Author inadvertantly admits blacks need white society to teach civility.
by Eric Deggans
Whenever I hear a new tussle over voluntary resegregation of public schools, I think of Tony. That's not his real name. But the guy I'm calling Tony for the purposes of this essay was a black youth, straight from one of the worst neighborhoods in Indianapolis, who wound up living on my dormitory floor during my freshman year at Indiana University 24 years ago.
Back then, nearly all of us floormates hung together as a group, eating dinner together, hitting campus parties during weekends and cutting classes to watch our soap operas during the day (yes, I'm man enough to admit a long-ago fondness for Luke and Laura).
But not Tony. He and I got along fine, and we both spent time easily with the only other brother who lived on that floor - three chocolate chips in a doughy cookie of more than 20 guys.
But Tony, energetic and muscular, chiseled like a sculpture chipped from an iron bar, had trouble fitting in with the other white guys on the floor. Often, when social subtleties failed him, he'd resort to anger and intimidation to get the respect to which he felt entitled, which only made him a deeper outcast.
I didn't fully understand it then, but I instinctively suspected his biggest problem: He had never lived among white people before.
This was something I'd seen growing up in Gary, Ind., where the population was probably 90 percent black. It's hard to grasp the intricacies of white culture when your only contact with white people is what you see on TV and when they wait on you at a department store or restaurant.
Because I was sent to mostly white private schools starting in the fifth grade, I learned early how to cope. How to deal with being a minority of one or two. How to parry prejudices of others without drowning in frustration.
It took me months to realize white folks would agree to do things they absolutely detested just to be polite.
But when I reached college I saw black youths struggling to make the same transition at a much older age. Already facing the same challenges any freshman must confront, they had the added strain of learning the nuances of their new status as strangers in a social scene about which they knew very little.