L.A. Riots, Black History Month, and Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize



My first experience with racism, humorously, did not involve white people. It was actually at a barbecue thrown by a friend of my moms when I was about 7.

I remember the drive there because my mother wouldn’t stop telling me about the immense number of children that lived on the block. I didn’t (and still don’t) have any older siblings so I valued all opportunities to play with other kids back in the days. We arrived and sure enough, there was a yard full of young strangers, as far as my little I could see. I followed my mother into the house next door to the yard full of kids, and sat quietly. Patiently. Waiting to be dismissed to go play. Eventually, after I walked around and hugged all these big bosom-ed women that I did not know, she gave me the go-ahead and it was off to the races!

Kids make friends pretty easily at such a young age. If they stand or sit in close proximity of one another long enough, the laws of kinetic energy demand they begin interacting. So, like any other kid would’ve done, I walked into the yard, and just sorta milled around. After a few minutes, a kid approached me. He asked me what my name was and I obliged. His rebuttal left me rebuffed.

We don’t play with White people over here.

White people? Surely he was confused. Or blind? Where was this White person he was referring to?

Before I could even attempt to plead my case and or explain to them that I’m Black too, the boy whirled around and trotted off in the opposite direction. Towards all the other kids. Surely his assessment of my perceived ethnicity was a group consensus. I figured they weren’t going to be my friends much after that. Nonetheless, stood around kicking rocks for a while, long enough to make a friend. Which I didn’t. Because they thought I was a white person. Oh, sweet irony. Conversely, this will not be the last time this type of ass backwards things happens to me.

Perhaps my father forecasted these types of events when the doctor handed him a bright, yellow bundle of joy. (My brother was even lighter.) As a result, he overcharged us with black love and self worth. Two commodities that seem to be missing from today’s social stock market. I didn’t have to deal with a situation like this until some years later in 1992, during the LA riots.

The day the riots began I was at home sleeping. Someone called me and asked me was I watching the news. Know. They said turn it on, I did, and what I saw eventually became the historic images of Reginald Denny being assaulted with bricks and bottles. A little later, as the riots began to pick up steam, many of my juvenile delinquent homeboys were calling me, assessing the situation in the city, rounding the posse up to the loot. I told my dad I wanted to go out with some of my friends and see the city and his response was somewhat comical in hindsight.

No way. I don’t need anybody trying to kill you because they think that you ain’t Black.

See, he knew what I was up to. However, he didn’t stop me from going out to act like a fool with my foolish friends. He stopped me because stupidity and ignorance were rampant in the street and there was a chance that some savage could possibly attempt to exact imaginary revenge on a very real me. When he first told me in couldn’t leave, I laughed nervously because I thought he was joking. However, he was totally fucking serious. I did not leave my house for 4 days.

Down the road, I understood my dad’s stance. It stemmed from him growing up during the Civil Rights era. He was “there” when Dr. King was murdered. He walked the streets during the first L.A. riots. He shook hands with the hatred, anger, and directionless violence that pops off in those extreme scenarios. So, even deeper than that, as far back as I can remember, every Black History Month as a kid, I watched the Eyes on the Prize series on PBS.

The first couple of years I responded to it as some sort of punishment. I was well aware of the educational value and even within my immature mind, I knew what my father was doing. But it wasn’t what I’d choose to watch after school. During my personal time. School was my job and my shift ended when I was dismissed from class. But whatever. He was educating me. Or at least making a valiant effort to do so. Then, one year, it kind of all clicked. I began to see and hear certain truths that didn’t correspond nor coincide with any of the shit they were[n’t] teaching us in school.

For example, according to the public education system, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the only black leader that ever existed. And the slave trade was merely the exchange of workers from one part of the world to another. Well, sometimes they speak on Marcus Garvey and Crispus Attucks, but only for negative connotation.


Eyes on the Prize is where I learned about Medgar Evers and Emmit Till. It was Eyes on the Prize that told me about the true personality of the Black Panther Party. Eyes on the Prize is the reason that I know who Eldridge Cleaver, who grew to be my idol as a youth, and Stokely Carmichael are. It was the first place I’d see visual evidence of the Slave Trade and all its effects. This type of education does not exist in plain sight anymore. If you don’t look for, it you won’t find it. And ironically, though the Internet is a virtual bottomless pit of information, it’s also overrun by trolls, revisionists, and dissenters that have layered the web with bullshit lies and non-facts. Oftentimes online, it’s hard to isolate the truth. That’s a sad reality and obviously overstated fact, and I have no idea how to dissuade that velocity.

Sadly, a new day has dawned, and Black History Month seems to be going the direction of Father’s Day, meaning it’s only viewed as mechanical, automatic, an arbitrary and archaic grandstand to celebrate something that seemingly no one actually cares about anymore. So when PBS aired its documentary on the Black Panther Party earlier this month it was awesome to see how well it was received by people. It may not who reverse the reputation that the Party has been saddled with over the years, but it’s a start. A new generation has a chance to be exposed to true information about American history instead of unwillingly being brainwashed by revisionist propaganda.

Or not.

That depends on you.

Words by Tony Grands
Follow Tony on Twitter and Facebook.
Questions, comments, complaints?


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