Between the ages of eight and sixteen, I spent parts of my summer at a YMCA camp, which was quite the different experience for me the first year my parents, maternal grandmother, and godparents conspired to send me there. I didn’t want to go; why should I go to this camp when I can stay here with my friends? I do remember my mother starting to explain it to me and my father saying – and kinda cutting Mom off – “You’re going – end of discussion.”
That first year, jeez, I remember the ride to the camp; to me it was unexplored territory, like being in the wilderness and I was not quite terrified but I wasn’t happy. We get to the camp, get me checked in and as my parents “raced” back to the car – or, it looked like it to me – I wanted to start crying like some of the other kids who found themselves “abandoned” in this strange place but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be here but after our counselor gathered us up and we hiked a short distance to the log cabin that I’d be staying in for the next two weeks, well, maybe this won’t be all that bad… and by the time we got settled and hiked to the dining hall for lunch, not only was I just fine and dandy but had already decided that I didn’t want to leave this place and, um, the food was off the hook, if nothing else.
A bit of a side-step. When I was nine – and thanks to the YMCA membership my familial co-conspirators had arranged for me the year before – I started studying judo and, later at a local place, karate and it opened up a whole new world of experiences for me. Not only was I learning to defend myself and not be as impulsive as I tended to be, I got to go to different places, meet new people, and beat them up and even got medals and trophies for doing it.
The thing here in this side-step is that whenever I went somewhere for a contest/tournament, after all the dust had settled – and the tears of those who I defeated had dried – I’d wind up back home some hours later tired, sore, and victorious, which leads back into going to summer camp where there was no going home unless either something really bad happened or, in some cases I saw during my time there, some kid was so homesick that no one at the camp could do anything about it and he/she would get that “early dismissal” and be on their way home.
That first year was one of discovery; I met new people, learned how to swim in open water (and as opposed to how I was learning to swim in a pool back home), and I learned some stuff, from how to shoot a bow and arrow and other fun stuff – a couple of years later, I’d learn how to shoot a .22 rifle and that was always something to look forward to and those lessons seriously helped me years later when I had to qualify with the M16 in Air Force basic training. Anyway…
In my second year of being a summer camper, I was sitting on the “beach” with my swimming buddy; the rule, which was severely enforced, was that if you went in the water, your buddy went with you; you get out, your buddy gets out – a good rule even though it kinda didn’t make sense at the time.
I’m sitting on the beach with my swim buddy and we’re talking and speculating about what’s on the menu for lunch when my swim buddy says, “Hey… that kid is staring at you!” and points to the kid in question. I turn and look and, sure enough, there’s this red-headed, freckled faced (and kinda sunburnt) kid staring at me. I say hi, he blinks like my greeting woke him up and he says hi. I ask him if he’s okay and he says he is… but he wanted to ask me something but was afraid to.
I laugh and tell him to ask me and he hits me with this: “Why is your skin so dark?”
And, God forgive me, I replied, “Well, I used to be white like you but last year, I laid on the beach too long and when I woke up, my skin was dark and my hair went from straight to curly.” Yeah, I know… gonna burn in hell for that one and I prided myself on saying this with a straight face but on the inside, I was dying with laughter because the kid actually believed it.
But, yeah, I finally told him I was kidding and tried to explain why my skin was darker than his but the thing I learned from that kid that he had never seen a Black person in person before he came to the camp. Hearing this actually made my head swim dizzily; how is it that he’s never seen a real, live Black person before? It took me a while to get it in my head that maybe he came from a place where there were no Black people; unlike myself, I saw Black people all of the time.
It was an eye-opening experience for the both of us and it seemed that every year I went to camp, I’d run into some kid who’d ask me about the color of my skin or how I got my hair to be so kinky – and especially when I started growing my Afro. And while I always thought it was funny – and a chance to hit them with my “on the beach too long” joke – I was amazed and dumbfounded. In my travels, I saw all kinds of people and interacted with them in various ways… but there was always that one kid I’d catch staring at me and as if I’d just stepped off the first spaceship from Mars or something.
