Civil Rights

They don’t like Cheerios: Race in America

By Ronald K. McKinley

I was born, and raised in American Apartheid, in New Orleans. I was born in 1950.

I still remember the “White only” signs. We were colored then; we became Negroes, finally morphing into black. I sewed my “Black Is Beautiful” patch on all my bell bottom jeans. I graduated from high school in 1968; MLK and RFK were assassinated that year. The year after interracial marriage became fully legal the year after “The Summer of Love” in San Francisco.

To be Black now, in America, has changed, is changing, where at we now? What am I supposed to do with this anger, this sense of dread, trepidation? I can moderate myself, what of other people? Why are some people fearful of dark skin? This is all people with dark skin. All people with dark skin are not just from Africa.

Because I live in Venice, I sometimes forget the color thing, or maybe because I don’t live in “Oakwood” which is to say “The Hood.” I have lived almost half of my life in Venice, just a couple of months in “The Hood”. Venice looks a little different from that vantage point. The police have a different mindset. I walked through “The Hood” once with a white friend, and was stopped, and asked what I was doing. I was confused, confused by the stop, and confused by the question. I said, “I’m walking,” which was apparent. The officer was not pleased with my answer. He asked if had ever been arrested, I’m a black man living in Venice, I’ve been arrested. The first time I was arrested, was because I had not been arrested. At the time I had been in Venice about 6 months. I was sleeping on the jetty. I was homeless. The officer found a credit card near where I was sleeping. I was arrested, first time in my life. I was thirty-six. The officer explained to me the dynamics of black and white men walking through “The Hood” together. I told him I was not buying drugs. He said, “I don’t want to see either one of you again.” I said, “If you hadn’t stopped us we would be gone by now.” He just drove away.

This is a rite of passage for most black men. Where are you going, what are you up to? My every move, mood has to be calculated. I am not free to be angry; I become a threat. If I am happy I am up to something. A look invites confrontation.

If I was Trayvon Martin, I would have been killed the year; Muhammad Ali refused induction into the army, Thurgood Marshall became 1st black Super Court Justice, Major Robert Lawrence Jr was named the 1st black astronaut. I would have died not knowing that an all-white, federal jury convicted seven in the murder of three civil rights workers in Meridian, Mississippi. I would not heard “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, or “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles, or “Sitting on the dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, my favorite.

I recently watched a Cheerios commercial. I did not at the time know that it was controversial. In the commercial, a darling of a little girl is talking to her mother. The mother is white. The little girl is bi-racial; being a person of color I can tell. I thought nothing of it. The little girl asks her mother if Cheerios are good for your heart. The mother replies yes. Cut to the next scene, there is a black man reclining on a couch with Cheerios on his chest. As he sits up, hundreds of Cheerios fall to the floor, end of commercial. Some people have a problem with this, an interracial couple and their child.

Trayvon is a wake-up call. All Americans should “stand their ground”. No more Zimmermans. No more dead Trayvons. You can’t keep killing our children.