, I blurted out the big question, “Is that a nigger?”… And of course my mortified sister all but melted, put her hand over my mouth, and appologized her way all the way to our seats. As for me, my attention was diverted almost imediatly by one thing or another, and I was on the awaited bus trip with out a care. I would bet that was the most uncomfortable 30 or so minutes of Pam’s life. As a result of that nieive moment, combined with my sisters reaction of horrer towards the few , but powerful words I had uttered, I always had a question in mind as to why this is sucha powerful and dividing issue.