Wednesday, November 19, 2014

You Don't Like Me Cause I'm White? Really?

I had planned for my next post about my life in the Air Force to be about my first "job," which was during basic training, but it occurred to me this morning that I needed to address one other vital ingredient to this saga, beforehand...

Yup, that's me just before entering the USAF
When I left home on July 14th, 1981, to enter the military, I left a very small rural area called Embreeville, Pennsylvania. I had been bused to the same school district miles away my entire young life. I believe in our high school graduating class we had two black kids that I can recall, one of which I had been friends with since preschool (which was a brief introductory class that students back then attended before first grade.) 

I had been raised in a Christian home and until my father married my stepmother when I was twelve, racial hatred had been an unknown. Until then it had never occurred to me to think of people as white or black or brown or olive or anything else, kids were kids and grownups were grownups and that was as far as it went in my young mind. So, as I arrived in Philadelphia that fateful, humid July day, I walked wham-bam into the biggest eye opener of my entire young life.

The first people around my age that I met were two girls from Philly. The first one, I don't remember her name, after all that was thirty-three years ago, and the other I will never forget as long as I live, funny how that works. I'll refer to her as Airman C., I don't remember her first name, but from the moment we met she took an install dislike to me and I had no idea why, not until two days later...

Shortly after first introductions and a quick walk to breakfast at McDonald's, which for me was a major treat (I did say I was from a very small town, right?), when we got back to the Military Enlistment Processing Station (or MEPS for short) we were joined by two more women, both black, and I was immediately excluded, shunned. 

Now, being excluded wasn't new for me, I had always been the wall flower at school. The quiet loner who stood on the outside looking in, but dammit this was a new start for me and I knew I hadn't done anything to deserve this ostracism, so I really didn't get it... So the next day, which really felt more like a lifetime, as we all sat around our new "home" for the next six weeks in our brand-spanking new, olive-drab uniforms and with our new "mother" so to speak, we received our dorm assignments, a.k.a. "jobs." 

No, I didn't get a cool one like "House Mouse," my bunk mate and new best friend, Meggie Byers,
These aren't actually "my" stairs but as close a pic as I could find.
got that one. No, my job, the one I shared with another girl, was Stairwell Monitor. Oh, just a hint, the military likes to give cool-sounding names to their otherwise mundane, menial assignments, my job was to keep the stairwell that led up to our dorm clean. Definitely not an easy job when you share a dorm with twenty-some other "women," who apparently like to use the stairs A LOT.

Oh, and guess who my partner in that illustrious task was, one of those four girls from Philly, Airman S., and as we started our new "job," together, I found out why the four of them didn't like me. You know that was the first time I was ever called, "whitey," and my new "partner" also made it very clear that cleaning the stairwell was not only beneath her, but that I was on my own. Which was actually fine with me, I'd been cleaning the cement stairs at home for years. 

So as the days progressed I quickly earned a reputation for having "spotless stairs." As for my absentee partner, at first Airman C. blamed me for her friend's unhappiness at having to work with me. But days later when it became clear that I was the only one cleaning the stairs and Airman S. soon found herself on the way home, Airman C. actually stopped sending venomous looks my way. No, we never became friends, but I believe I had earned her respect and that was good enough for me.


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