Let’s jump ahead to my enlisting in the USAF and finding myself once more facing the unknowns associated with basic training. The guy who had the bunk (to my left if I was facing my locker) next to me would stare at me and similar to how those kids at camp would. I noticed it but didn’t pay much attention to it because I had more important things to concern myself with, like staying off Staff Sergeant Crain’s shit list which, um, I managed to somehow get on.
As I recall, somewhere around our second week of training, the guy – who I learned was from Oklahoma – was sitting in his chair – we weren’t allowed to sit on our bunks until it was lights out time – and he’s fidgeting and looking really nervous so I ask him what’s wrong and he says, “Nothing…” at first but then said he wanted to ask me something. I’m thinking he wants to ask me to clarify something we’d learned that day but I got shocked into that dumb place when he asked, “Can I touch your hair?” – which was growing back in after I had my long and beautiful braids lopped off.
Okay… what’s up with this? I say, “Sure…” and go over to him, bend over a little and, yup, he runs his fingers through what little hair I have on my head and I’m looking at him and see this look of wonder and amazement on his face. He finishes feeling my head up and, yes, touching my face and I ask him what that was all about. What he said was… shocking.
“There are no Black people where I live,” he said. “The only time I saw Black people was on TV and, to tell the truth, I never saw a real Black person until we all got here.”
Now, our flight (as they called us in the good old USAF) only had three Black guys: Myself and two guys from Philadelphia and there were 48 of us in the flight and from all over the US. Still, upon hearing this revelation from him, it explained a lot toward how he’d behave whenever I or one of the Philly contingent would interact with him; between the three of us, we’d often talk about how weird this guy was but we weren’t all that concerned with why and I know I never gave a single thought about asking him – SSgt Crain occupied my thoughts a lot and, nope, my attempts to get off of his shit list always seemed to fail… and I still don’t know what I did to get on his shit list.
After this “life changing event,” I found myself spending our off time talking to him about our different cultures and mindsets and, yes, I had to endure some of what I call the usual questions, like the day he asked me if it was true that all Black guys had big dicks and if it was true that we all carried knives. For the second question, I had laughed and said while it was true that some Black people carried knives for various reasons, not all Black people did.
For the first, I figured the best way to answer that question was to tell him that the next time we’re all in the shower, just take a look at my dick and decide whether he thought it was big or not – but look at everyone else’s dick – discretely – because there were forty-plus other guys to compare with.
I didn’t think he’d do it but the next day, when we were all in the shower after a grueling day in the Texas heat, I saw him discretely checking out all the junk he could get his eyes on. Later, after dinner chow, we’d either have what they call “base liberty” where we could go almost anywhere on the base that wasn’t restricted or off-limits to trainees or we were restricted to the dorm and usually because somebody fucked up, got on the drill instructors’ (DIs) bad side and we got grounded.
And, no – we never got grounded because of something I did or didn’t do but whenever some shit went south for us, good old SSgt Crain would tell me he just knew I had something to do with it – and did I mention that I also somehow managed to break the squadron record for the most pushups done in a day? In my defense, I spent more time doing pushups for shit I wasn’t even involved in but SSgt Crain, well, he just had it in for me for some reason.
So my next door neighbor tells me that he did, indeed, check out all the dicks he could while we showered and came to the conclusion that, wow, everyone had dicks of different sizes… but the Black guys did, in his opinion, have the bigger dicks… and then he asked me why our dicks were bigger…. and added more pressure on me by asking if it was true that all Black people were homophobic and if it was true that none of us ate pussy.
I asked him – after I got over being shocked again and laughing, “Where did you hear this shit from?”
He shrugged and said that it was what his parents taught him about Black people and that he should stay away from “those people” at all costs; I was beyond gobsmacked when he told me that his parents told him that if he ever met a real live Black person, he was going to get raped and killed.
What. The. Fuck?
He told me that the day we got grouped together as a training flight and he saw me and the other two Black guys from Philly, he not only pissed on himself but he didn’t sleep for three days… because he just knew we were going to sneak up on him in the dark of the night and rape and murder him. He told me that his father told him that the reason why our skin was so much darker was to make it easy for us to sneak up on people at night, rape them and then kill them.
