|As a white boy who went to 18 schools all over the country before graduating high school and lived in just about that many places, no one was the same and there was no distinctive identity of any particular clan, accent or group of people. Being an only child pretty much put everything in one’s own hands as to meeting and getting to know other people. Over time that lack of distinction applied to race, ethnicity and citizenship. My career evolved into Southeast Asia and has had an international orientation since then apart from an Exxon tour in Houston.
Over time, you fail to recognize that some people see distinctions and can approach others unlike them with a strong bias. One summer I worked as a member of the kitchen staff at a scout camp in northern New Mexico. The majority of the staff were from the basketball team of Tuskegee University in Macon County, Alabama, a predominantly black university at that time. I worked with those guys at least 12 hours a day. As we prepared and served three hundred plates, three meals per day, I learned some simple tricks about feeding crowds. We shared stories, made moonshine and got along well.
One weekend they asked me to join them for a road trip to the horse races at Raton, New Mexico. One of them had hooked up with a stunningly beautiful black woman, so off we went. When we walked into the La Mesa Park race stands, a hush fell over the packed crowd as they saw six very tall black guys, a black magic woman and one washed out white boy coming in as a group. There would have been trouble had the guys not been so large. I was too young then to feel comfortable about carrying a gun. The racetrack has since closed but an image from that era is shown below. Apart from the Hispanic contingent, the stands were completely filled with people as white as the stands were painted.
Once in the serving line at breakfast, one of the cowboy wrangler studs complained about the quantity of eggs I served him. I said something that he believed did not recognize his status on the ranch. He began to walk around the serving line to get at me, when the shortest of the basketball team with biceps resembling basketballs, drew a massive knife over a sharpening steel and said “White boy, you have to get past me before you get to him.” We had become a family over that summer.
Years later I worked for Exxon for a period of time in Texas. By some miracle, I had advanced rapidly and went on a business trip with the exploration and production senior executives who were pretty much bigoted folks from the south. On the private plane to New Orleans, one of them said, “Boy, make me a gin tonic.” There was no ‘please’ and after having spent seven years in the Far East in some show stopping situations in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, I did not consider myself a boy. Nonetheless, I made a drink of mostly gin with a splash of tonic. He spit it out, complained and I said I thought he was a tough guy. It was not the best way to begin a happy melding into the organization.
It got better as we ate at a boring, but nonetheless, famous restaurant in the French Quarter. After a mediocre meal, they all wanted to go to a strip club and I declined. I had another location in mind-Storyville. We were staying at The Fairmont Hotel, a well-known but equally boring hotel located at the red indicator shown below and a short walk from my preferred destination which is also shown. Storyville is an area known for cool bars and a reputation, where one could escape the reality of the world, which I desperately needed. Incidentally, we have added the name “Storyville” to our B&B in Comfort, Texas and our Event Center in Center Point, Texas which obviously ties our name into the concept of an escape from the harsh realities of today.
Therefore, I wandered over to Lucky Pierre’s where I met a wonderful black college girl and we decided to go over to the rooftop bar at The Fairmont for a better view of the French Quarter. My timing was a bit off relative to my Exxon travel companions who decided to turn in early. We were alone in the elevator going up to the rooftop when my Exxon team joined us. Not a word was spoken though they were taken aback. If you are curious about The Fairmont, the elevator bank lobby is shown below, stuffy and very much ‘old school’ southern.
Several days later, we flew to Los Angeles where I was obliged to watch the Super Bowl on a massive screen in the Century City hotel with the Exxon guys. After, they wanted to go to a strip club and, once again, I declined. A friend had invited me to dinner. I walked outside the Century City hotel and there they were lined up to catch the shuttle bus to the strip club. Before the Exxon executive team could say a word, a young lady swooped by driving a convertible sports car, I hopped in and waved goodbye to them. Needless to say, they treated the young kid with due respect following that trip. In fact, the Exxon vice president for whom we all worked later said, “When you came in here as my financial officer, I looked upon you with a jaundiced eye, but you are okay!” Sometimes, you “gotta” do what is necessary to make your bones in some organizations.
However, even in those days, I was amazed at the bigotry of high-level executives in Exxon USA. I recognized they had spent most of their careers in either the deep south or Houston which may have limited their perspectives on the world. In our organization at the time, few people were willing to take a promotion to our office in Los Angeles as if it were the end of the world. Perhaps, I was fortunate to have done my internship with what was then Standard Oil of New Jersey in New York City before going to the Far East. Flexibility is also helpful as I left New York as a peace activist and jumped into the deep end of the war pool in Southeast Asia. Being good with a gun, able to cook well over an open fire and having a capability for foreign languages made that experience work.
On the other hand, my parents and their siblings were not infected with racial prejudice so our family environment could have had a stronger impact. That may seem strange as they grew up in the south. They were all religious and, in fact, one uncle was a lay minister, successful businessman and member of the Georgia State Legislature. Perhaps it is possible to blend religion, politics and equal rights in some circles.
To fast forward to today, it is incomprehensible that we are walking into a presidential election that has racial overtones. Where has everyone been since the Civil Rights Act of 1964? When President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law, he recognized that he would lose the Democratic Party to the Republicans for a long time. However, it is time to move beyond all of that and fast forward to modern times. My old Exxon corn-pone hillbillies have retired and Jim Crow segregation laws are long gone. Lyndon, shown below signing the act into law, stepped out of his roots and did the right thing for this country.
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