There are three eras in my life which bear on my relationship to black people.
1.) My junior year of high school.
2.) My freshman and sophomore years at Yale College.
3.) Starting with my homelessness in 1981 and ending with my writing of the poem, "Black Girl's Husband I".
In the first era, I was keenly aware of my mother's position, which was that intermarriage was the only solution to race relations in the United States. Then one day at school I was approached by my friend Norm Swett who invited me to join him and others in picketing the A&P food store in Glen Ellyn, our home town, because it had reneged on a written agreement to hire more black workers. I was not in the habit of verifying incendiary claims such as this, so to this day I don't know if it was valid. In any case, I trusted Norm and joined the picket line.
Before I did so I felt that I should give my father a chance to veto my decision to do this, since I was as keenly aware of his counter position to my mother's as I was aware of my mother's. Besides that, he paid the bills.
So I went to my father's beauty shop and presented him with my decision to picket. He kept his temper and made clear to me two things, one of which he didn't live up to. One was that he didn't want me to do it. This he did live up to. The other was that it was up to me to do or not do as I saw fit. This he was not able to follow through on even though he didn't stop me from picketing. He came home from work the day I picketed and was in a furious rage. He had gotten a report from a customer that I had gone ahead and done it.
Well, what was I to think of his word? He came off to me as a real unreliable testifier to his will. Moreover, he and my mother got into a huge argument over it, she defending my action. I didn't follow the argument long and I'm not sure how long it went. In any case, I was upstairs in my bedroom at some point and he came up and got down on his knees in front of me (the ceilings were angled because the roof was angled so maybe this was due to his height not fitting in the part of the room where I was sitting) and said, crying, that he was leaving because my mother had said they didn't communicate. Then he did leave. The divorce followed several years later. Clearly his marital problem was deeper than his race problem, or he wouldn't have quit being angry at me for the picketing, which he apparently did. He stated to me numerous times later than the divorce wasn't my fault.
The second era is important because it was my first public verbalization of my own particular feelings about race. At a three day event at the beginning of freshman year, sponsored by a New Haven Christian group, I was exposed to New Haven's black community and leaders. At a meeting with Willie Counsel, president of the Hill Parents Association, I and my coattendees were asked to go around in our circle and express our feelings about what he had said about what was going on in the Hill, a poor black neighborhood in New Haven. When my turn came I was in tears thinking about what I had to say, which was that I was actually a racist despite my thinking I was very sympathetic towards black people, and that's what I said. After we all spoke Mr. Counsel gave his reaction to each of us and when he got to me he said he thought I had a potential for doing a lot of good in the black community.
The next year I learned about a Yale work-study program in which if I found a community group to work for Yale would pay my wages.
My first thought was Willie Counsel and the Hill Parents Association. But when I met with Mr. Counsel he didn't seem to recognize me and made no mention of meeting me and speaking of me when I had visited him with the church group the previous year. I certainly didn't think it admirable for me to bring up that event with him myself, as it would have been terribly selfish. So when he asked me what I thought I could do for his organization I got the sense he didn't see that there was very much. I mumbled a little about some flakey notion of service and it made no impression on him. He didn't want me to work for him.
I finally ended up being a totally uninspired and unproductive employee of the Hill Neighborhood Corporation for sophomore year. I had no contact with anyone of authority and had no actual supervisor. Nominally my assignment was to start up a neighborhood newspaper. I had no budget. What was I to do? I went around in the Hill acting like a reporter investigating stories. That's all I did. I'm embarrassed to have billed Yale for it.
The next year I went back to visit my employer and met the man they hired full-time to start a newspaper. He impressed on me the fact that he loved comic books. He didn't say anything having to do with a newspaper. I don't know what his budget was.
The third era began in New Haven when I was homeless. I went often to a soup kitchen in an Episcopal Church, Christ Church as I recall, and there were a lot of blacks. I felt there was unnecessary crowding in the line to the food and I decided to make a stand of leaving plenty of space between myself and the person in front of me. The guy behind me would always complain and threaten me. I kept my stand. Something needed to be done. I was feeling a lot of pressure from blacks and I didn't like it. Too many stories to tell in a blog.
The era ends in about 2001 when I wrote a poem entitled, "Black Girl's Husband, I." It was fiction, but represented a form of truth about what was possible. It was a semi-finalist in an on-line poetry contest. When I tried to display it on the website I owned at the time, the system shut down and prevented me from doing so.
At about the same time I gave $20 to the United Negro College Fund. They asked me online if I wanted to inform anyone and I indicated Dorothy Jackson, the assistant administrator at my nursing home. They asked me if I wanted anyone else to be notified and I said no. Dorothy didn't mention getting notification and I didn't ask her about it. Better it remain our secret.
Another event within the third era was when I told the Chicago police I wanted to join the Mafia. I said then that I wanted to bring harmony between blacks and whites.
In 2006 I was the Republican candidate for state representative in the fourteenth district of Illinois. I didn't mention race.
In 2008 Barack Obama emerged from Illinois politics to become the president of the United States.
These two events were not within the three eras. They were the fruits of them, when taken together.