Integration Made Me a Believer in Segregation

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in a black majority Southern town. My parents were both Appalachian “hillbillies” who had gone away to college and become liberals. They moved to a large coastal town for work. Our new home was the site of a large “historically black college,” which had been recently absorbed into the state university system. Most of the local public school system’s teachers and administrators were graduates of this college, and they were well versed in the kind of militant black rage we have come to call critical race theory and African American Studies. I don’t know if it had a name back then. We called it “the extremely angry teacher is on another rampage.”

We made our move just as I began second grade. I was one of 33 students in my classroom, about 20 of whom were black. Our teacher was a very nice black lady — an elderly woman who had taught black kids for decades in segregated schools; now she taught white children too. She was very strict and easily controlled the big class. It didn’t take long to notice the black kids were low-functioning compared to the white minority. We spent the entire year learning to count to 100, recite the alphabet (in order, please!), and name the days of the week.

But the good times were not to last. The next year, I had a young white teacher fresh out of college, far less competent and extremely timid about correcting black kids. And did they ever need correcting. Whereas in the second grade we had two single-seat toilets in the back of the room, now we were expected to go to the huge bathroom all in a bunch at the same time. I was astonished to learn how differently black kids behave in the bathroom. I shall attempt not to get too graphic, but I must try to convey how utterly savage the environment was.

First, I learned why there was never any toilet paper. The black boys deliberately urinated on every roll of toilet paper, soaking it through. Paper towel dispensers were completely emptied, all the towels were flushed down the toilets, clogging them and rendering them useless. If any of them needed to “number two,” they would clog the toilet first, leaving their huge stinking bowel movements afloat atop the wad of paper towels. They did not wipe as you or I might — it was no inconvenience for them that the toilet paper was soaked with urine, they had no other use for the stuff. Having answered nature’s call, a black boy would wipe up with his hands, pull up his britches and casually give his hand a quick rinse (pronounced “rinch”) in the stink, leaving the water running.

Lunchtime was gross. I sat across from a black girl named Pamela. She was the only person I have ever seen eat soup with her mouth open — I didn’t even know that was possible! When she brought cornbread she would stuff huge fistfuls in her mouth and fire shotgun blasts of crumbs across the table, mouth wide open and talking a blue streak all the while.

Before lunchtime on the first day, the teacher went through the class roll one by one, asking each child if he or she was receiving paid lunch (45¢), reduced lunch (25¢), or free lunch. She then asked each child if they lived with their momma and daddy, momma only, grandparents, or group home. Finally, do they own their home, rent, or live “in the Projects.” I remember getting a laugh when I asked the teacher, quite innocently, what is a project?

As it turns out, the Projects (pronounced “praaah-jex”) was a vast ghetto of free government housing. Right next to the school, it was a large complex, several city blocks, of identical little squat brick houses with concrete floors and surrounded by pine trees, basketball courts, and highly accessorized “pimp rides.” My own parents were heavily mortgaged homeowners and drove strictly down-market “economy cars” as they were called back then. Not so the blacks! When you pay nothing for room and board, and have no need of toilet paper, that leaves a lot of welfare dollars left over for a fancy car. Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, and Cadillacs were especially prized, with lowered suspension, chrome wire wheels, curb feelers, vinyl roofs, fuzzy steering wheels, and upholstery in simulated exotic animal furs. Pretty sweet cars, actually.

An interesting thing I noticed back then, especially as my family drove through the Projects to drop me off at school, was the tendency of blacks to walk right out in front of cars. If they weren’t already loitering in the street, they were sure to mosey out when they saw a white person’s car approaching. I asked my mom why they did that. She said it was because black people feel utterly ignored, invisible, and forgotten by a racist white culture that did not care about them. By stepping in front of passing white motorists, she explained, blacks could force whitey to acknowledge their existence, at least for a moment.

Beyond the Projects was the old ghetto — tar paper shacks where the denizens of the Projects’ grandparents lived. And deep within the borders of this shantytown was the trailer park where poor whites lived. When my parents broke up, my mother moved us into this trailer park.

Life got rough. Going to or from school or going to visit my friends who lived on the white side of town was always dangerous. I was regularly targeted by large gangs of blacks, dozens of black boys and grown men took turns punching me in the stomach and kicking my head. Another time, walking home from school, somebody hit me over the head at the edge of the Projects. I don’t know for how long, but I was knocked completely unconscious. The blacks on the basketball court made regular demands for money, and it went a lot worse for me if I didn’t have some to share.

Keeping a bicycle was of course impossible. When I turned 13, my mother bought me a lawnmower so I could start my own business. Within a month it was stolen, too. Going out after dark was out of the question. The only way out was past the basketball court where gangs loitered until the wee hours of the morning, shouting, cussing, and whooping.

