Growing up in a primarily black country, sheltered me, for the most part,
from racism. The Jamaican national motto, "Out of many, one people" based on our multicultural roots of Whites, Chinese, Indians, Syrians, and Blacks had clouded my perception of racism. Don't misunderstand me. Jamaica had its problems, but these challenges
were more firmly rooted in class conflicts than race. My friends and I heard of Martin Luter King, but since we did not have television, we did not know too much about the plight of black Americans. I remember wondering why most of the black singers
at the time, like Nat King Cole, had processed their hair. Men treating their hair was not common in Jamaica. The stories I remembered were mostly word of mouth anecdotes from people who had come to America and had returned home. My cousin, Kenneth,
who worked as a farm worker would tell me about the living conditions of migrant farmers in the south and how Jamaican farm workers would deliberately cut off parts of their limbs so that they would get some money and return to Jamaica. However, the messages
that stuck with me most was the warning of a Trinidadian dancer who lived in my neighborhood. He was a wise older man who would describe the poor working conditions and disrespect he had faced when he danced in New York City. He said that the only time
he felt accepted in America was when he worked in the Steam Baths in lower Manhatten because these baths were often a gathering place for gay men and my dancer mentor told me that these baths were the only places where black men had some degree of equality.
My first brush with racism came when my best friend, Ronnie, and I was walking home from a movie in the Parkchester area of
the Bronx. Parkchester was primarily a white community in the sixties with a few Black and Hispanic families like my own who had recently moved in. As we walked towards my home, a car of young white boys drove up and screamed at us. "Niggers!!!
What are you doing around here?" This question was a rhetorical question because they did not wait for an answer. They came at us full speed with their car. We turned and ran as fast as we could dodging and changing direction often so that the vehicle could
not catch us. We ran until we reached the safety of my mother's home with wide eyes and racing hearts.
The racism I experienced was not limited to young white boys. I remember walking in the Bronx late one evening, and an old Hispanic man saw me coming and jumped to the conclusion that I was going to rob him. So, he
pulled out a big knife as I came closer and swung it wildly at me. I stepped aside out of his reach and kept walking. The stereotyping continued on the subways. As I was changing trains at a subway station in Manhattan, a white man decided that I was a thief.
"You thieving son of a bitch," he yelled and came running at me with hate in his eyes. I ran and with him following close behind. We ran around and around the subway station until he was tired. He walked away cursing as he went, and I jumped on the first train
that arrived at the station. The avalanche of racism continued as I walked the streets in Manhattan. As I walked past the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue, a limousine driver called me over. "Clean my car," he suggested. I declined, and he began to berate
me and my race. "This is why your people will never get anywhere in the world. I will keep my twenty-five cents." I quietly took my leave and wondered what did I need to do to get some respect in America.
The police reflected the values of the society. They were just as racist as the people they served. I heard stories of police brutality but had not experienced it myself until one night in
the Bronx; I took a cab from Gun Hill road to my home on Rosedale Avenue. My cab ride started typically but around halfway through the trip, flashing lights appeared as the police pulled us over. The cab driver was confused and told me that because I
gave him wrong directions, he was now going to get a ticket. I apologized profusely and mentioned that I was new to the Bronx, and I did not know my way around. However, instead of a violation, one policeman had drawn his gun and pointed it at
me from the front of the car. I was shocked. What was I doing that caused the policeman to stop the cab and pull his gun at me? I soon found out as the policeman shouted to the cab driver, "Is he holding you up?" "What?" I could not believe my
ears. "Holding him up!!!!" "Is he crazy?" I started to shout back at him, "I am not holding anyone up. I am just trying to get home."
Meanwhile, a second policeman walked to my window with his hands folded behind him. He
was calmer than the other, and I thought that he would surely understand that I was not holding up the cab driver. I turned to him as a voice of reason and said, please tell your partner that I am just trying to get home. He turned, and I could
see his gun pointed at my head. He said nothing, turned again, and walked away. They gave us no explanation and no apology. They just drove away. They were the police, and they would have killed me if I had made the wrong move and would not have known why.
I imagined at the many young black men received much worse than I experienced that night because at the time cries to end police brutality was rampant.
Over the next few years, I encountered many other ouvert experiences of racism like taxi cabs passing me on the street even though they can see that I was soliciting them; people moving away from me on the subway and people dropping
bags of garbage off their high rise apartment buildings as I walked below. However, one of the most stinging experiences of racism I encountered in New York in the '60s was from a doctor. I had an ear infection, and my mother, who cleaned a doctor's office
on Park Avenue asked her boss if she could bring me in to get his expert opinion on my symptoms. The doctor agreed, and I went to see him at his Park Avenue office. He gave me a thorough examination and determined that I needed to see a specialist. So,
he referred to a doctor at Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic on Third Avenue very close to his office. I set up an appointment, and my mother and I went to the Clinic. After signing in and waited in Waiting Room for about an hour, a nurse came up to
us and asked us if we were there to see a doctor in her office.
My mother answered in the affirmative, and the nurse turned and disappeared upstairs. Another half an hour went by, and finally, I heard my name called and I could go upstairs to see the
specialist. My mother and I took the elevator to the third floor. As we got off the elevator, we could not miss a doctor standing in front of the elevator. He immediately confronts us, "how did you get my name?" My mother nervously responded,
" my son is very sick, and my boss, a doctor on Park Avenue referred me you so that you can help my son." As I watched the scene, I thought to myself that my mother would do almost anything to help me. The doctor snared and turned to me, as I stood
in the hallway in front of the elevator, and said, " Show me your ear!" I turned my ear to him, and he glanced in it for a few seconds and concluded that I was fine and did not need to see him. As I stood there on the third floor of that figured Clinic,
I thought that this man would do anything to keep us out of his office. We turned and left the Clinic as sick as I was before I entered.
Sometimes the racism was not directed at me, but I could hear and feel it anyway. In 1969 when the New York Jets won the Super Bowl, I was riding in an elevator with two men, and I overheard a
conversation between the men. The men were the owner of a night club on the roof of a hotel across the street from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Lexington Ave in New York City. The men were planning a party to celebrate the Jets who had just won
the Super Bowl. They wanted one of the stars of the Jets Super Bowl victory to attend. Joe Namath was the star quarterback, and he was the one they wanted, but he was in so much demand, that they decided that they would not be able to get him. So, they were
settling in this conversation which Jet to invite if they could not get Joe Namath.
"Who was the next star of the game after Joe Namath?" asked the first man. "Matt Snell," answered the second man. "He scored the only TouchDown." "Is he
a Negro?" "Yes," replied the second man. "Let's not have him. Who was the next star?" "Emersion Bozzer" replied the second man. "Is he a Negro too?" "Yes," answered the second man. "Let's not have him. Which white player
was a star in the game?" They continued to search for a white star of the Super Bowl until the elevator reached their floor. At that point, they noticed me. They realized that I had overheard their entire conversation, and I was black. So,
they turned to me and said, "why should we have Negros at our party when they were a small minority in our society." With that comment and before I could answer, they got off the elevator and disappeared into the night.