Some Childhood Memories

Good morning,

This particular article grabbed my attention this morning because it reminded me of the childhood I went through. I had friends who were white and pretty much treated me like the fellow who wrote this article about his black friend. I was a lot like Roy growing up, accepted into a white world, expected to behave in that white world, never accepted as an equal, and always felt the loneliness of being separate somehow. 

I was accepted because of the superior athlete I had become in the white world. I was on the basketball team, star football player, track and baseball team and scored more points than anyone, was the star player on any of the teams I played on. I was permitted to eat among my white friends in their homes, even dance with the white girls after some of the games we played in, but was never accepted as a human being, equal in all ways to any of them. 

Some parents openly let their kids know that I was to be watched while in the home. One parent told his wife to make sure I got plenty to eat, as I probably did not get that kind of food in my own home. One parent told his son and daughter I was an okay Injun and it was all right if they played with me. None of my white friends came to my home to visit with me, never!

So I know the Roy this article writes about. Like Roy, I went off to combat too, but I came back, much to their chagrin, and many of the white boys didn’t. Some of my white friends are still friends to this day. I always loved them and forgave them for their ignorance, as that what my dad and mom told me to do. My parents taught me to pray for my enemies and those who treated me despitefully, for they didn’t know any better. I had good loving parents who knew God and treated everyone as equals, as I was taught to.  

Just some thoughts to think on, eh?

Nin se Neaseno.

Dear Roy, 

You were the friend of my youth. You are black and I am white. When  we became adults, we drifted apart. You served in the military. I served  in the ministry. You died too soon for me to tell you this in person,  so I’ll tell you now. You endured more than you should have, suffered  more than you deserved, and were held to the unreasonable expectations  of white culture, yet still you were my friend. 

You came to my white church. You stayed in my white home. You ate at  my white table. Yet I never stayed at yours. An occasional visit to your  world was all my whiteness could warrant, yet you were expected to live  in mine. 

I was in your presence when the n-word was used, on multiple  occasions. I said nothing. You ignored it, while others laughed at your  expense. You were teased by folks in the church, mocking your blackness,  pretending to be welcoming. We wore our whiteness that arrogantly  paraded unceasingly before you. We expected you to conform to our  culture because we thought it superior. We saw ourselves as the savior  your community needed, that you needed. We deceived you with pictures of  a white Jesus, and never told you the truth that he was black. Jesus  was more like you than he was like us. Yet we pretended otherwise.  Because to do differently would have elevated you above us. And we  couldn’t have that. 

People shook my hand and patted me on the back. “How good of you to  befriend this black boy!” they said, without even acknowledging you  standing there. My white world treated you as anomaly, a novelty,  tolerated only as long as you were obedient, subservient, and didn’t try  to date any of the white girls in the youth group. 

In retrospect, I now know that my white world abused you, stifled  you, truncated your growth and experience. Long before Eric Garner or  George Floyd cried “I can’t breathe” all us white folks were stealing  your oxygen. You sung our songs, read our bible, believed our gospel,  all of which were stolen 100 years earlier from another black man at  Azusa Street. We never told you his story, only ours. 

Perhaps it was a saving grace that you were spared the turmoil in our  world today? Had you been given time to reflect on the harm brought to  you by my culture, you may have justifiably lost your mind, leading to a  compounding of your suffering. You would have been justified in your  anger at how you were treated, marginalized, ignored. You were present  in my world, but remained largely invisible. Only seen on the occasions  we wanted to justify our sins by pointing to your body as a token of our  righteousness. We were hypocrites and fools. You were patient and  endured our taunts longer than you should have. 

Ironically, many white folks reading this that shared our history,  will remember all of this differently. They will recall how kind we were  to you. How we payed your way to youth camps, bought you meals, had you  in our home, and were gracious enough to include you in all our  activities. “We treated you like family” they will protest. Refusing to  reflect on the motivations of why we chose to do so. Refusing to  confront the arrogance of assuming that you should come to us to learn,  because we know better than you. 

Roy, I’m sorry man. I’m sorry that I didn’t know better. That I  didn’t do better. I’m sorry that I’m just now saying this, years after  your death. I’m listening now. I’m learning now. I’m speaking up now. 

I hope you can hear me. 

I love you. 


Author: neaseno

I was born on Powers Bluff in Wood County, Wisconsin, into a traditional community of Neshnabek. I was raised speaking only native languages, and learned to speak English upon entering school at the age of 6. As of this writing, I am one of 5 remaining Heritage Fluent Speakers of Potawatomi.

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