Here’s a question for readers of the Anderson Valley Advertiser. Why is a white boy like me, who was raised in segregated Virginia, celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr? One answer to that question is that I’m celebrating because I am a white boy who was raised in the segregated South. When I was growing up in Virginia, I saw ugliness in the form of the racism that was expressed by uneducated rednecks and also by some educated folks. I was an army brat and got to see a lot of people of color. A Black kid named Benjamin Franklin lived with my family and I grew up with him. At 6’ 6,’’ with an 8-inch Afro, he towered above me and my siblings. Benjamin was a star on the baseball team, which my father coached. I was the lowly bat boy.
When I was fifteen, I went to a Job Corp school in Pennsylvania. There were 1200 Black kids, 600 Mexican kids, 100 Asian kids and 16 white kids. I was kicked out for fighting with a total asshole white kid. But I learned that you judge a person by their behavior, not their skin color. Later, I left the South and moved to California because I thought California would be free of racism. I found the same old shit out here. Indeed, I found unjust laws, especially as they related to marijuana, and I saw young Black kids arrested and jailed for simple possession when white kids only got a slap on the wrist.
When I was a pot farmer I had different kinds of people working for me. I was an equal opportunity grower. If you sucked I cut you loose. If you were honest and worked hard you were part of the team and were paid well. It was a kind of model of the way things should be.
My longtime friend, Dave Goldman, who is Jewish and gay, explained that when he smoked a joint he was practicing civil disobedience. I began to read and to study about civil disobedience. I learned about Henry David Thoreau, the New England guy who wrote the essay “Civil Disobedience,” and who went to jail rather than pay taxes which supported the U.S. war against Mexico. Then I read about Gandhi, who led the nonviolent resistance movement for Indian independence against the British Empire. From Gandhi, I moved on to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He’s my favorite. King wanted to make people equal and to be treated with respect. Of course they killed him. They killed Kennedy, too. If King were alive today, I think he’d want to level the playing field so everyone, no matter what their race, gender, social class or ethnicity, would be treated fairly.
My teenage daughter, Millie, brought up a good point the other day. “When slavery was legal in the U.S. propel formed groups to end it,” she said. “Now, there are groups that aim to make things equal for everyone.”
So we are slowly progressing, because of people like Thoreau, Gandhi and King. Two of the people in Millie’s core group are Black, one of them is Vietnamese and another one is Mexican. Millie looks white, but she’s actually half-Japanese. When she and her friends hang out they talk about racism, gender equality and other pressing issues. They protested in the streets after George Floyd’s murder. Millie and her friends go to Tech High. They tell me that there’s racism in the school and that some kids use the “n” word. That’s shameful. I asked my 12-year-old-son, Milo, Millie’s younger brother, what he thought about King. He said, without hesitation, “He’s was an awesome dude and helped thousands and thousands of people fight racism, which really sucks, Dad.” Milo is on the right track.
Sometimes I feel a bit uncomfortable as a white boy talking about racism. I expressed my feelings to Jordan Williams, who is Black and who I met at Dave Terrell's Jiu Jitsu school. We hit it off immediately, though he laughed at first when I mentioned my feeling uncomfortable. He said, “It’s all good, Joe. It doesn’t matter what your skin color is.”
Jordan likes the fact that my wife and I are raising our kids to treat others with respect. I think this is the basis we can build on to create the kind of loving society that King wanted for the whole world.
(Joe Munson and Jonah Raskin are the authors of Joe Munson's Adventures and Misadventures.)