The Day White People Turned Into People of Color


root - Posted on 24 June 2009

by RWS

Uncle Anthony always said funny things. When he coughed he coughed up words, names, dates and visions, some of which were wrong but somehow always right. Uncle Ant is my father's younger brother. Dad named me after him. Uncle Anthony is fearless, never afraid to say what's on his mind aloud for anybody to hear. I wish I were fearless.

Uncle Ant, tell me that story

He had a thousand stories, some untold. He had a way of getting names wrong but in his unintentional wrongness made the names better, gave the mundane some spice, the murderer a shard of laughter. He once related to me a story about a man responsible for the deaths of millions of people in Southeast Asia. He was the top dog in the country's ruling party. What's his name? I asked my uncle.

"Pot Pie"

"Pot who?"

"Pot Pie. That cat slaughtered millions of folks, a real son of a bitch. They even did a movie about him. I think was called "A killing in the cane fields" or something like that".

I sit as my uncle described the torture, the suffering. His eyes dampened in the dark glow of his living room. He shook his head and poured a drink. I sat near his conga drum near the wall. He'd just gotten it out of the pawnshop. It ached for my uncle's touch. My uncle poured brandy into a glass, making the ice crackle and melt. As he spoke my internal voice started a monologue:

No Uncle Ant, the man's name wasn't Pot Pie, it was Pol Pot. And the movie was called, "The Killing Fields", there wasn't any reference to sugar cane in the title. You always get the names wrong--always. Oh no? Remember Saddam Hussein, when he got captured? You phoned me in the middle of the night, your voice wrought with urgency, as if a relative had just committed suicide. You said, "Man, they just caught Sadat! Found him in a rat hole under the ground. The Americans got his ass now". I thought to myself, there you go again, butchering the names; it's not Sadat, it's Saddam. Sadat was the president of Egypt who was assassinated, shot dead through 14 layers of security. He's been dead almost 30 years, remember?

Uncle Ant sits next to me. He still looks young, like he did in the 70's. The dim light falls upon his skin, the color of sweet coffee. His eyes are small and see the smallest things. He never ran from a fight, or a mirror. I look around the room. Pictures of black and brown people blanket the walls. Everywhere you look there is a face in a picture. There is a picture of Jesus on the wall. He's black too.

"Come on Uncle Ant tell me that story again"

He puts down his glass.
"Ok, this is what happened. I was about 25 or 26. It was 1968 or 69. Anyway, I was in my prime, solid. I had 16-inch arms, narrow waist. I was in shape, weighed 135. I could move too. When I was a kid I used to knock dudes out twice my size. Bing! I'd lay 'em out with either hand, lay 'em flat out. One time I got into a hassle with this motorcycle dude, some kind of Hells Angel. He cuts ahead of me in the line at the liquor store. I was polite. I said, excuse me but I was here before you. The guy just smiled and put his beer on the counter."

"What did you do?"

"I lit him up. It was a beautiful right hand to the jaw. He flew across the counter. That was the way I was back then. I grew up with black and brown warriors--blacks and Filipinos back in the 50's and 60's. Anyway, after I knocked that guy out I went out to the park by the lake. I was never into drugs, you know, not heavily anyway. My friend Dave gave me some LSD, some acid you know. He told me it would give me wisdom if I took it, that it would open up my mind, some kind of bullshit like that. So, I dropped that acid, put it on my tongue. I'm sitting there looking out at the lake and all of is peaceful when things start breathing."

"Breathing?"

"Yeah man, the leaves were breathing. I could see the cells of the leaves and the liquid pulsating like blood. I said, damn what's this all about? I looked at the ground and it was covered in diamonds and gold. It was beautiful like some kind of palace. I was just looking at it all, going with it. Didn't feel like knocking anybody out either. I just felt love, you know, the way you're supposed to feel. The air was nice and cool like I could drink it. I got up and started walking."

"What happened then?"

"I felt like a king walking on golden streets heading home. I walked for a few minutes when I saw a black man and an Asian lady. They looked normal, the way a black man and an Asian lady should look. Then I saw a white man and I almost shit my pants."

"What did the white man look like?"

"He looked like a clown! He had a face that was red, white, yellow, blue. He had a rainbow colored wig on his head. I started laughing. I kept walking and I kept seeing more white people. They all looked like clowns out of the circus, their heads looked like balloons, one of the heads even popped! I'd stop and look at them and laugh. They looked at me like I was crazy. I even saw a cop. His face looked like one of those droopy clowns of the 1950's. I looked at him and I couldn't stop laughing. The cop looked at me hard. It's not a crime to laugh. He wanted to beat me, I could tell. I've survived that in the streets, you know. I keep walking and stop by the liquor store. There's this white dude who works at the register, a chickenshit kind of racist, always looking at me funny but he gives me credit so he ain't all bad. That dude looked like a clown too! I never laughed so hard in my life. The man just looked at me and asked me if I was high on drugs. I was high on life but I didn't bother telling him that."

"What happened after that?"

"I went home. I got to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I wasn't no clown, that's for damn sure. That was a long time ago, I can't believe how long it's been, thirty years? Clowns come in all colors. I've been around them all my life, the bosses especially. All clowns. I never touched LSD since. You don't need no LSD to see clowns all over. That was the last time I ever saw gold in the street."

Uncle Anthony and I sit in silence for a while looking at all the black and brown people on the wall. Finally he breaks his silence.

You know, I found God--I mean, he found me. He talks to me. It was never really about color, man. When you die do you think God's going to ask you what color you were down here on earth?

Uncle Anthony looks at the pictures on the wall then at me. The ice in my glass has melted. My uncle gets up and grabs his conga drum. He takes a sip of brandy. He tells another story. With his hands this time. And again I listen.

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