“The conqueror’s rule and write history in their own image.”
I remember growing up and being around my white friends, at Saint Lawrence Academy in San Jose, California in the early seventies and being only one of a handful of black kids in the whole school. I felt the need to fit in. I was always a little hypersensitive about my color, since I was constantly being reminded of the color of my skin on a daily basis. I used to hate Black History Month because being only one of two black kids in the 7th grade, I and the other black kid had to play every black person in the history of the world whenever the school needed a black character for their plays. I remember my English teacher would always say to the class when it was time for a new school play,
English Teacher. Well class, we are planning to do the Thirteen Stations for the school play this year, and there is just one more role we need to fill. Did you know that a black man helped Jesus carry the cross?
Little Lynel. Shit!
English Teacher. So who do you think should play the role of the black person who helps Jesus our lord and savior to his crucifixion?”
Not only did I have to be the token black kid in the play but I also had to portray a character who helps Jesus carry His cross to His death. I did not see this as a good thing. I would rather have been the brother who helped Him to escape. I didn’t really know anything about racism until I started attending white schools and living in white neighborhoods. That is the first time I became aware of the fact that I had more than one name. I had the name that my mother and father had given me, and I also had the name that I inherited, as a member of my particular community.
To some people my name was Lynel, and to others, my name would always be…“The Nigger!” At that time in my life I was in need of acceptance and acknowledgement, especially not having my mother and father in the picture. My mother was a prostitute and my father was a pimp, so I sometimes had to make friends with people who I didn’t necessarily agree with wholeheartedly, in order not to be alone or for protection. As the saying goes “misery loves company”. So I clung to those friends who would accept me, even if it was only on their terms.
I remember one day, when I was hanging out with my friends at the lunch break. The word around school was that there was a new black kid. That seemed to be welcome news to me since I was tired of being the only Black thespian in the school. My hope was that this new kid could act. My white friends expressed their anger and hatred towards him, and looked at each other in agreement, and said in unison, “Now that’s a nigger” as he walked by us as we were standing by the gym. But they immediately turned to me and said, “Don’t worry Lynel, you’re one of us”.
I thought to myself, if the new kid is a nigger, then what am I? I felt like that kid again, the one who used to pretend that he was invisible; walking around town, surprised that people could still see me, in spite of having the powers of invisibility. I remember when my older brother told me to go inside the drugstore and steal a pack a bubble gum for him. I think I was five or six at the time. I knew that I could get away with it because I could become invisible. So I walked into the drug store and made my way over to the candy section.
I picked up the pack of gum and put it into my pocket. It did not matter that the clerk was standing right in front of the candy section because I was invisible. And as I started to make a bee-line for the front door, the clerk stopped me and said “Are you stealing that gum?” I just kept asking him “How did you see me?” “I’m invisible”! He asked me if my older brother had told me to come in to the store and steal the gum for him, since he could see my brother standing right in front of the front door waiting for me. The next thing I know, my brother took off up the street like he had stole something and not me.
Anyway, what did my friends at Saint Lawrence mean by saying that I was one of them? I certainly wasn’t white like them. To tell you the truth, I looked more like the new black kid than my Caucasian classmates. Hmm… it took me awhile, but I finally understood what they were trying to say. I was the type of black person that they were willing to accept, and he wasn’t. At that moment I knew that a decision had to be made and made quickly.
I had to choose to live my life being accepting of white people, in order to make it in the white man’s world, or choose to side with the black kid, and become the subject of ridicule and disdain. I had to hurry up and make a decision, because they were waiting for my response. At that moment time stood still and while deciding ,I had a flashback. All of a sudden I was back in my room, and I was five years old again, and Grandma Pocahontas was next to me helping me to say my bedtime prayers for the very first time.
Grandma Pocahontas. Ok, now let’s try and say it together. Are you ready?
Little Lynel. Yes grandma.
Grandma Pocahontas. Here we go on three alright? Ready? one…two… three…
Grandma Poky and Little Lynel. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I should die, before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take.
But I was just daydreaming, because when I came to, my friends were still standing there waiting for my response to the new kid. This was going to be the hardest decision of my young life, to not only abandon my own people, but to also abandon myself. And on March 26, 1977, “a day that will live in infamy”, I made the choice to survive at the cost of my soul. And once I did this, the words that my friends had been waiting for started to pour out of my mouth .Like a mighty river. I said to them, “Yeah, the new kid… is a nigger” and we all laughed… all the way home.
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