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Every Town a Ferguson:
Reflections of a Scary Black Kid from Brooklyn

| August 16, 2014

The author, left, as a young boy in Brooklyn. (Jon Hardison)

The author, left, as a young boy in Brooklyn, in 1973, with his mother at the typewriter. (c Ruth Inge Hardison)

By Jon Hardison

It’s been a hard week to be an American. Hell, it’s been a hard week to be human. It opened with the death of arguably one of the funniest, kindest, most uplifting, positive men most of us have ever known (in that way we all know famous people), and then spiraled downward from there. And as sorry as I am for what can only be viewed as a week of massive losses for our collective, I honestly think there are things we can all learn from it and healthy questions we should all be asking, whether internally or right out in the open.

Jon Hardison

Jon Hardison (c Inna Hardison)

I’ve been doing a lot of that. I’ve been examining my life, and my reactions to things. I’ve been examining simple things like my posture, my persona and trying to figure out who I appear to be to those who don’t know me. I’ve been thinking about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown of Ferguson, Mo., and the 25 year old man killed just days later in Los Angeles.

I’m black. I mean, I’m not “really black,” like so many have said to me over the years, but still, I’m black. But my life, much like my background, has been a fairly equal mix of middle-class Urban American living, and quintessential ghetto life. My first memories of life happened on Pacific Street in Brooklyn, N.Y., which was by no means a bad neighborhood, but it was on the edge of the projects. I had friends in the projects, and because back then you let your kids out to play and really didn’t know where they went, I spent a fair amount of time in and around the projects. But as young as I was, I knew I wasn’t safe there, so I didn’t do it often.

As I got older it got more dangerous for me. It was always hard to tell if it was because I was simply becoming more of a threat in some way I didn’t quite understand, or because my steadily increasing age increased the likelihood I’d maybe had a little cash or something else of value. What I knew for sure was that the indifference to my being was fading. I started getting mugged and threatened on occasion. Nothing to run home and cry over–just weird.

As the financial situation worsened at home, the need to reduce expenses forced us to move from the community were I’d been since I was 2 years old, to a new community. I didn’t know anything about it but its name, Fort Greene, and whenever I’d say these words to friends their reaction was always the same. “Oh snap. You dead fool!”

I was only about 10. They’d never really explain why I was going to die. They’d all just say it with a fair amount of confidence and start their “It’s been nice knowing you” speech. I didn’t take it seriously, at first.

My first week in Fort Greene, I met the other people in our building, a small brownstone broken up into four rental apartments. There was a nice black family of three on the top floor, us, just below them, a gay couple below us, and a hispanic woman and her two kids (both much younger than I) on the ground floor.

The baby’s name was Peanut. He was about 14 months old when we moved in. The girl, about 4, was a beautiful, long-haired Puerto Rican named Leukemia. Her mother heard the name someplace and liked the sound of it. This was almost the high point of my time in Fort Greene.

Even more might simply say, “They’re animals.” Or, “Fuck’em. They get what they deserve.” No. No the fuck we don’t.

Fort Greene was black. Pacific Street, where I’d grown up, was full of all kinds. There was the Bohanan girls, who were white and black, just like me. Their dad wasn’t around, also just like me. They were the closest things I had to sisters. Then there was Carla from around the corner. Her father, Chocolate, was my drum teacher and my role model growing up. (A black man.) His wife Berril I think was a school teacher and quite white. There was Maya. She was one of my first loves and lived right down the road from Carla. She was Jewish and a total fireball. At one point my mother and I actually rented the top floor of their brownstone. Not long after we moved out, Maya’s dad came out of the closet and moved to Greenwich Village with his new partner.

This was the life I’d known. There was quite literally no such thing as race on Pacific Street.  Fort Greene was different.

After we settled in, I did what I always did. I went out to explore. “Hey kid! Give me that bike!” and “Get yo Puerto Rican ass outta here!” were some of the things I’d hear regularly. It became very clear very quickly that I was going to need to make a change if I was going to make it in this place. Looking back, I never asked why everyone was so fucked up. I, an outsider, had moved into what was clearly their hood, and I’d just have to learn the ropes.

After a few months, I found some kids around the corner. They’d heckle me and give me shit every time I rode by. They’d even chase me a few times to get my bike or beat my ass. I’d always ride away faster than they could run.

One day I decided to call their bluff. “Give me that bike bitch!” I stopped. What were they going to do? I knew where they lived. After a short confrontation and a little pushing it was over. A beautiful girl came running out of their building. “Stop messin’ with him! Oh, and he ain’t Puerto Rican you dumb asses! I seen his momma!”

That night I ate dinner in their house. A boxing match blasted in the background and everyone sat around the table firing questions at me one right after the other. “Why you talk like you white? Are you rich? You talk Spanish?” The kid’s parents would ask a few questions here and there too. “You like my daughter, don’t you?”

That night she walked me home (to make sure I was safe) and gave me a few tips on making it in her neck of the woods. “Listen. You gonna be a’ight here. Ain’t no body gonna hurt you. But if you wanna stop’em from fuckin’ whi’chu? You gonna need to show’s you can’t be fucked with. Next time you feel like someone’s thinking ‘bout taking you, you just look’em right in they face! Don’t stop and don’t say nothin’. But don’t stop looking’ neitha,” she said. “Cuz at the end of the day, if he wants it bad enough, there ain’t nothing you can do that’s gonna stop’m. But if he don’t? Nigas’ just need to know you ready. That’s all. They need to know whatevah’s’ coming is gonna cost’m and that’s it.” That lesson got me through a lot of tough times and I’ll always be happy I had it.

