“But the first person I meet is his mother, and racist written all over her.
“After 20 months in the States, man, it don’t take no time for me to dig it. And in a way I was sorry for that woman. You could see she was a little bit scared of me. But she hated me too. Not outwardly. But I could see her thinking: ‘He’s one of THOSE. Those black power ones we been reading about and see on the television. Why don’t they stay away from us? What’s Steve doing with him?’
I’d never say she was a bad woman. In Lacrosse she was probably a good woman. But racism in America is pervasive, and it’s institutional. It’s a way of life. From the time they are born, white people are taught about us. And it’s all bad.”
– Pg. 47, North Amerikkkan Blues, by Evan X Hyde, Benex Press, 1971.
While I was studying at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire between 1965 and 1968, I visited the small city of Lacrosse, Wisconsin, for a spring break. It was a 1500 mile automobile trip from New Hampshire to Wisconsin during the spring break of 1967. The winter weather was bad, dangerous. We negotiated a ride from Dartmouth as far as Chicago, if I remember correctly, I’m not sure. From there, or maybe somewhere in Michigan, we hitch hiked the rest of the way.
I was travelling with my then best friend, a big, football-playing white guy named Steve Cline, and we passed through Chicago and Detroit on the way back, where I visited the late Dr. Neil Garbutt, who was studying at Wayne State in Detroit at the time.
In Lacrosse, Cline’s hometown, which has a Roman Catholic university named Viterbo, where many Belizean students have studied since the 1960s, I stayed at his home, and I wrote about the experience in 1971 in Blues.
At the time I wrote Blues in 1971, I was very hostile to white Americans, and the white world in general. I was 23, 24, and had been tried in the Belize Supreme Court twice (on different charges) between July of 1970 and January of 1971. My marriage had crashed, and I had lost contact with two of my children. You could say I had a chip on my shoulder.
I was rough on Cline, and I wrote stuff in Blues which alienated, and I suppose actually enraged, the white guys with whom I had been “brothers” in the Zeta Psi fraternity. (I remember Zete guys like Jim Smith, Weems Westfeldt, George Moore, Roger Morin, and Richard Glogau as good friends.) But I remember telephoning Ellis Regenbogen in New York City in the early part of 1979, and he was really, really hostile to I.
Well, about 8 or 10 years ago, my “little brother” from Zete, Chris Yule, visited San Pedro Ambergris Caye for a holiday, and he called me. He was supposed to visit Belize City from the island, but my impression was that Cline had told him bad stuff about me. So be it.
Anyway, the main purpose of this column is to give you Belizeans a sense of Wisconsin, a relatively small Midwestern state where a white policeman shot a black man named Jacob Blake in the back seven times in front of his three sons a few days ago. The case has, understandably, caused outrage amongst Black Americans, and resulted in the NBA players’ going on strike on Wednesday evening in the middle of the current NBA playoffs.
Wisconsin is a “small Midwestern state” compared to southwestern giant states like Texas and California. The vast majority of Wisconsin people are people descended from German and Scandinavian immigrant roots. They have very little contact with African Americans, and they prefer to keep it that way. They are basically ignorant about us. The late Ronald Zinkle, S. J., the first Dean of the expanded St. John’s College Sixth Form in 1964, was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and he had problems relating to us black Belizean students during my time at the Sixth Form between 1964 and 1965.
There is talk in the American media that white vigilantes, including an armed teenager, are responsible for the deaths of two black Americans in the wake of the Jacob Blake protests in Kenosha, which is only forty miles from the Wisconsin state capital of Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team is involved in the current NBA playoffs. My sense is that the players on the Bucks initiated the strike.
Me, I can just imagine how former Zetes like John Kronenberg, an older brother from Wisconsin, and Steve Cline, are going to react to the strike by the Bucks and other NBA players, who are mostly Black. They are going to say that the players are ungrateful, because the NBA gave them an opportunity to make a lot of money, money they would not have been able to make anywhere else in the American economy.
White people like Kronenberg and Cline from Wisconsin have absolutely no idea what it’s like being Black in the former slave-owning republic of the United States. They live in a German/Scandinavian cocoon in Wisconsin, and now the recent shootings have just brought the problem in Wisconsin center stage in an America which is already under severe stress from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Donald Trump-Joe Biden presidential battle.
I think my most important point in this column is that there are cities, counties, and states in the United States which are completely different from places like New York City and Los Angeles, where most of the television shows Belizeans watch are created. This is another side of America, such as in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where there is the potential for the race war which Donald Trump sometimes appears to be inciting.
In Belize, we have been claiming for generations that we do not have any kind of race problem here. Well, there was the 1919 Ex-Servicemen’s insurrection, and then in 1972 there was the UBAD uprising. Today, in 2020, 90 percent of the inmates at the Belize central prison are Black. And Belize has become a nation-state where Caucasian foreigners with big money can get us desperate natives to do just about anything they want us to do, no matter how degrading.
So that now, it appears to me sometimes that it was under pressure from white American investors (not to mention our local and arrogant oligarchs) at the end of June that the Government of Belize “opened up” Belize, which had been doing an outstanding job of controlling the coronavirus pandemic, and the result of that opening up has been a kind of virus chaos in The Jewel. I’m just saying.