Black Lives Matter

August 21, 2016

 

I don’t have a problem with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” because, well … black lives do matter. It doesn’t say that only black lives matter or other lives don’t matter; it just says something true that should be obvious.

If I see a bumper sticker that says, “Save the Seals,” I don’t think the people who own the car think nothing else is worth saving. They just want to save seals. It doesn’t mean that they want to kill orcas or whales. (By the way, orcas don’t need saving because nobody messes with them anyway.)

People are just too sensitive these days. If any white people are upset by that slogan, they can start a movement whose slogan is “White Lives Matter,” which is also true. Maybe we could have Red Lives Matter and Yellow Lives Matter, and if there are purple people somewhere, we could have Purple Lives Matter. I don’t really think there are purple people, but we did have a popular song in the 50’s about a flying creature with one eye and one horn that ate purple people. Maybe it ate them all.

The Black Lives Matter movement is protesting the killing of black people. They should be protesting, and it needs to stop. When I was younger, I protested everything. The Viet Nam war, the Kent State shootings, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I even protested the fact that marijuana was illegal. At least I think I did. Some of my memories of the early 70s are a little hazy . . .

Did I tell you about the time that I was a black student at the University of Massachusetts?  No? Well, then you can read it now.

In the early 70s I wanted to transfer from Boston University to UMass after my freshman year because UMass clearly had better parties (I have two stepsons who went to UMass, one of whom is still there … and yes, they still have great parties). But UMass wouldn’t accept transfers until your junior year, so they wouldn’t let me in. I don’t like being told no, so I set out to find a way to get in. At that time, there was a program called Career Opportunity Planning (COP), which was designed to give underprivileged black kids a college education. Each student got a $3,000 stipend to help with expenses. I was able to get into the program as long as I didn’t want the stipend.  I’m not sure where the money went, but I know I didn’t get it.

Anyway, my first day at UMass I got a notice directing me to report to the gym at the School of Education for COP orientation. When I arrived, the entire gym got very quiet … and everyone stopped talking and turned to stare at me. I was the only white person there.

I was immediately told to get out, that this program was only for COP students. I protested that I was a COP student and showed them my brand-new COP card and paperwork. Reluctantly, they decided I could stay, but I would have to sit in the back of the auditorium. Some sort of payback, I guess.

I had a great time during my year as a black student. I was able to go where no white man had gone before. One of the COP student leaders even gave me a nickname, which I can’t bring myself to type: he and the others called me The White N-word. To me, it seemed like a badge of honor.

I remember several of us COP students sitting the office of a department head trying to get into a closed class for which we had forgotten to register. Paul, our leader, was speaking for all of us. Once again, I was the only white face. Paul informed the professor that we were tired of the university discriminating against us black people. I didn’t say anything, as I had been told to just keep my mouth shut. As the professor listened, he kept looking at me with a puzzled look on his face.

Finally, the professor could hold his tongue no longer. Pointing directly at me he cried, “But he’s not black!” I loved Paul, our spokesman, for keeping his cool. He calmly replied, “Yes, his is. Cliffy, show him your COP card.” And right there, on my official card, I was identified as an underprivileged black youth. End of discussion. And yes, we all got into the class.

I lost my COP card years ago, but I wish I still had it. I don’t have a clue about what it’s really like to be black, and I don’t pretend to have any special knowledge of the black experience in America. But as a COP student, I caught a rare glimpse of what black people have to put up with, particularly from white people who insist that they’re not racist. I noticed white people’s subtle changes in language when they were talking about black people and trying to prove they were not prejudiced. They were; they just didn’t know it. When I hung around with my COP friends, wherever we went, I couldn’t help but notice that we were looked at differently than when I went to the same place with my white friends. I know things have changed and it’s better now, but it’s still not good.

I think Chris Rock said it best in his comedy act. He said something like, “None of you white people would change places with my black ass, and I’m rich!”

The real tragedy is that Mr. Rock is probably right. And I still think that Black Lives Matter.

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