You ever have one of those moment when you’re so dumbstruck that you can’t even think of anything to say? I was so stuck in one of those moments that one of the guys across the aisle from us actually came over to me and asked if I was okay and if he had to call the CQ – the person in Charge of Quarters – for assistance. I snapped out of it and told him I was okay; today, my lady would say that my brain got stuck on stupid and that describes the state I was in almost perfectly.
When I remembered how to speak in full sentences I asked him, “Why would you even believe that shit? We’ve been sleeping next to each other since day one and, obviously, you haven’t been raped and, equally obvious, you’re not dead. In fact, no one has laid a hand on you or really gotten in your case over anything or, unlike some of these other yokels, not of a mind to pick a fight with you!”
He nodded and said, “That’s what I was taught… and now I’m feeling like an idiot because I believed what I was taught. I see now that the only difference between you and I is the color of our skin; you’re just a guy like I am.”
Then, after I told him that, first, I had no idea why our dicks were sometimes bigger; I told him that not all Black people were homophobic and that one of the guys I grew up with was very gay and one of my best friends; then I said that, yes, Black guys do eat pussy but we sometimes like to deny it and, nope, I have no idea why.
We kept talking about our differences and similarities until 2200 – lights out for us at this stage of our training – but I had a hard time getting to sleep because I just couldn’t believe that there were people – or, in my camp experiences – still people who (1) never interacted with a Black person and (2) believed all that stereotypical bullshit that goes around. For me, it was more culture shock; I knew, thanks to all the stuff I’d experienced before joining the service, that people are different and in a great many ways, from where they come from to the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, and anything else you care to add to this list.
My new best friend while in basic was a white guy from New Jersey and, holy crap, Jonesy was as tall as a redwood tree, towering over all of us. We became friends before we even left the recruiting office in Philly and during eating the bag lunch they’d provided us with. My lunch bag had a sandwich, chips, and chocolate milk; his had the same sandwich and chips but with regular milk. We’re both sitting there staring at our little milk cartons and he makes a joke about how funny it is for a white guy to have white milk and the Black guy has chocolate milk and we both cracked up… and traded milk and that made us laugh even more and so much that one of the recruiting guys who had the duty to make sure none of us escaped came over and asked if me and Jonesy were having a problem.
We’d been friends ever since. I mentioned this to the guy who slept next to me, asking him, “If you know that me and Jonesy are friends, does he look like he’s afraid of me?”
“I wondered about that,” my newest friend admitted. “I thought you knew each other before, you know, you joined up.”
“Nope – didn’t meet Jonesy until we wound up sitting next to each other after getting sworn in,” I said. “I mean, I saw him – how can you miss that tall motherfucker? – but for me, he was just one of the many white people I was used to seeing – just really tall.”
“I now wish I had grown up learning the truth,” he said. “I wrote my parents and pretty much laid them out for lying to me all this time and told them that one of my best friends here is a Black guy – and one who is anything but what they said about Black people. I can’t wait to see if they’re gonna write back and what they say… but I don’t give a fuck about them anymore.”
“They’re your parents,” I said. “My own family has their own ideas about white people, some of it good, most of it not so good. My grandmother wanted to disown me because I introduced her to my white girlfriend; it was embarrassing when she went off about white people with my girlfriend standing right there and she started berating my girl about shit that my girl had nothing to do with. People are just like that and, yeah, I guess, you believe that shit until you get out in the world like we did coming here and find out that what you were taught was a big pile of smelly bullshit.”
He nodded… then leaned over and kissed me lightly on the lips, which again shocked the shit out of me.
“What was that for?” I asked – you know, once I remembered how to speak English.
“I dunno – seemed like the right thing to do since you’ve taught me so much about a lot of things,” he said. “Besides, um, you have nice lips – why are your lips more fuller than mine?”