A year later, things got even worse for my mom and me. Her addiction to drugs and inability to show up to work forced us out of our place in Fort Greene and into an emergency move to Chelsea in Manhattan. West 16th street, to be exact. We moved in with my mom’s new boyfriend, Willy. He was the superintendent of the building he lived in and was going to put us up for a while until an apartment became available for us to rent. Willy was an incredibly talented guitarist. I don’t mean he was really good. I mean he was so good, he’d play a bar or two and even if you knew nothing about music, you knew there had to be something terribly wrong with him. Something so wrong it justified the meager existence he’d barely managed to cut out for himself. Those faults would become very evident in the coming days, months and years.

I was 12, and going into my first year of middle school for the second time. The years of obvious drug use by my mother had taken their toll in more ways than one. But this wasn’t Fort Greene, and while I was scared and nervous, there was something liberating in getting a completely new start. My new School was I.S. 70, and it, much like my first home on Pacific Street, served a diverse community, racially and economically. And this start would come with the advantage of all I’d learned in Fort Greene. There’d be no more running for me. I was ready to face everything that came my way, and I did just that.

I.S. 70 was also a lot like Pacific Street in that it bordered the projects, so there was never a shortage of altercations or more than a few days without threats. Every day was a test of your resolve, your bravery and your ability to abandon all sanity in favor of the promise of reprieve that was granted every time you simply put someone down. I got good at it. I got very good at it, but it was rarely physical. It was about having the ability to look an ass whooping in the eyes and laugh. And then grab the biggest guy in the crowd by the shirt, pull him to you, unblinking, and simply say, “bring it,” with all the fire and intent of a mass-murderer in your eyes, like I learned in Fort Greene… “This is gonna cost you.” It didn’t hurt that my actual fighting skills were pretty impeccable at that age. Skills I was all too happy never to use.

It was also these early years in the city that taught me about the Police. New York’s battle with the corruption and abusiveness of its Police force is the stuff of legend. It took decades to clean it up enough to be useful and even longer to make it something the average citizen was proud of. We kids were scared to death of them. We’d never say it out loud. After all, being scared of anything was worse than dating a girl in the grade behind you, or screaming at the sight of a spider.

When the Police came, we ran. We weren’t doing anything wrong and had nothing to hide, but we all knew, on a cellular level, that none of that mattered. Once a cop had you, it was all a matter of luck. Their word carried all the weight. Their will was the only thing that steered the interaction. Their mercy was the only reason you’d go home. This was the case even for the best and nicest of officers. They had all the power and we knew they were free to turn any way they wanted, on a dime, without cause, warning or care and it was simply better to run than risk it.

I think these were the feelings I needed to remember to try to make any sense of what’s gone on this week. Sense to me, anyway.

Police and protesters this week in Chicago, in reverberations of the police killing of 17-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Click on the image for larger view. (Mikasi)

Police and protesters this week in Chicago, in reverberations of the police killing of 17-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Click on the image for larger view. (Mikasi)

There are people who are simply scared of black people. It’s not a race thing so much as it is a feeling of being threatened. They might wonder, “Why is that guy working so hard to look so tough?” Or “Why is she looking at me like that?” Others wonder, “Why are they running if they didn’t do anything wrong?” And even more might simply say, “They’re animals.” Or, “Fuck’em. They get what they deserve.”

No. No the fuck we don’t.

I’m generalizing here, so try not to take this as bigotry. It isn’t meant that way. But the average Black American grew up with horrifying stories of what was done to our people at the hands of White Americans and raised in an environment where we were baptized in fear. We feared the cops, many feared white people, and even more feared their neighbors. But we couldn’t say anything. Not to our mothers or fathers or siblings or friends. No, instead we did what people do. We followed the example of the survivors before us.

Society thinks the number one reason broke black kids get into the drug game is because they see a way to make some fast cash. I don’t think so. You know what that kingpin had that I wanted? He wasn’t scared of a damn thing. He didn’t even have to deal with trouble. Something went down and his “boys” took care of it.

Who do you trust when there’s no one you can trust? Who do you confide in? Who do you run to when no one wants you? The truth is, you simply do the best you can. Sometimes you even get lucky or surprise yourself and do better than the best you can. But most of the time, you survive. Nothing more and nothing less.

So next time you feel intimidated, try to understand that it’s not about you. I haven’t lived in the ghetto for decades and people still tell me (as recently as yesterday) that I look like I’m going to kill someone. I don’t even know I’m doing it. What is in my heart is very different from what is on my face, but it’s not because I’m broken. It’s just the remnants of an old survival skill I used to need.

And if Ferguson is any indication, I still need it.

Jon Hardison, a Palm Coast resident, co-owns the Ha Media Group. Reach him by email here.

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57 Responses for Every Town a Ferguson:
Reflections of a Scary Black Kid from Brooklyn”

  1. Jan Reeger says:

    Interesting insight. Thank you Jon.

    • The Truther says:

      Thank you Jon for your story. I believe the government has been the big problem with your people. They have sold them a bill of goods that have kept them in poverty for years. Do you know who Dr. Ben Carson is. Google him. He came from poverty in Michigan. With the help of our Lord, he will be running for president in 2016. He is an inspiration to life.

      • Nancy N. says:

        The sad thing is, Truther, that you really don’t realize how racist and condescending that comment actually sounds.

        • Percy's mother says:

          I don’t know, Truther sounds like he/she is just making a statement. Nancy, you read something negative into it.

      • Anonymous says:

        Your people? What people are you referring to, exactly, by that?
        With the help of all the collective dieties, I hope some day soon no commenter refers to someone’s people in this manner, well intentioned or not.

