Dear President Obama: I Too Have a History

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

I too have a history. Growing up as a white teenager on the west side of Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s, folks in the City at that time did not mix culturally. Mixed race persons or marriages were uncommon if not at all. Gay was still buried in the closet. Most importantly for this discussion, earthquakes happened a lot.

The part of the City where I found myself for a significant formative period of my life (sixth grade through half of eleventh grade) was white Jewish ghetto. For those who know and remember, it is the Fairfax area. In 1971, the City suffered the Sylmar earthquake, a real rock and roller, and major damage happened to a handful of inner City Los Angeles junior and high schools. In those neighborhoods, the residency was almost 100% Black. West of Fairfax, was the then mostly Hispanic coastal areas.

With the damaged schools, students from inner City schools like Crenshaw were bussed to high schools like Fairfax. My junior and senior high school, overnight, went from being 70% white to 40% white. It was about an equal percentage Black. This happened at a time that a group called ĎCripsí were starting to organize although well before there was such a thing as business of being in a gang. It was different then. These were the Tookie days. Up against them was 18th Street, the Hispanic gang that has since gone on and made its own mark in the world.

These three cultural worlds were in constant contact. At times, there was great tension and even street battles. Everybody in school knew it was going to happen and would go watch. Back then however, when there was going to be a battle, a whole gang may show up, but the harshest weapon you saw maybe, was a knife. They used fists and feet then. Heavy weapons came with the drug business in subsequent years.

It didnít take me long after arriving at high school to get myself into trouble. Apparently as I learned, some folks donít like when you like the same girl they do. When they have more friends than you, you can end up hurt. Over time, however, I learned to be friends and had among my circle, people on all sides of the color line.

I think that because I had grown up so isolated but in a City that color really didnít mean a thing. The stereotypes were different then and nowhere near as vicious as today. It wasnít that I liked or disliked someone of color, I just didnít care. Color was obvious; but it was a non-factor in how I dealt or perceived someone. I dated Black and Hispanic girls and my very best friend (not the stereotypical ďsome of my best friendsĒ) in the whole world was a brother named David O.

David O. and I went everywhere and did everything together and would talk shit about our races mostly because we didnít care. On city busses riding to the beach we would start arguing with each other just for sport. It would be obvious that everybody else was getting uncomfortable with a white dude and black dude arguing about race. That was the fun of it. One time at Santa Monica beach, surrounded by a couple dozen friends, we walked for ice cream. By serendipity, I bought chocolate and he bought vanilla. We were standing there on a crowded beach, a brother with a fro and me (also with a fro), we looked at our ice creams, we looked at each other, and there was only one thing left to do. We threw them at each other. Donít ask me why, teenage boys are idiots. David was a great pianist even then and I have always wondered what became of him.

In effort to make full disclosure, I should also add that over the course of my life, I have been mugged, I have been robbed, I have had guns stuck in my face, I have had things stolen, and I have had to hide in fear. I will also admit in full disclosure that none of those incidents involved a white assailant. For some reason though, I never saw it as a race issue. Instead, I saw the attacker for what they were; punk ass bitches who had to have backup because they lacked the balls to go one on one unarmed.

Also, I grew up on the streets of Hollywood and the beaches of Venice. These were some tough neighborhoods. Hollywood of today looks nothing like 40 years ago; just as Times Square morphíd. I learned fast that when you walk down the street and see someone threatening coming, you keep your head up and your eyes forward. You look like you are not going to be worth the trouble. Predators seek easy prey. If someone thinks you are going to give them shit or fight back, you are more likely to walk by without incident.

I was not a door locker, street crosser, or elevator panicker. Never was. Never will be. Over the course of my life, I have fucked and been fucked by people of every race, creed, and nationality. (Sorry for my word choice, but I believe a writer should use the word that best expresses the thought sought to be conveyed; especially an ambiguous word).

One incident over all the years stands out above all else. This did have an impact on me and it took me a long time to shake it off. I was riding home on the city bus one day from junior high school, grade 8 or 9, and when it arrived at the stop where kids from inner city transferred to their southbound bus, everyone piled off. Yes, all the black kids got off the bus. I was seated by the window when one guy walks by the window and sticks out his hand to shake mine. I didnít know him and when someone wants to shake your hand, you do it. So I leaned and reached out the window to shake his hand. The sonovabitch spit right in my face. It was at that moment I realized that I had been targeted for no other reason than I was White. The bus pulled away and I never saw that asshole again.

Not until years later when I saw a PBS Frontline show titled, ďA Class DividedĒ did I return to normalcy. Many years in between I struggled with what I knew rationally versus how I was feeling emotionally. Depending on the audience, my opinions would swing one way or another.

That moment at the bus, I was shown what color looks like. Until then, I was truly colorblind. It wasnít that I didnít see different shades, it just didnít matter. I am a born and raised California beach bum. My tan right now is darker than a lot of that of my brothers. Culture, and not color, are what separate us.

Mr. President, I am so thankful you brought this discussion to the table. I only hope that we, the People, in order for become a more perfect union, keep talking about this subject. It needs to be aired and heard. As hard as it is to hear the stories of the young Black man in America, a subject into which I have poured thousands of words, we have to hear the stories of everybody.

We learn from each otherís experience. The internet is the perfect avenue for that discussion because we are able to express ourselves without fear of retribution. Facebook, as predicted, exploded the night of the Zimmerman verdict recording its highest ever number of Unfriendings and Blocks.

But we need to talk. Even the idiots and ignorant have the right to be heard and share their views. It will be from that collective discussion that a better idea will rise up. I have proffered many. Hopefully others contribute. This is going to be an emotional discussion and a lot of wounds are going to open. That however, is the first step toward finally healing.

Both sides need to forgive, forget, and move forward. That cannot happen until we recognize that we are just people and skin color has no more relevance than eye color. We have to heal. We have to share. Each of us needs to see the world through the eyes of the other. There has to be freedom to speak about the subject and not be branded. Enlightenment and education will not come about if people are afraid to talk.

White people have to be free to talk as well. I want to talk.

These are just more of my words. I hope they help.

Back to the MarkBlum Report

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