To date, I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen other peoples have this eye opening revelation. I remember being in Japan and having Japanese folks stop me and just going nuts over (1) being able to practice their English and (2) talking to a real, live Black person. I’ve gone to states here at home… and have seen the same kind of thing, like one guy in Indiana I wound up talking to one night in the hotel’s bar and him telling me that he was tickled pink to finally be able to talk to a Black person – and that it was something he was taught to never do.
Or being in the very deep south – Mississippi – and listening to people I thought talked funny telling me that I talked funny or going to other states and city and having people telling me that I have an accent – where am I from? I’ve even run into people who live in this country who have, somehow, never heard of the state I live in and those who have were of a mind that my home state was a suburb of Philadelphia or a part of New York City.
I’d run across people who thought I was the luckiest motherfucker in the world and because I’ve been to NYC more times than I care to think about – it’s only like two and half hours away (and depending on who’s driving) but, to them, it’s some mystical, amazing place.
Hello, world! In ten short years of my life, I got introduced to the world around me and suffered many moments of culture shock – but, perhaps, not as much as those peoples I’d come in contact with. I mean, really – who hasn’t seen a Black person in the flesh? Who hasn’t had a conversation with a Black person? The amazing answer is there are a lot of people who haven’t and, yeah, they’ve heard all of the stereotypes and myths; after a while, you kinda get tired of hearing, “Is it true that all Black guys have big dicks?” or the homophobic thing and even the pussy-eating thing.
It makes me wonder and think about, as someone who has been blessed to be able to travel the world, how isolated and walled off some people are and even in a time where the Internet had almost literally made the world a much smaller place. And even in this, all those stereotypes and myths continue to persist like the time and on another forum, a guy from India was hyped to learn about us mythical Black people and the funny thing about that was, when we exchanged face pics, holy shit – that guy was so much darker than I was that if you didn’t know he was from India, you would mistake him as a Black man!
And, yeah… I had to tell him that not all Black guys have dicks hanging down around their ankles… sheesh.
It both bothers and delights me that, in the world of M2M, there are a lot of guys who’d probably kill somebody to be able to sleep with a Black guy… and a lot of guys who wouldn’t do that even if you put a gun to their head and if/when I ask them why, at the root of it, is what they believe and what they think they know even though, in their daily lives, they’ve never had reason to interact with a Black person other than maybe speaking when spoken to or working along side one and maybe hesitantly so since “everyone knows how Black people are.”
This scribble isn’t really a racial thing: It’s about learning some stuff about the world you’re born into, that moment when you get introduced to the world and find out how big and diverse it is and how different people are wherever you happen to go. It’s about culture shock and even dispelling all those fucked up stereotypes and myths that continue to be handed down from generation to generation… and the culture shock some experience when they find out that what they believed to be true isn’t all that true.
From my first day at summer camp, I found myself saying “Hello!” to a world I’d heard about but had never really seen. I hated going to camp that first time with a passion; it was a waste of time and someone’s money; it served no real purpose except to keep me away from my friends and everything back at home.
Today, I’m glad I was conscripted to go to summer camp; it wasn’t just to get me out of my parents’ hair or to give me something to do other than running around the neighborhood and doing all kinds of shit (like having lots of sex with my male friends, for example) – it was to teach me some shit and to provide lessons that, today, I hold dear and value a whole lot. I know people who have never been out of the city they were born in; they’ve never been out of the state they live in… and in 2019. I know Black people who have the very same inaccurate thoughts about white folks – and other folks – that I heard back in 1964, back when I was really and truly introduced to the world.
Hello, world! Pleased to have met you! I see you and you got to see me, too! Oh, and before you ask, no – not all of us have gigantic dicks; not all of us are homophobic because I’m bisexual and, yes, some of us eat pussy like fiends. Yes, sometimes I carry a knife – but not for the reason you might think; I might need it to fix something on the car or even cut my seatbelt or some other reason than to use it in an act of violence against someone else.
Why is my hair “kinky?” Well, do you have the time for me to give you a lesson in genetics or dive into how we’re all hybrids and that despite our differences and those that can be seen, we’re all actually related – we’re the same on the inside. If you really want to know, go out and really see the world and introduce yourself when the world says hello to you because it has many wonders to show you and things to teach you.