Editor’s Note: This article includes racial slurs. The Auburn Examiner and our team do not condone the use of racial slurs because they are offensive and reprehensible. The slurs in this article were permitted because it is important to allow the writer to share his experience and truth, unedited.
I’ve always had a sharp long-term memory. I remember situations as a child as if they happened yesterday. I remember colors, sounds, smells, and even seasons.
One of my earliest memories of racism was when I was about four-years-old. It was around 1970. Our family had briefly moved out of South Seattle’s Holly Park housing projects to a small rental house on the far west side of the city. Our new home was in West Seattle, directly across the street from Gatewood Elementary School on SW Myrtle street. The new neighborhood was vastly different and only lasted about one year, just until the first lease ended. On the new street, none of the other kids were Black or any other color for that matter. When we went into the McDonald’s on the corner, all the people were White including every employee. When we went to the neighborhood grocery store, every customer was White. The clerks, the managers, everyone was White. It felt like we were in a different country compared to our earlier neighborhood in the projects.
I recently found city records that documented our first neighborhood in Holly Park as being close to sixty-percent Black folks during those times. The remaining population was White folks and a mixture of immigrants from many different countries. The few White people in our housing projects were low-income folks just like everyone else and elderly that didn’t leave their homes often. When moving to West Seattle we went from having mostly Black neighbors to having all White ones in a blink of an eye. During our short stay in West Seattle, we experience several instances of violence and aggression which I’m sure contributed to us moving back to the projects.
One morning in our small house in West Seattle my father was getting ready to step out to work like he did every day. My father was a proud southern raised Black man that always worked with his hands. He was usually the tallest man in any room. On this day he grabbed his lunchbox and silver aluminum hardhat before picking up his car keys and shouting, “bye!” to whoever could hear him. This unusual day, my father returned a few minutes after leaving the house and slammed the front door behind him. I could hear his powerful voice in the living room. I couldn’t tell what my father was saying, but I knew that he was angry by his volume and tone. Curiosity pulled my older sister and me from our bedrooms into the hallway – but quickly we were sent back.
Then what seemed just minutes by my recollection, but may have been much longer, there was a rapid series of heavy bangs on the front door. I remember the squeak of the door opening. Immediately I could hear the voices of what sounded like two other men. My father stepped out onto the porch leaving the front door cracked open slightly. I crept my way back into the hallway in an attempt to hear what was going on. I listened to my father and the men having an intense exchange of words. I worked my way closer until I made it to the living room and peeked out on the porch. I remember seeing two slender White police officers in dark blue uniforms and large pie shaped hats standing at the base of the porch. They both wore shiny silver badges right below their name tags. I remember all the gadgets hanging from their belts, including guns and handcuffs. The two officers stood closely side-by-side as if to make their presence more intimidating. One officer was holding a two-foot-long black stick with a rubber handle and casually tapping it into the palm of his opposite hand.
My father looked upset. His large hands were quickly moving as he spoke. He appeared to be explaining something to the two police officers. The officers had nonchalant smirks on their faces as they seemed not to care what my father was saying. The two police later turned and walked back to their blue and white squad car. As they drove off, I remember my father angrily yelling, “Those cops don’t give a damn!” My father then came back inside the house as I ran back to my bedroom. He grabbed his stuff a second time and left out the door to work as originally planned.
After slowly eating a bowl of cereal and getting dressed, I went outside to play alone. My older sister had left for school. While in the yard I turned and looked back at the front of our house. Across the front door were large red spray-painted letters that spelled out the word “NIGGERS!” I remember just stopping frozen in my front yard trying to understand the writing on the front of our house. And although I was too young to read, I could feel the evil intentions by the shape and color of the letters.
My mother came out onto the porch with a plastic yellow bucket and tried to rub the letters off with a sponge and soapy water. The harder she scrubbed; the more time stood still. I couldn’t concentrate on playing. I just stood there in the yard watching my mother rub at the letters and not make any progress. She later gave up and went back into the house. I continue to play outside, but my distraction with the message on the front of the house took away from my ability to have fun.
Several hours later my dad returned. He took to the task of washing the large red letters off the front of the house. Whatever he used worked. I could tell he was upset. I stepped onto the porch next to my father and asked him what the writing on our house was. My father always wanted to protect us from the evils of the world, and he never wanted to show the anger that he felt. That might’ve been because he was born in Alabama in 1909. I’m confident he experienced some of the most extreme racism that a person can imagine. My father stopped and tried to explain to me that the people who painted those red letters on the house were evil White people that didn’t want us living in that neighborhood. He said they wrote the word “NIGGERS” to try to scare us. The moment I heard this word come out of my dad’s mouth, I immediately remembered where I heard it before.
Just a few months before this red spray-paint incident, I experienced my first memory of racism. Our family was on a weekend outing at Seward Park in Seattle Washington. I remember we were playing in the park when about 8 to 10 White males marched towards my father, my mother, and us three kids. My father quickly rushed us to the car. He pushed my mother holding my baby sister into the front passenger seat. Then he shoved my older sister and me into the backseat. My dad got behind the wheel and turned around shouting to us to roll up our windows and lock the doors.
As we positioned in our seats, and my father started the car, the White men surrounded our vehicle and started rocking it by pushing the front hood and back bumper up-and-down. There were men on each side of the car staring through the glass. They were yelling “NIGGERS… NIGGERS!!,” while they were rocking the car side-to-side. My mom and sister were crying and screaming. I was watching my dad as he yelled out, “You better move – I’m going to run you over!” He put our 1957 Chevy in gear and sped off while the fists of these White men pounded down the sides of our car.
I remember standing up in my seat and staring out the back window as we escaped. I could see those White men standing there with their fists in the air as if they were chanting. That was the first time I heard the word niggers. So when I saw it written on the front of our house and my dad told me what it was, I pictured those guys as the ones who came and spray painted our house. I was never quite the same after this.
Growing up I saw White people, especially White men, as evil monsters that were out to hurt me. We soon moved away from that evil racist community and back to our original neighborhood which I knew was my real home, and I felt safe. I never left the projects again until I moved out as a young adult.
Incidents of racism and hate-crimes like this continue to happen throughout my life. There were times I was called nigger by people in moving cars. I’ve had bottles thrown at me. I’ve been spit at by people in vehicles passing. There was racist graffiti written on the walls at my junior and high schools growing up. Too many times I had the law enforcement called on me for simply walking down a street or standing in one place too long. I can’t count how many times I’ve been pulled over and harassed by police for no valid reason. I’ve been in the back of police cars, I’ve been handcuffed, I’ve had guns held to my head, and I have spent hours in jail for no other crime but, DWB or BBIA (Driving While Black or Being Black in America).
Fifty-years after these two experiences of racist hate crimes, it’s still happening, and although I have seen some improvements in my life, many times it feels like nothing has changed. I realize that not all White people are like these monsters who want to inflict terror on people just because of the color of their skin. But those good people that are not must do everything they can to help us move forward and make sure that we do not go back to those terrible times. We must vote for representatives that have a proven track record of standing for equality and diversity. We must take every opportunity to educate the misinformed, and even when it seems that our efforts are falling on deaf ears, we must not give up. We all must fight for a better world, one where all humans are treated equally, judged only by their deeds, not the color of their skin or their ethnicity.
Originally written 2018