Voices Take Me Back Home
I remember hearing the voice yelling. I don’t remember what he said, probably something to do with toughening up and running the ball better or how he still played with a broken foot, something as equally macho, I’m sure. Of all the voices I hear in my head, that one is still the clearest. It’s the voice that reminds me most of the small Idaho town where I grew up, the voice of someone who never left the small town, who grew up there, graduated from high school, never left for college, or if he did, only for a few semesters. It’s the voice of someone who married a high school sweetheart and got divorced after finding her with someone they went to school with and the “I just wanted something different” argument. It’s the voice of innate racism and small-minded unknowing, the voice of someone who yelled, “Hurry up and run you damn prairie nigger; you’re gonna get tackled”, in the same tone of someone ordering a pizza in a busy shop. It’s the only voice I remember, but it defines the small town I am from and defines who I became.
The town I grew up in is a small conservative town, very Mormon, very white. It’s the kind of place where you need not lock your doors at night. Generations of people grew up and died there, families related, if not by blood, by religion and time. The story goes that the town got its name from the first letter of the last name of five families. When I lived there, at least three of the families still called that small town home and controlled the local politics from city to school to church.
My mother grew up in the area, spent winters there going to school. She never talked much about the racism she faced, but shared only one story about a ‘good’ kid calling her a squaw during lunch. My mom waited behind a door for the kid to come back into the school and jumped him. Literally, she jumped on his back and rode him to the ground, then hit him a few times and told him never to call her a squaw again. I guess it worked; years later, he asked me if I was her son, and when I said yes, he said, “Tell your mom I never called anyone a name again.”
Although the mist of time might be clouding my memory, I do remember during a football game, one of the opposing team members calling me a wetback nigger. I laughed; he didn’t know I was Native.
I remember the first time I got the ‘dating talk.’ The bus driver came up to me and asked if I would talk to her for a minute. I said of course, because she was the mother of the girl I had been seeing off and on for a few weeks. We were 4 years apart. I was a senior, and she was a freshman, so I sort of expected this talk. I thought she would say that since I was a senior and going off the next year, maybe we should not make a lot of plans. Maybe in a year or two things would look different. In my mind, I play that talk out again and that is what she says, sometimes.
But what she really said was, “I don’t think it is good for you to see our daughter anymore. I don’t think your life is going to end up where you could provide for her, and I don’t want to think about the life my grandchildren would have. My husband wanted to say something, but I thought you should hear it from me.”
So I broke up with my girlfriend, I told her it was because I didn’t want to see her anymore and that she should find someone else. She cried.
I never gave it much thought, but after leaving and finding out the world was a much bigger and more racially complex place than our small village set against the mountains, I realized I grew up in town plagued by both, overt and covert racism.
I’ve always considered myself an outsider. I’ve always said it was because I didn’t want to play the fucking popularity games; I liked everyone and would talk to whomever I wanted. But in reality, I didn’t fit in because I was dark-skinned and smart. I didn’t fit in because girls’ parents didn’t want their daughters dating someone who might fuck up their chance at the Celestial Kingdom. I didn’t fit in because, when I played football, I was that token prairie nigger who could run, because couldn’t all those fucking niggers run?
I go home, sometimes. It’s still home. I laugh with those who stayed. I laugh at those who stayed. I look at life today, without rose-colored glasses, because of where I came from, that small racist town in Idaho.