I was a small skinny boy of 11 when the powers that be decided to advance their political goals by busing white kids to black schools and black schools to white schools. At the time, we lived in Inglewood, California and our part of Inglewood was still white. The school bus would take me across Inglewood to a group of three schools, all right next to each other: an elementary school, a junior high school and a high school.
From the start, things were different for me – and not in a good sort of way. I found myself bullied as never before and being chased around campus. My memories of the first three years in those ghetto schools (they were over 90% black) are fuzzy but I’ll never forget the events of my last few months of Morningside Highschool.
Threats and taunts had become an almost daily occurrence but my experience in Latin class was especially noteworthy. Our instructor was a holocaust survivor. A Polish Catholic who probably had many tales to tell and who would have made our class a fascinating one – except for the fact that he was terrified of his own “students”. Clearly, he had experienced abuse similar to what I had experienced. It bothered me to contemplate an old man, who had already gone through so much suffering in his life, being tormented by the feral animals that passed for “students”.
This Latin instructor had set up a political system in his class whereby the students would elect a president, a secretary and maybe one or two other officers. It was unclear what duties each “official” would have in class and it was unclear what was supposed to be accomplished through such a system. What was clear, from the start, was that the black students would use this system to purge the class of any non-blacks. There were only about five non-blacks in the entire class of thirty or so. When the blacks overwhelmingly elected a white student as “president”, the boy was initially happy. But, as the harassment increased and the threats and attacks mounted, the white “president” soon realized that he had been targeted for elimination from the class. Electing him “president” was only a means whereby the blacks could have more fun while doing so.
After the first white student had been so eliminated from our class, the blacks moved on to the second white student and did the same to him. After he left, the only white girl left of her own accord. They then elected a Hispanic student who, if memory serves me right, did not stick around for harassment; he left immediately. When they started the next election, it was obvious that I, as the only non-black remaining, would be selected. Indeed I was. For the rest of class that day, I was subject to objects being thrown at me, getting gum stuck in my hair and incessant taunts. All this was right in front of our teacher – who feared too much for his own safety to do anything about it.
The moment class was over, and I stepped outside, they were all waiting for me. Nearly 30 blacks stood around me slapping me, throwing things at me, insulting me with racial slurs and threatening me. More blacks joined in from other classes. It was a true mob attack – but I showed no fear at all. By then I’d learned that showing fear only makes matters worse so I kept steadily walking. One of them said, “those Mexican sho is cool (back then “cool” meant fearless)!” Over the course of a few minutes, the mob started to disperse and I was approaching my next class. Just then, a stone whizzed past my head just missing me and hitting the wall in front of me with a loud thump.
Up to that point I had not told my parents about the abuse I was subject to at school. This time I had no choice but to tell them; I could not return to that class. They made some calls and made some sort of arrangement to keep me away from Latin class – but the threats and intimidation continued. One day I was approached by three black kids who held a knife to my throat. “We don’t like the way you look!” they announced. Luckily, a black girl came to my rescue, telling them they should be more interested in her than in me. Another day, as I sat on a bench minding my own business, a black boy sat next to me and asked, “what are you?” I told him “white”. “Then why you dark?” he retorted and I replied I’m just tanned. Then he said, “As long as you ain’t no Jew. I don’t like Jews.”
While not all the blacks in those ghetto schools were violent and hateful, enough were to make the experience one that I would not wish on any child. This was my childhood experience with diversity – and it’s the story I recently told a large group of fellow employees at our mandatory “diversity training”.