        • In the interest of full disclosure, the above comment from Anonymous was mine. I did it from my phone, so not trying to hide anything.
          Inna Hardison
          The wife of the author of this piece.

        • Openminded says:

          Anonymous addresses the term; You People as racist. The writer used it in the story.

        • Openminded says:

          Interesting letters. However, there is no way that I have time to read all of them. I’d like to respond, but I’m concerned I’d be repeating what someone wrote due to not having time to read it all. I’m trying to live up to my name on here. I’m not being a Wise Guy now, but, I would like to know how all of you have time to read all of these letters and time to respond. LOL. There are lawns to cut, dinner to cut, food shopping, work, house cleaning, baby care, elder care, etc…Please, what is your secret to have this much time on your hands? Thanks.

      • Jon Hardison says:

        Please take no insult to what I’m about to say. None is intended. I claim no enlightenment and would never deliberately imply that I’m in any way above blame or outside the problem.

        The truth is this isn’t a government problem. There is no gift to be given. Black people are no more my people than white people aren’t. No one has been cheated by any particular body and no one that breathes is beyond blame.

        So long as we focus on deflecting the realities of our own, every personal flaw, we will all be burdened by it. Is a person’s fear or contempt for another ever justifiable when it relies only on one of our five senses? Is the suffering of those, whether gifted by or afflicted with, color any more meaningful than that of those without it? I’m not more proud of my ability to instill fear in a person of any race than I am of the fact that I’m admittedly subject to it.

        I am a bigot, pure and simple. The validity of the cause is of no consequence and is symptomatic of the illness we all quietly share. We are simply us. You and I are the same. Battling out egos and economics, and social stigmas and expectations against our goals and aspirations and obligations.

        The things that repel us from one another aren’t our differences but our similarities. I think most of us know just how broken and incomplete we are as a people, and we can only have a few reactions to that truth: We can insist that we’re better or that ‘they had a choice’. We sleep better with that story, don’t we? Or we can acknowledge our fear and struggle to find the source of it. We can strive to understand it and in so doing, understand each other.

        Morgan Freeman had it right. When he was asked what should be done about racism he interrupted and said, “We can stop talking about it.” he leaned over and looked his interviewer in the eye, “I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask that you stop referring to me as a black man.”

        If we’re really going to start working on this, it’s not going to involve looking to a Black President (obviously) or an equally representative Congress. We need look no further than the man or woman standing next to us.

        You are my people.

      • gail smith says:

        I must admit that I don’t understand your intent when referring to ‘your people’ . Are you referring to a group of people who lived as Jon did being forced to live in areas ripe with violence and abuse through no fault of his own? And perhaps you are referring to ‘the government’ as one to which you are not governed? Perhaps you are from another, better country, that somehow escapes racism or bigotry and prejudice. I’d like to know where that is. In all fairness I must say when I read my own post it doesn’t even sound like what I was feeling and intended. Hoping when you read yours perhaps you’ll find how exclusive it sounds. My ability to articulate into words my true intent was somewhere lost in translation. What I really meant to say in my original post = we are all different and unless we had the ability to walk in each others shoes for a lifetime can we truly understand each others plight in life. Thanks Truther for offering me an opportunity to resurface with this message.

  2. gail smith says:

    Thank you for sharing pieces from your life’s experience. We each become who we are based on how we have experienced living in a world that is uniquely our own. There may be similarities we share with another, siblings growing up in the same household, fellow students, cultural backgrounds, etc. and those can help us each to feel as if we somehow belong to a group. Yet it’s how we process internally who we are and who we want to be that sets us apart. And those differences can be limited to external and internal factors. This, of course, is my overly simplified perception. I can never know really who you are anymore than you can ever really know who I am. Our journeys can not be replicated ever. What you have done is provide a glimpse into a world of which I know nothing. What you have shared is important to me. It helps me better understand and retain a sense of empathy for another person’s journey.

  3. Ambroz says:

    Very nice piece Jon. I spent many decades in NYC, have been to those neighborhoods and know exactly what you mean. I was born in a “third world” country and lived there until my mid-teens. The whole country was like the hood. Now, in a much more genteel environment, I still can’t forget my early years, and often have an expression on my face some misinterpret as anger or aggression. I try to maintain a pleasant expression on my face but often fail. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the candor of your essay and found it touching.

  4. Annie Sisk says:

    If the world is to ever be saved, it will be saved through just this: each of us, telling our stories, and each of us, listening with an open heart. Wonderful piece, Jon.

    Also: Great pic! ;)

  5. Linda says:

    Thank you for sharing this moving insight. Well done.

  6. Diana Bardyn says:

    A powerful story beautifully told. So happy you survived to be here now, to make a difference.

  7. Freddy says:

    I can understand the anger and protests after these incidents but cannot understand the justification for lootings and property destruction of their own neighborhood that follow.

    • Jon Hardison says:

      Freddy. Thanx for reading and commenting. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that it is impossible for anyone (myself included) to truly see the world through another’s eyes. I’m not going to make excuses for anyone. The law is the law and breaking it is wrong. But some of us see the world from a different perspective. Not a black or white and hispanic perspective, but an economic perspective. Taking bread is breaking the law, but at what point does it become worth it to do? Is it when you want some or when you’re starving? Is it when your kids or mother or close friend needs it to live?

      What about the economy of fear? At what point does the impact of a gesture become more valuable than the punishment for making it? The closer we get to answering those questions the close we are to understanding why SOME of these things happen.

      If I wanted to make an exercise of it, I’d try to fabricate a set of circumstances that would compel me to do it and work backward from there. That is, if you’re so inclined. Of course most of us aren’t.

  8. Jim says:

    Hey Jon, Great article but i have to disagree w/ you about this….. Society thinks the number one reason broke black kids get into the drug game is because they see a way to make some fast cash. I don’t think so. You know what that kingpin had that I wanted? He wasn’t scared of a damn thing. He didn’t even have to deal with trouble. Something went down and his “boys” took care of it…. I worked the 28 Pct for many years the 28 was less than a 1/2 sq mile in size…smaller than Fla Pk Dr. to Clubhouse Dr. …Palm Harbor Pkwy to Palm Coast Pkwy. In 1985 we had 123 HOMICIDES years before and years after ..always over 100. It was ALL about the bling, the money and the cars. Power came w/ bling … the more bling the more power.. and alot of kids wanted what the other kids had… money, money more money Crack was KING and everyone wanted it and was willing to pay for it. 123 St. and Lenox Ave was the #1 corner in the COUNTRY to but the best dust..PCP 14-15 yr olds walking 125 St. w/ $3,000 cash in their pockets, a bullet proof vest on their chest and a gun in their waist ready to add to their collection or stop anyone in their way. I also worked in the 88 Pct… Fort Greene which unfortunately was overrun by crack. Unfortunately the cycle can’t be broken and I don’t think it ever will.. have homicides gone down? YES way down… but as long as there are drugs… there’s going to be kids looking to make the money to get the bling…the more bling… the more power

    • Jon Hardison says:

      Hi Jim and thanx for both your time and your comment. Again, with all the respect in the world to you, your service and your sacrifice, we have no obligation to agree. :-)
      My view of that world is my own and I didn’t have the advantage the advantage of any degree of separation from it. There’s nothing wrong with any of our impressions, and keep in mind, I’m not claiming mine as an official position. It’s just mine, and I hope has value to some.

      All that said, do you really think everyone’s motivation was the same? In all those places, and with all those different people, is it even reasonable to assume they all proceeded with malice and identical motivation? I’m not ready to take that leap. :-)

  9. David L says:


    Even before I read your article, your photograph did not give me the impression you were threatening or a thug. You look like a regular guy to me.

    David L., Retired Police Officer

  10. Rick Belhumeur says:

    Jon, Thanks for sharing your perspective. It helps me understand the mind-set of the people that have no choice but to live in these troubled neighborhoods.

  11. w.ryan says:

    Jon…I enjoyed your walk down memory lane which brings up memories of my early life experience. The neighborhoods are not the same but I envision the reality. Close enough! My neighborhood was the South Bronx, Brownsville and later the West Farms area of The Bronx. Distrust of the Police because of the brutality we as kids witnessed from the hands of the people that was there to protect you. Everyone knew not to call the police. Funny how they knew not to leave valuables around when you called the Firemen to your house. My first home was an apartment on Faile Street not far from Simpson St. on the IRT #5 in the South Bronx. The landlord, Mr. Lipschitz was there to collect the rent the first of every month. The apartment building was set ablaze twice in a year before we moved to Brownsville Bklyn. I guess for insurance money. After a year and a thieving landlord we moved back to The Bronx to Lambert Houses where I lived from ’73 -’87. This was the time of Gangland, the birth of Hip Hop and the height of Grafitti. It wasn’t easy because you had to be hard like you said Jon. Fight of flight was what it was. You couldn’t be a punk or a pus#@. I was mugged a number of times. Witnessed a lot of crime and the demise of the neighborhood because of the crack epidemic! I got out of a few scrapes. Many of my friends didn’t. They got buried.
    It didn’t matter though whether you were Puerto Rican or Black. Though there was incidents we ran and fought together. Did I know snatching cigars from a store owner was a class felony if I shoved him? I would have thought I just took-em. Did I have an understanding of the law as a teen? No I didn’t! That’s why I cringe at all the people that pass judgement on these kids from the hood and elsewhere. I was aware that with a gun, a knife or with a stick it was wrong and a crime. I didn’t know other kinds of intimidation meant strong armed robbery or causing fear meant a big deal. We lived with intimidation and so did the cops as they were Gods. I knew that to survive I had to bully or be bullied. I was bullied in school till I turned the table and later got some size.
    Funny how selective memory and self righteousness exalts us. I got past all of this and became a cop to protect and serve. One key reason was because of the crime perpetrated on my mother who was pulled under a moving train due to some ass reaching between a moving train attempting to snatch her purse. She survived with superficial injuries and a terrible memory of the event.

    • Jon Hardison says:

      Ugh. Memories, right? Thank you for your compliment Mr. Ryan. Even now, as a grown man, I have no advice for someone growing up like we did. I have no evidence that it was skill or calculation that got you or I through life in these places. I think it’s important to remember that as adversarial as it all felt, it was still the kindness of others. It was still a helping hand, right when you needed it (and generally when you least expected it) that always managed to see me through when things for really rough. It was still a community, and there where a lot of good people. Really good people. I guess I’m saying it wasn’t all bad. Nothing ever is.

      As an adult I went back to the old neighborhood (Pacific Street) to see how many old friends I could find. So many were gone. Gone from the earth I mean. Most (and mean like 70%) of the kids I’d grown up with (all races) had died in some violent way. There was only one who pass from illness. I didn’t expect that. Not there. Not like that.

  12. Gia says:

    Instead of complaining all the time against the white people,these scumbags should change.

    • Nancy N. says:

      Gia, I’d like to thank you for your posts on Flagler Live. It has been an education to understand that there truly are people with that level of ugliness in their hearts walking around this country. Experiencing that from you on a regular basis here has really helped me understand how we ended up with a country whose priorities are so messed up, and that is owned by hate-spewing politicians. I used to ask, “who votes for these people?” Now I know – it’s hate-filled people like you.

    • Jon Hardison says:

      To be clear, no one here is complaining about white people. Actually, no one is complaining. I assume by ‘scumbags’ you mean us? LOL! For the sake of expedience, are there any specific changes you think we should make first?

  13. Msbcart says:

    I’m at a loss to understand how burning down your own neighborhood solves anything. The business owners have insurance and the looters are left with a torched community. I think the last time “white” Americans burned down cities was in the south during the civil war. Am i a racist? I cross the street when young black men come too close. I lock my car doors in bad neighborhoods. I cringe when I hear the English language used inappropriately. I roll my eyes when I see pants on the ground and hear rap music degrading women. I also wouldn’t get on an elevator with a stranger white or black and realize Ted Bundy was white as are most serial killers. So my fear may be unreasonable. Am I a racist or just cautious and judgmental of inappropriate behavior? As I write this, our town is becoming a scary place to live for older people and no matter how you want to sugar coat it, it started with the influx of low income minorities. Shooting, mugging and drugs have taken over for golf and tennis. Sorry I am not a racist, just scared.

    • w.ryan says:

      Msbcart- You don’t need me to tell you what you already know. You are who you are. While it is true that a very small amount of looting went down in Ferguson it is pail compared to the unrest of the early part of American history when towns were these people lived burnt to the ground and many people was killed because of ethnic differences of European migration. How about sports events resulting in reckless celebration? As for butchering the English language…look into the history of language and tell me about the language you speak and with the embracing of so called “ebonics”. which is being embraced daily by white culture. What’s up with that? Jon shared something about his youth which is intended to shine light on young people of color, You can start understanding by understanding what US. history, past and present has to offer to expand your mind, Listen to some Rappers like Common, Gil Scott Heron, Grand Master Flash and Public Enemy with a receptive mind. Oh…and yes you have the symptoms that you may be a racist! LOL!

    • Jon Hardison says:

      Hi Msbcart – I want to make perfectly clear here (as some have missed it) that I’m not blaming anyone for anything. My peace is an exercise in understanding, myself first and then others. I’m not concluding anything or passing judgement on anyone and I don’t think it’s helpful me or anyone else to single you or I or anyone out as a bigot. “We are all bigots.” That’s much closer to my point and I think the acknowledgement of your fears and statements about their origins is a promising place to start. We all know the “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” line, but do we carry it with us wherever we go or do we set it aside when we’re sure we’re right to be scared?

      Your fear of me, in the moment you’re having it, doesn’t hurt me. I may be insulted with you roll your eyes at my choice of music, but beyond that, your fear is yours. You’re the one that has to carry that everywhere you go. It’s your illness like any other and it is one you’ve given yourself. One you’ve allowed to fester and be reinforced by evening news and even personal experiences.

      But there is value, to you, in fighting it. There is peace in finding compassion for all and isolating your contempt to the ones that have actually wronged you. Even knowing you would not stand in an elevator with me, I want you to know that I wish you that kind of peace.

      On the note about white Americans burning down cities, you can’t live in Flagler Country and not know how significant this place is, for that very reason. First, we (Palm Coasters) moved into their low income area. They were here first.
      Second: Did you know that Flagler Country was, in fact, the last county in the United States to desegregate it’s schools? It was done by court order, but what made Flagler County so unique was this.

      The night before the newly built integrated school was set to open for the first time, the people of Flagler came out (as the story is told) and rather than have their children attend school with black children, they burned that building to the ground. And their tax dollars, their children’s educations, and any chance of a smooth transition burned down right along with it.

      There are many families, black and white, that remember that. It’s just another example of how truly similar we really are. We all function on the same principals. And anyone that truly believes these issues and reactions are based in the color of ones skin is deluded. The differences are economic. But that’s a much bigger conversation and a much larger issue. :-)

      Peace. I’m trying to understand you. That can’t be a one way street.

      • Msbcart says:

        Jon, you see people are never quite what they seem. My first husband was Puerto Rican. We have two grown beautiful children. My granddaughter is half “African American” I don’t think it’s racist to disagree with poor lifestyle choices or be careful of your surroundings That’s part of the political correctness of the country today. Any opinion expressed about standards and you are dubbed a racist. Very few “African Americans'” speak out about black on black crime, drug use, unwed mothers and not getting an education. That’s what’s so discouraging. Maybe you know why they don’t speak out, but I see it as a big loss. Black or white where have our heroes gone?

        • Jon Hardison says:

          You’re absolutely right. I’m sorry you got that impression from what I said. I wasn’t saying it was racist to talk about any of the many problems you mention. It obviously isn’t. What IS racist is seeing them as an African American problem. What is racist is looking at the problem of drug use and then looking at the problem of African American drug use. Looking at the problem of poor lifestyle choices, and then looking at the problem of African American poor lifestyle choices.

          And black on black crime is a subject of much conversation. I’m sure there’s no shortage of people willing to include you in them if you’re willing to sit at the table.

  14. Steve Wolfe says:

    Jon, I think your thoughtfulness calls for chairs and coffee. It could make my two cents a little shinier.

  15. JG says:

    As regards the “your people” remark, just remember the words of Lily von Stupp in “Blazing Saddles”: “It’s twue, it’s twue.”

  16. JtFlagler says:

    I will say thank-you for admitting to being a bigot. You have given some of your reasons for being so. I am also a bigot. Let me give you some of my reasons. Minority members giving excuses for breaking the law. Minority members using the social service systems to live off the backs of tax payers. Minority members filling our prison system. Minority members with an attitude they are owned something. Minority members who don’t know right from wrong because of weak family structure. Minority members calling themselves African American like it’s some big heritage badge of honor. These are just a few. Your beliefs and attitudes are yours, mine are mine and as your wrote “we have no obligation to agree”. I’m white, I mean “not really white”, like you’re “not really black”. You see, I’m a mix, Welsh and Slovak. I don’t run around saying I’m Anglo-Euro American. I’m an American. I don’t break the law. I was taught not to by my parents and grandparents which makes it easy for me to not have an excuse. Keeps me out of jail. My family lived poorly for many years but we lifted ourselves out of it. The Welsh and Slovaks as well as the Poles, Irish and Italians all worked in the hard coal mines where I grew up. Cheap labor. Hard work, hard life. People all too proud for a handout. No social service leaches there. The only minority in America that I believe are owed anything are the American Indian. they were truly screwed by the white man.

    • w.ryan says:

      Hate is so powerful. It clouds peoples vision and clouds the mind. It festers in the heart and contort information. Blacks are entitle to be treated with respect as you would want yourself to be treated with respect. Laws are written by men in control and of high social and economic stature packaged as a social contract for people to live together in harmony. During the history of America, laws were written to suppress African Americans after they arrived in America kidnapped from their homes and held in bondage. After a War for economic reasons was won by the North, laws were instituted in the south to keep a bondage and a strangle hold on African Americans. throughout the U.S. institutionalized system was instituted and is still in place today. Obviously the Law has worked for you and White America but we had to fight for the laws to be inclusive in a positive way for African Americans. The fight is not over. Unfortunately you are disillusioned about your parenting or you misunderstood because good upbring would have taught you not to hate, At least you know who you are.

    • Jon Hardison says:

      Hi JtFlagler. I said I was a bigot. I didn’t really give any reason for it, and didn’t point out any specific examples. All I was trying to say was that we are all, in some way, large or small, subject to these very small, almost imperceptible thoughts or actions that, at the end of the day, are bigoted. The very structure of American life makes it something we have to work at. A group of young anyone is cause for concern = bigot. Speaking your phone number really, really clearly when you order Chinese food = bigot. Asking the dirty Mexican guy with all the lawn stuff in his cart at home depot how much he charges for a cut = bigot. I’m joking here but you get the point. I have nothing against any group of people, well, I try not to, but that’s very different from conceding a fact based on even the most overwhelming numbers or personal experiences.

      You were offered an idea of black America and you took it. African American isn’t a gift we gave ourselves. It is a term deemed socially sensitive and adopted by the majority of Americans. There is no shortage of outrage over the idea and it’s not a outrage that can be associated in any extraordinary quantity to any race. Oh, guess what! many of us don’t want a Black History Month either. ;-)

      I don’t mean to give you a lesson. I’m sure you know all this, but I’m saying it anyway, for the benefit of readers. Racism has never been about truth. Racism was invented for a very specific reason.

      Slavery in the United States also wasn’t about Blacks. Slavery was always about economics. Blacks and Whites were slaves together. Why? Well, yes, most blacks were born into it as a result of the slave trade, but many white men that simply couldn’t pay their bills would find himself a slave in a blink. This is the truth of one of the darkest times in our history. We were ALL slaves and all it took was a bad winter or drought or alcoholism or a gambling problem. You see, it was the broke that fell and no one was immune.

      It wasn’t until the sheer number of American slaves had grown to numbers where revolt became an obvious concern for the wealthy, that they did something no one saw coming. They freed their white slaves. These men and women worked along side black men and women and had even planned revolution with them.

      There were gifts and costs for this freedom.
      1. As a freed white slave you would be given land. You would work it and pay a percentage to your old slaver AND additional points to pay off the debt that got you enslaved in the first place.
      2. As a freed white slave you would be granted a workforce of black slaves (those you had called friends in some cases), and it would be your job to keep them in line.

      Keep in mind that this deal wasn’t reasonable or anything. These white workers could walk free but the arrangement was just as good, or even better than the one they had when everyone were slaves…

      You probably know where i’m going with this. The super-rich created the race issue for their own benefit. They continue to benefit from it today. The idea of superior race is basically new to us and was planted with purpose.

      So if we take that off the table and we have the same conversation, you might see it a little differently. You might begin to see your contempt and concern as the economic issue it really is. Unless you’re willing to excuse the crimes of broke white man over those of a broke black man. Then you’d be making the same excuses you dislike so much from monitories.

      Worth a thought? Further exploration? It might be. Again, you might not like it, but you are my people and I am yours. If you’re half the American I am, you know that “United we Stand. Divided we Fall.” You and I are being divided and both of us will suffer for it.


    Beautifully written and great insight into a topic a lot of us simply can’t comprehend.

    I grew up in the Ferguson area in the 1960s. Went to school in the Ferguson-Florissant School District and have been deeply saddened by what’s happening in my hometown. So I snapped up your column when I saw the headline.

    No disrespect intended to the tone of your column, but I have to tell you, your description of Fort Greene gave me the biggest laugh I’ve had since this all started.

    Maybe I didn’t realize how much stress and sadness I’d built up over what was happening in my hometown, but when I read about your neighbors with names like Peanut, Leukemia and Chocolate, and a Jewish father who came out of the closet and moved to Greenwich Village with his lover — well, the dam burst. I laughed so hard I brought myself to tears. There’s got to be a sitcom in there somewhere.

    So thanks, again, for a well-written peek into a world some of us never see. And for breaking me out of a week-long funk.

    • Jon Hardison says:

      Honestly wouldn’t have seen it being received that way but now that you mention it… LOL!
      Thank you for taking the time. :-) And I’m sorry you’re having to see your home in this state. All laughing aside, that can’t be easy.

  18. confidential says:

    Jon, thank you for sharing. Myself and family see ourselves and you as well as the whole black community and minorities as “created equal” and deserving each others respect and a fair chance to achieve the American Dream.
    Yesterday I read that the poorest country in Europe is Moldova where their heads of families emigrate illegally to Italy to work as care takers of the elderly and household helpers for 750 to 850 euros a month to send sustain to their children left behind at home with grand parents or other relatives and even sometimes alone to be able to feed them. There were photos of 3 girls left alone by their mother entering Italy as an illegal to make a living. One of the pics shows the oldest 12 year old showering her younger sister with a can/container. Later on taking myself my warm shower had tears running down my face thinking of those 3 girls and also how much I own to America, as even myself was bathing the same way given hardship about the same age with humble beginnings, but now I enjoy a house with two bathrooms and a roman tub in one and clean soft towels.
    Many of us go thru the same difficult times as you did and overcome it thru, sacrifice hard labor and perseverance because we are in America and “if we do not make it here we do not make it anywhere”.

  19. Seminole Pride says:

    How can anybody compare us to Ferguson, Missouri or Brooklyn, New York. We are know where near a metro area like St. Louis or New York City. Our culture, our livelihood and our way of life is of no comparison. We are a small Southern County, primarily white, retirees with a medium income of 50 K. Most of us have been there, done that, and choose to stay active in our chosen hobbies. I would say that we are not even a working community, but more of a community where the major labor is in the service. industry. Most of us are retired with a others who work in service providing labor to meet my needs. Most of us really have no concern for our youth, because we are know longer in that age group that have children, and if I did I certainly would not be living here.. Those that do, and who live here really need to take a good hard look at what this county really has to offer. So once again we are just a small Southern community where I can enjoy my retirement.

  20. Jmac says:

    Jon – well stated. no one needs to analyze it. no one needs to dig deeper than what was shared. they do. the essay becomes a sharp corner that knocks the scab off our self awareness. some acquiesce while some run for the cover of “not me” (hell it worked when you had a sibling and were questioned by your parents). but as usual, I digress.
    You’re a bigot. thought so. probably a bit of a racist too. no doubt some prejudice creeps in around the edges as well.
    me too. I know I am bigoted. I know I am racist. I know that because of those factors, prejudice creeps into my persona.
    Oh the mighty power of the phrase “you people”. It is progress, at least now those that use the phrase are accepting the targets are people.
    I’ve read the comments. Seems like Flagler is like most towns in the good ole U.S. of A.
    Me. I am city born and city bred. I am now a really old white man. Born in DC. Born to white folks. Raised in DC. Been white all my life.
    I must say, the majority of my life I have been ashamed to be white. You see, I have spent my professional career in backrooms listening to the most vile attitudes. White people are two faced. When in the company of people of color, they smile and say all the right things. They even claim a few people of color as friends. Behind closed doors, they use the “N” word more than all the rap songs combined. The smile and share words of contempt. It is not the exception, it has been the rule. I know. They saw me as just another white guy.
    Now, I am older. I don’t have many white guy friends. They have realized who I am. If I could die and come back, I would do so with a much darker shade of skin color. At least then, I would avoid spending time with scared, hateful white folks.
    Much peace to you. I accept your bigotry. I just wish everyone would drop the pretense and focus on change that will only come through acceptance and education.
    Civil Rights? It is not a movement, it is supposed to be the way we live. Oh, shucks Jon, you are welcome in my neck of the woods anytime.

  21. JtFlagler says:

    Jon, thank-you. Well presented rebuttal, definitely food for thought. It’s the ingrained biases of all sides that bring us where we are today. Until they subside by better attitudes and behavior there will be no change. Unfortunately it is not happening now and I do agree we all suffer. Hopefully someday it will end but the way things are now that end is far off.

    • Jon Hardison says:

      Thank you JTFlagler for your honesty and willingness to talk openly about your feelings. Even the darkest of hearts are preferable to those that will never be open. Yours is clearly open. :-)

      I have faith in us. I only hope we don’t let it happen, rather make it happen. That we start shaking those unshakable hands and lifting those who seem comfortable in their impossible lows. We have to work at it and be just as willing to be amazed as we are unwilling to be hurt or disappointed.

      Best wishes for you and yours.

  22. Sherry Epley says:

    A very moving story, from the heart and soul, and beautifully written> Thank you Jon! I will be passing along the link to my friends and family in the USA along with my friends abroad.

    Prejudice/racism/bigotry are rooted in fear based emotions. . . as are all negative human perspectives. We, unfortunately, are so very easily manipulated by fear. The media propaganda machines are masters of mass fear mongering and manipulation. So, Jon, your comments about fear really hit the nail on the head for me.

    Nancy N. I really appreciate your response and completely agree with your reaction to the usual GIA “hate filled” comments. In bringing forth as much compassion as possible, I visualize that person as sorrowfully rotting on the inside. . . living their life alone, afraid and very bitter. A terrible existence, but then again our perceptions on life completely color our individual realities. How very sad for GIA!

    Pierre, dear wonderful fellow. . . thank you for publishing this story and creating this dialog!

  23. w.ryan says:

    Thanks Pierre! Thanks Jon! This was insightful! Ignorance as well as fear as Sherry stated are main ingredients to prejudice/racism and bigotry. Understanding is a gateway to peace,

  24. Msbcart says:

    So Jon, we look to you for the next step in this interesting discussion. A meeting? How many would show up for an open and honest discussion?

    • Jon Hardison says:

      While I’m honored, I wouldn’t look to me. Any consideration or clearheadedness you see here is a derivative of time. The result of an unwillingness, in my written thoughts, to make snap judgements or allow my anger and fear to cloud my path on what is still a very personal journey. But I am no different, no smarter, no more collected than any other poster here. I am angry and scared and prone to the same knee-jerk declarations of justified contempt.

      Moreover, I would never presume my feelings or discoveries globally accurate or even similar to someone else’s. They may be… I’m never going to assume that.

      With all that said, I would gladly attend a gathering of any number of people willing to leave their fear and anger at the door. I’d leave mine there too.


  25. Lin says:

    I appreciate the slice if life revealed in this well written piece
    But the I’m a bigot, you ‘re a bigot part of the comments section by the author, no I don’t agree

    When I go to walmart and a group of young men are congregating in a dimly lit parking lot (no matter their race) yes I might walk faster and decide to not shop there after dusk — seems smart to me same as the talking on the phone thing. It is the jumping to conclusion of bigotry being the reason for the fear they is wrong and perpetuates racism

    I was also a child in NY during the turbulent 60s and have learned some lessons in street smarts and how to avoid dangerous situations. My husband was a UPS driver in ft Greene in the 70’s was robbed at knifepoint by 3 thugs, are we bigoted for being afraid?

    I’ve learned that people are more alike than they are different here in America and I concentrate on that humanity and try not to judge.

    And I’m sorry about that awful part of history especially what i learned about Flagler county. But my ancestors didn’t have slaves and did not benefit from them economically. Are all white people to be subjected to this very real anger forever? I don’t know all the facts about this violence in Missouri but does this police officer get his due process or am I a bigot for even suggesting it?

    I’m not angry at black people
    But they are angry at us
    Wh is the bigot?

    • Jon Hardison says:

      Hi Lin. I really appreciate your response.

      I 100% agree with most of your points. As I said, I was, for the most part, joking about the examples I was giving. The one you referred to was no worse an example than the others. Honestly, it had been a long weekend and I was just tired. :-)

      No. That isn’t ‘really’ being a bigot.

      As for your sorrow over what you’d learned about Flagler: Please oh please don’t be sorry. We (humans) excel at making mistakes. It is, I think, to be expected. But each fall is a chance to pick ourselves up, examine what went wrong, and get better, right? I’ve always thought the greatest crime committed against any society was a failure to accurately record, analyze and teach our history. Look where that had led us. We now have arguments over whether or not the Holocaust even happened, and if Texas and several other states have their way, Slavery and what we’ve taken to calling the civil rights movement, will be wiped from our national histories.
      What will we have to learn from then? I digress…

      The officer will have his day (which may start as soon as tomorrow) in a Grand Jury and you’re not a bigot for asking. I’m going to quote the sentiment that does make you a teeny weeny bit of a bigot (again, just like me.):

      “But my ancestors didn’t have slaves and did not benefit from them economically. Are all white people to be subjected to this very real anger forever?”

      You are still white, and I am still black. You won’t see it as bigotry because it’s not said with malice and I (generally) won’t acknowledge it as bigotry because I’m not angry at “White People” so the statement doesn’t apply to me. But it IS bigotry. This is why I loved Morgan Freeman’s point so much. “Stop talking about it.” We need to push ourselves together. To walk out our own front doors every morning intent on proving ourselves wrong instead of seeking validation for our fears and suspicions. We just need to work at it.

      This is actually a far better example of how we’re all bigots than any of the ones I provided. Thank you for that.

      I’m not angry at white people
      But I get the sense they’re mad at me
      We’re all bigots.

  26. Dlf says:

    Great insight,if it would not do some good or make a difference.

  27. Liana G says:

    Hi Jon, I’m relating to you from a different perspective. My mother, Indian/Asian, was a victim of racial violence perpetrated by America in cahoots with the British in their famous strategy of divide and conquer to maintain the status quo. She was rescued by my white father who later married his damsel in distress (I found this out as a teenager), typical white male savior story – barf. Growing up, I always had Negro (the respectful term in my country) friends, so did my siblings and my mom. When I/we did find out what had happened to our mom, nothing changed because mom had close Negro friends and neighbors and I guess what had happened to did not really take hold. It was only when my mother developed early stages of dementia later in life that her buried memories came to the surface. She had a Negro nurse who took care of her at home and the she quit because of my mom’s racist feelings that was directed at her. This was confusing for me because, at this time, my two sisters were married to Negroes – with my my mother’s choosing and blessings – and I had Negro/mixed race nieces and nephews. Over the years I/we came to understand and adjust to her disposition and living with the circumstances. However, both my sisters divorced their husbands. (But then, so did I and my ex- husband is Oriental. So who knows why what was the reals reasons for our divorces).

    My resentment of Negroes came to the surface full force when one of my daughters was attacked and beaten by a black male on the school bus in the parking lot of Belle Terre Elementary School. This incident brought to the surface all the years of pent up subconscious resentment and anger at Blacks for doing harm to my mother and now own child for no reason of their own. I had to wrestle with this while acknowledging my nieces and nephews from ALL my siblings – my two sisters and now my brother. This was very challenging for me. My mother had done a really good job of overcoming her hatred at the hands of her victims, so much so that three out of her four children married Negroes without thoughts of race. Yet here I was with my child having to live through what my mother went through, to a minor extent. But I refuse to let it eat away at me, for my children’s sake and my own sanity. People are responsible for their actions. And our actions are our own choosing when we stop to think about them.

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