YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS STORIES
When I was in the second grade growing up in western New York the gym teacher used to call me "spaghetti arms" and "grease ball." I was 7 years old and had no idea what he was talking about. I went home and asked my dad about it, and he was silent for a minute before telling me that it didn't mean anything and to just forget it. As the years went by, I got used to being called vulgar names because I had an Italian surname. I learned about the persecution that my dad and granddad had to deal with when they were growing up and when they were in the armed forces in World War I and World War II. I learned to laugh off people's ignorance, but it's a shame how cruel people can be.
No child should experience racism, and have such ugly and painful memories the rest of their life, just because of the color of their skin. As I reflect, I have a few memories of a lifetime of racism in America, but I shall share this one today. It was a spring Saturday morning and I was with my mother on the bus going downtown. The bus was crowded with standing room only. I was holding onto a bar, facing an old white man with a cane. Precipitously, the driver slammed the brakes, forcing me as well as others to lose our balance. In the attempt to keep from falling, I accidentally stepped on the old man's foot. He retaliated by hurting me — he stamped on my foot as hard as he could. I looked into his piercing eyes; cold, sky-blue eyes that were filled with rooted hate for me and all I represented. Without blinking, he looked into the eyes of a small black child, and not only did he see fear, but he saw my questioning, "Why?" This was my first conscious experience with overt and covert racism. I was 6 years of age. I do not struggle to recall his face.
That experience taught me as a young child that there truly is a difference in our society with skin color, and my skin is not the chosen one. However, my mother taught my brother and me to treat everyone on an individual basis, no matter what the color of their skin, their religion, faith or choice. That old man with those piercing, sky-blue eyes did not speak for everyone of European descent, and I continue to live my mother's humanistic philosophy: individual basis only. This fall is my 37th year teaching in the public schools, I have always taught each class my mother's philosophy, treat everyone on an individual basis only. Anything else is ignorant.
My dad worked for 44 years at a local college as a carpenter. One day he and the foremen, who was white, went to the cellar of this very large building to retrieve some supplies. As they were rounding the corner, they came upon a huge hangman's noose with support beams lying on the floor. My dad asked the foremen what was that. He said, "You know what it is." The next day when he went back, it was gone. My dad never spoke of this to anyone, because he was very scared that he would be fired. It was only after he became very sick that was he able to tell me some of his experiences.
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