As I sit here watching the evening news, I’m reminded of a time in my life when I found out first hand that prejudice and “race hating” was not something exclusive to one group of people. I grew up in a very small town in the middle of Indiana, it was 1977 and race relations were, well, a lot different than they are today. In the little town I was from, there was but one African American family. Perhaps I was just young and didn’t understand how the world really worked, but everyone I knew sure seemed to adore the family. The father worked at the local 76 gas station as a mechanic and was a good friend of my fathers. The family also consisted of a daughter that was close to my older sisters age, and a son with whom I went to school. Looking back on the situation, I can honestly say that I never saw the color of his skin, he was my friend and that was all that mattered. We played baseball, basketball, and football together. We attended parties and went to movies together. For a while before the family moved away, Daryl and I were inseparable.
One thing I’ve always remembered about my friend was something that he said to me one day while we were in the library in the 7th grade. I remember both of us being a little rambunctious that day and just doing what 12 year old boys do, when all of a sudden, Daryl looked at me and said, “You’re just a Honky!”. Looking at him with what had to be a look of total disbelief on my face, I said, “If I’m a Honky, you’re a Ni**er!”. And with that, we both started laughing out loud at each other.
Daryl and I never called each other those names ever again, and when his father left town because he’d found a better job, it was one of the saddest days of my young life.
Years later I was given the opportunity to go out on the Club MTV tour. There, ladies and gentlemen, is where I learned that prejudice and “race hating” was not the disgusting behavior of just one group exclusively. After agreeing to a six week tour, I was flown out and started what was to be the most eye opening experience of my young life.
It was a fairly “Rocky” start to begin with, actually. I received the call for the gig around noon, and by 5 o’clock that afternoon I was sitting at the Louisville Int. Airport awaiting my flight to Charlotte, NC. I was hired to be Drum Tech., and Stage Manager, so on the flight I was going through my head the steps I would have to take to learn the gig as quickly as was required. I knew the Tour Manager from a previous tour I had done, and in fact, he’s the one who had hired me for this gig. As soon as I got to the venue, I looked him up in the production office.
As he was going through my job requirements with me, I noted a change in his tone as he began to explain my duties as “Stage Manager”. He said, “Rock, you are the Stage Manager. You will fill the duties of the Stage Manager entirely. The only thing is, we’re not going to call you “Stage Manager”. I looked at him with a quizzical look on my face and said, “What the hell does that mean, exactly?” He laughed and said, “Buddy, there’s a guy out here who basically just hangs out with the band, you know, one of their friends, and he’s the Stage Manager.” I looked at him and said, “So I’m going to do the job, but this guy is going to get the credit for it, is that about the size of it?” “Yea, that’s about the size of it buddy, I’m sorry.” He said. I had already accepted the job, and I was no “quitter”, so to work I went.
The group who hired me was a rap act with all African American musicians, and after meeting them all, they seemed to be a great bunch of guys so I was definitely thinking this was going to be a fun gig. Meeting the other crew members, however, was an entirely different story. However great the band treated me, the crew treated me and the Front of House engineer the exact opposite. The Front of House engineer and I were the only Caucasians on that particular bus and we had actually worked together with a previous Artist.
Right from the start, the attitude shown toward myself and the FOH engineer by the other crew members was less than stellar. The two of us were constantly the target of snide and racists remarks. Trying, it seemed, to get a reaction from the two of us. Eventually, the FOH engineer and I would go straight to the back of the tour bus at the end of the day.
At the conclusion of my six week stint with this group, the Tour Manager called me into his office and said, “Rock, the guys in the band just love you, what will it take to keep you out here?” I looked at him in disbelief as I thought about how I’d been treated the last six weeks by the other crew members and said, “I don’t think they have enough money to make me want to stay. Have you noticed how I’ve been treated by the other crew members?” His reply, “Yea, I figured it was a long shot, but the band wanted me to ask.” “Do me a favor?” I asked. “Tell the band the REAL REASON I won’t be back.” He grinned and said, “Yea buddy, I’ll do that.”
Guys, what I’m trying to say with this true little story of mine from the past is that it’s not what race you are, it’s not the color of your skin, or in what religion you believe. It’s like my Daddy always said, “An idiot is an idiot, son.” I’ll just add my little part to that and say, ” An idiot is an idiot, no matter what race, religion, or vocation.” Because you see folks, racism is like stupidity. It knows no boundaries.