OSCAR WILLIAMS: Racism can leave a lasting scar of anger

Special to The BeeJune 28, 2013 

here is no safe haven from racism. It can strike at any time or place when it is least expected. This was vividly demonstrated after the 11-year-old Mexican-American boy, Sebastian De La Cruz, sang the National Anthem at the third game of the NBA finals. The Internet and Twitter messages ran rampant with unspeakable racist statements concerning the boy's ethnicity. I was amazed at the response from the child when he was interviewed; it was a very mature philosophical observation of looking to the future and to not let things like this distract you.

He showed far more maturity than I possessed when I was 17. I was in the Army and was sent from Camp Roberts to an electrical class in Fort Belvoir, Va. Six of us arrived in Washington, D.C., on the way to Fort Belvoir. I happened to have one stripe on my sleeve so I was in charge of the other privates. I suggested we have lunch before getting a bus to camp. We went to the nearest restaurant, where we were told, "We don't serve colored here." Two of us were black and four of us were white. We got the same response in each restaurant we went into.

Each weekend while I was at Fort Belvoir, I went into Washington, D.C. There was a bus station just outside the camp. It was divided into two sections. One was a well-lit, clean section. It had a sign: "White only." The other dimly lit, unkempt section had this sign: "Colored only." Even though it was the middle of winter, my pride would not allow me to go inside.

In Washington, D.C., I was denied entrance to theaters. I argued with the managers that here I stand, in my uniform, ready to go kill Koreans to protect this country and my country won't let me into a theater. They said it was the law. I was not as mature as the young boy who sang the national anthem.

I left the South with nothing but a deep hatred toward the United States and its hypocrisy. Any patriotism I had was left where I found the racism. That was 1951.

In the late 1970s, my youngest son was on the Bullard High basketball team. The team was playing in Clovis when my son and a white boy on the Clovis team got into a minor pushing match. Someone on the Clovis side of the court yelled a racial epithet. The Clovis crowd got a big laugh out of that. About that same period of time, a black boy walking in a mall was stopped by a Clovis police officer. This made the newspaper because the parents of the boy demanded that the Clovis Police Department explain why their son was detained and questioned for walking through the mall. To this day, I have not heard a rational reason why this occurred.

The overall feeling I get for the motivation of this situation is very akin to the murder trial now going on in Florida. This case is about a black teenager who was stalked and shot to death because he was walking in a gated community.

In the early 1980s, my fiancée, who is Chinese, and I were looking for an apartment in Fresno. We saw an advertisement for an apartment around Bullard Avenue and Fresno Street. The white female manager said we were too late because it was just rented. Her husband, sitting on a couch in the office, let out a chuckle. The next morning, I sent a white female friend to rent the apartment. She was given the apartment. We filed a discrimination claim, and settled with the apartment owner for $2,000. However, no amount of money will ever remove the anger I feel toward the racist manager of the apartment.

I truly admire the way in which 11-year-old Sebastian De La Cruz dealt with racism directed at him. However, many people, including myself, are not as understanding and forgiving as he is. We suffer from what could be called a form of post traumatic stress, as a result of being subjected to racism and being constantly concerned that our loved ones may be targeted by racists.

A person can be on guard, but there is no safe haven from racism.


Oscar Williams of Fresno is a writer and a retired finance officer with the IRS.

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