School was like being held hostage behind enemy lines. The black teachers and administrators were determined to stamp out racism. When ABC aired Roots in 1977, we were assigned to watch the whole thing. The teachers had study guides and there were daily quizzes about the previous night’s content, and a big test at the end of the week. I was deeply moved by it. The message of shared white guilt and the unbreakable determination of blacks to maintain their families and their honor went right to my heart. The black children were enraged by the show and became even more belligerent than usual. I didn’t blame them.

I vividly recall walking by the courthouse one evening and stopping to stare at the monument there, an obelisk with what looked like a cowboy standing atop it. I read the inscription, “To Our Confederate Dead.” I was utterly scandalized. Weren’t these men traitors? And racists besides? Why memorialize such criminals? I was probably in the sixth grade at the time. I understand now that this is what’s called “internalized abuse.” The abuse victim comes to feel he deserves it — that his tormentor is right.

I don’t mean to imply it was all bad or the blacks were entirely horrible. I had a lot of black friends. My very best friend in seventh grade was a black kid who lived near me. My least favorite teachers were black but so were my favorites.

My black history teacher, Miss Washington, was just out of college and angrier than most. She was certainly the lowest-IQ teacher I ever had. She could barely read or write and spoke mostly in incomprehensible grunts. Her spelling was probably at about a fourth grade level, and I once made the mistake of correcting her spelling while she was scrawling something on the chalkboard. “You don’t tell me nothing, white boy,” she shrieked. “This ain’t the eighteen hundreds no more!” (She pronounced it “eighdeen hunnits.”) I was terrified. She dragged me by the ear to the principal’s office where I got a whipping, my last public school whipping.

I got along with a lot of the black kids. I could sing and dance like a black man and made friends by crooning the soul songs popular at that time by Kool & the Gang, and Earth, Wind & Fire. So I learned to shuck and jive and I was good at it. I also learned a style of rapid-fire insults called “joke you down” that was popular. Once, in Miss Washington’s class, an extremely low-IQ, impossibly fat black girl named Jennifer said something to the class about me. I responded, “Shut up, Hungry-Hungry Hippo,” a reference to a popular kid’s game. The class roared with approval. Jennifer was wild with rage. “You stupid, white boy! You stupid, white boy! You stupid, white boy!” was her comeback. She pronounced it “thtupit,” which I proceeded to mock, getting an even bigger laugh.

When the bell rang, I was putting my books in my locker when suddenly Jennifer’s entire 400-pound bulk slammed me brutally against the locker. She pushed my head into the locker and smashed the door against my neck. And punched me again and again. I was helpless against this monster — her strength was unimaginable. A huge crowd gathered, howling with laughter as I took what was coming to me. When finally she released my head, I fell to the floor and Jennifer kicked me down the length of the hall. “You thtupit, white boy!”

Despite my Stockholm Syndrome and all the Roots propaganda, I recognized by the eighth grade that the violence was escalating. Being an adequate student, 13-years-old, you would be in a class with several 16- or 17-year-old guys repeating the eighth grade over and over. These guys were fully grown and already had well-established careers in crime, specializing in drug dealing and thievery or extortion. Getting mugged at school was a regular thing and for me, it broke the white guilt spell.

I remember thinking how I have zero involvement in all these anti-white grievances the blacks were so upset about. I thought about all the times I had suffered violence, intimidation, and theft at the hands of these people, and I asked myself how many times had I ever even inconvenienced a black person? Other than calling Jennifer a “Hunger Hungry Hippo,” the answer was none at all. I accepted my dad’s invitation to move back to the mountains and I never regretted it. There, at least until the Opioid Crisis, you could leave your door unlocked and your bicycle and lawnmower out front.

Today, black intellectuals and activists often call for black “safe spaces” in every aspect of life, and I tend to agree. The way blacks live and behave and how they structure their community is the way it is because that is what they like. They have the all-night shouting, the thievery, the violence, and the flashy cars and jewelry because they like it. It is comfortable for them. I didn’t like it because it’s not my natural environment. White people don’t live that way because it is not our culture. We like cohesive communities, law and order, politeness and civility, and value hard work and enterprise because that is what makes us feel comfortable.

I like the white way. Blacks like the black way. I prefer our way but I can’t say it’s better for them. If they liked the white way they would live the white way. So I believe we should answer black demands for segregation by giving it to them. Just don’t use the word “segregation,” and don’t even hint that we might like it. Act like they are really breaking our hearts by depriving us of their excellent company and I can about guarantee they’ll go for it. Like Br’er Rabbit, we have to plead with them to please don’t throw us into the brier patch of all-white ghettos.

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