|6th grade graduation; Benjamin Franklin school, Binghamton, NY.|
On the playground or walking to and from school, if you did something dumb or crazy you would get called an upidstay iggernay. That’s the worst thing that can be bestowed upon you; especially if you are white.
My friends would turn and say, “not you, George, You’re not stupid.”
That put me in a weird position. They wouldn’t say that to my face. I was smart, tall and strong. Skinny but strong. It would be foolish to call me an upidstay iggernay unless you were a considerable distance away and it was impossible for me to catch you.
“Fight, fight. Nigger and the white.” The loser of that scuffle became an upidstay iggernay.
From first grade through eighth I was the only black kid in my class. There were a handful of black kids in the school; just not in my classes. I had plenty of white friends and had as great of time with them as I did with my black friends. It was in those moments of abject racial subjugation that I would question my actual place in the world.
What if I were a weakling or a scaredy cat? What if I were a dim student? I’d be called an upidstay iggernay for sure. By my white friends remarking, “not you, George, You’re not stupid”, gave me some solace that they might regard my black friends the same way. I drew a line. If you call me or my black friends an iggernay, you would pay with a bloody face.
From birth through kindergarten, I lived in a black community. The transition to this white neighborhood and school was relatively easy for me. However, racism was already deeply ingrained in the mindset of the children there.