Black And Not Twenty-one

I was young and dumb not yet twenty-one years of age and found myself working at General Motors. The bathroom graffiti I observed still rings fresh in my mind. It read in a paraphrased and sanitized version that the blacks were screwing the whites and the whites were screwing the blacks and GM was screwing both of us. Later that old adage of “How GM goes so goes the Country”. Back then GM had enough money to loan “billions” to the USA if the need arose. Well, GM went broke and so did the Country.

The year was 1960 and the city-wide parade looked like if was choreograph from the Rose Bowl. The parade route, the marching bands, all passed by the TWA office. East Saint Louis, Illinois had just been named the “All American City” with a population of more than 80,000 residents. It was the “best of times” as many of the now employed blacks moved from their segregated communities to newer parts of the community searching for that American Dream of home ownership and a green lawn. East Saint Louis, then and now, represents a microcosm of America. After years of being raped, ravished and ridiculed the cash strapped and downtrodden city elected its first black mayor in 1974 as the population plummeted down from the zenith of 80,000 to less than 30,000 today. Well, the city went broke and so did the county.

I enjoyed Joan Walsh’s book, What’s The Matter With White People? why we long for a golden age that never was . Ms. Walsh allowed me to view what it was like being born Irish and the pains and pleasures the Irish experienced when they first immigrated to America. A similar view was ascertained when I experienced a diversity training exercise called “Tribes and Bridges”. Three speakers, an Irish sister, a Hispanic brother, and an Afro-American brother all gave insight into what it was like growing up Irish, Hispanic, and Black. Funny we all have more in common that binds us together than the highlighted differences that divides us.

I recall the words of Martin Luther King who once said “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”. Falling, falling, falling…


One thought on “Black And Not Twenty-one

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this. I think most people think their life’s experiences are unique and I guess they are but many with a common theme.

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