Let me share a story with you. When I was a kid, I lived on an Air Force base in Limestone, ME. People used to ask who my dad made mad enough to send us that far up, but so be it.
I used to bowl in Saturday morning leagues, and I wasn’t bad as a kid. One year, a group of us decided we wanted to go to this state tournament for kids our age; I have no idea where it was at this point, but I wish I could remember it. Anyway, we left with our chaperone on a Friday, headed to this particular town in northern Maine. I knew things were going to be somewhat different as soon as we went into the hotel.
The front desk person snapped to attention to take care of us, but she couldn’t take her eyes off me. Hey, I was a cute kid, but I wasn’t that cute. No one else noticed at the time, but it would come. A little bit after getting our bags into our rooms and chilling a bit, we decided we were going to walk to the Pizza Hut that we’d seen coming in. We didn’t have Pizza Hut near where we lived, so this was going to be a treat. As we were walking down the street, I happened to start looking at the cars as they were passing us by. Each car had people, drivers and passengers, staring our way. Okay, staring at me. Some mouths dropped, some cars even slowed down some. The kids who were with me didn’t notice, but I did.
When we walked into Pizza Hut, within seconds every single voice in the place stopped. That’s when my friends finally noticed something was going on, something they weren’t prepared for. The greeter literally ran over, big smile on his face, and escorted us to a table. Once we were seated, my friends finally noticed everyone looking at our table, and it took them a couple of minutes to realize that people were looking at me. Actually, they probably figured it out when people started coming to the table and asking if they could shake my hand. Yup, I was a regular celebrity.
My teammates were slightly unnerved, but I wasn’t; not yet anyway. I’m not sure why, but in a way I had been expecting something to happen. I was more prepared for negative things, though, nothing quite as positive as this experience was. We ended up getting our meal for free; hey, you take it when you can get it.
The next day at the bowling alley was quite an experience, and now I was unnerved. Word had gotten out around town (almost like when I first moved to the town where I live now), and people were crowded into the bowling alley when we arrived, mainly looking to see me. It was a relatively large bowling alley, but for most of the day everyone was standing behind me and my team. I didn’t bowl particularly well, with all the pressure; heck, I was only 13 years old after all. But I shook so many hands, and, if those had been days when people had digital cameras, I’m sure there would have been a slew of pictures. Here’s the thing, though. I basically had to change a part of my personality when I was there. Usually when I bowled bad, I just got meaner and dug in deep; I was an emotional kind of kid, because I always wanted to win. But I recognized I was a first contact, if you will, and any other black person who happened into town after me would be judged on what I did on that day. And I guess I chose to act properly, because we left that town with people having a good feeling about me; I didn’t encounter a single mean person during that entire weekend stay.
Why am I telling that story? Because the hardest thing for many people to understand is what it’s like being “the only”, or one of only a few, in a place, and I’m that most of the time. It’s not a bad life, because sometimes you stand out in the crowd (literally), but other times, people walk by as if they didn’t see you. Of course they saw you; heck, I’m hard to miss. But they try hard not to notice you, and you can feel it in your bones at those times. I felt it in the town I now live in, and have lived in for 33 years, when I first moved here; I thought my parents were crazy, but now I never want to leave here.
However, I’m really telling this story so I have a reason to share this video with you. A intrepid reporter from NYC decided to go to Wasilla, Alaska, home town of one Sarah Palin, population around 9,700, to see if he could find any of the 32 black people that were listed as living there; imagine a number like that. Here’s what he found: