For the most part, the “how” in how our young friend got along with his classmates at the new school; boys as well as girls; has to be chalked up to the… ; the general bias that comes from the first impressions of appearance; kind of like: he looked like a young, somewhat attractive African American boy; and that’s what both his classmates and teachers simply assumed he was; at least, that was the initial “take away.”
We have to remember that most of his classmates and all of his teachers were white; the year was 1975 and Watergate was among the major headline news; just as the Vietnam War was coming to a close; and right around the same time statistics from the time suggested a stagnation in wages for black men; in joint, direct and inverse relation to white men outside of the South; and our young black boy’s family, although Middle Class, were living in Bloomfield Hills; the marriage of his parents straining there; under both the per capita demands of the area and his father’s chronic under-employment; particularly galling to him, since, for a time, the boy’s mother made more than his father.
Another thing we have to take into account is that generally speaking, boys and girls; especially back then; still tended to socialize in the types of gender specified roles their parents did; but whereas, in a nonsecular educational setting; where expected male roles ( as well as female) associated with peer affiliation, dominance and cooperation for example; leaned more heavily on a religious or spiritual foundation; in the secular educational setting; peer affiliation alone, was stressed far and above over either dominance or cooperation. This apparently minor discrepancy posed quite a challenge to our young black adolescent youth.
In one particular Social Studies class, early in the Fall Semester, one of the boy’s classmates named Ken; an olive-honed, tough looking, short sleeve muscle-shirted; swaggering kid; always dressed in either monochrome black or blue clothes; and always shoed in matching Karate soft soled ankle boots; things that were supposed to stay in a Do Jo; singled our young man out; in a kind of dispute over; of all things: territory; a thing that happened sometimes back in parochial school; but was often singled out by sharp eyed nuns; standing ready with an immediate redress of one sort or another.
In this particular case however, some one’s belongings were apparently intruding on someone else’s; and that demanded both an immediate apology and a sincere promise to never, ever again repeat such a disrespectful transgression; and sensing the oncoming belligerence of, what our young black boy thought to himself, at the time; was a fool; he got out of his seat, went up to the teacher: a Mr. Sparre (really; that was his name) and explained in straightforward manner; the brewing situation, back at his seat; and asked, in a hushed tone; so no one else would hear; to be moved.
Mr Sparre readily complied and cautioned Ken against any further acts of intimidation on our young friend, or any other member of the class; for the rest of the Semester; something which Ken verbally guffawed and grunted through a clenched and forced smile, as his response; most likely thinking; this was completely ridiculous.
It must be emphasized here that this kind of; maybe tattle-telling; maybe self preservation; maybe wisdom; maybe all of the above; didn’t happen in all of our young friend’s classes; and it wasn’t always some result of an issue of dominance; in fact the only other time any sort of social mismatch arose; took the standard form of peer affiliation jousts; in of course, one of the only places where such jousts; games of physical prowess and physical educational are welcomed; the gym.
As it turns out, our young black youth wasn’t the only student to switch from parochial to public school; seeing how, Stan Fields; roughly about his size and weight; and an absolute wizard on the drums back at his old school; had also come across the tracks; as it were; given the fact that both middle schools sat opposite one another; separated by an Amtrak line, that ran from Pontiac in the North; to Detroit in the South; and now there the two sat; in last period Gym class; wrestling.
It was an odd feeling; being one of the few black kids in the school (somewhat like the other school) and the only black kid in that particular gym class; and to have three of four of his white classmates sizing him up; almost like ranchers sizing two prize bulls; which one to slaughter and which one to stud (a completely different experience from his last school); then to wrestle some one our young man had greatly admired; because of the dynamic drumming skills he exhibited on many occasions; like, assorted school assemblies and seasonal celebrations; things of that nature; back at the school both boys had previously attended; and now, in this last period gym class; as most of his white classmates cheered for Stan; himself also a white boy; and neither one trained in wrestling; something inside our young black and grappling unschooled adolescent; either didn’t mind or didn’t realize; that he was picking Stan up again and again and; instead going for a quick pin; like he was supposed to, perhaps; just slammed him down to the ground; hard; sometimes face first; other times, on his side. Whatever this was; the gym teacher, Mr. Veach, let it continue; until finally yelling out to our young man to: “Go ahead and pin him”; which he did; almost as if he didn’t quite know how, or chose not to; be as quick and efficient as possible.
When it was over, our young friend looked over at Stan; sitting against a wall; a trickle of blood inching down a swollen lower lip; being consoled by some of the classmates who had cheered him on; he was upset and embarrassed; but they kept assuring him that some one Dumas would get even next class period.
Our young man, not actually understanding or appreciating any culpability on his part; nevertheless, felt a little guilty for sort of loosing; maybe focus; maybe if he had more skill; he wouldn’t of unintentionally; kind of; beat him up like that; maybe?
Yet what our young adolescent black male didn’t yet realize at the time, was that the Dumas to which everybody referred; and subsequently, urged Mr. Veach to schedule a match the very next period; was a wiry but acrobatically trim; deceptively slight kid; and also a highly trained, tournament proven; extremely proficient wrestler; who, true to his skill level; the very next class period; toyed with our young man; out flanking him time and time again; forcing a chase our friend was in no condition for; until finally; exhausted, drained and nauseous; he flipped him a couple of times; to the cheers of the class; (ostensibly to make up for what was perceived, probably by the whole class, as well as the instructor; to have been an intentional act on the part of our young friend; the previous period when he wrestled his old school mate; Stan); like a pancake flip-flopping on a hot grill; The Great White Dumas pinned our young brash black boy; who afterwards, as school let out for the day; before getting on the bus; puked; vomited right into one of the fifty-five gallon drum waste barrels lining the boarding area; never stopping to actually entertain the possibility; that at the time; there in public school; our young black friend got his first taste; and unfortunately, far from his last; of covert and subtle interpersonal racism.
He indeed, had a lot to learn; and yet, for some reason, he never told any one about it; not his mother; nor his father; brother or sister; nor his first girlfriend; his first boyfriend; no one; not even his ex-fiance; until this very moment; sitting here at a public computer; at six-o-nine p.m. July 22, 2019; at a Library in Downtown Ann Arbor Michigan; so very many years later; many, many years — ago.
(to be continued)