This is a story of fiction, though it has racial undertones. As such, it may prove sensitive to some people. Meant to teach a lesson rather than spread racism, please excuse any portions that may cause varied emotions among readers.
“Back in my day, people had different colored skin which caused them no end of trouble.” My sister and I had settled into our pods in the common area of our dwelling. We were excited as our father had finally agreed to read to us from our Great Great Grandpa’s diary which had always held its designated spot under the glass table in our region’s library. It was one of the few items that had survived so many years so our father lent it to our library, where someone would, with white gloves on, flip a page every day.
Some people made the trek to the library especially to read one of those pages. Though the photos had been taken of the entire manuscript, some got a bit of a thrill reading the words of Mr. John Williams, written in his hand and on the very paper that he wrote them. For most of them, it was the only paper they had ever seen, for it had been phased out soon after the death of my great great grandpa.
Of course, though it was frail, my Dad was not refused when he wanted to borrow the book itself, as it belonged to our family. He thought reading from the original journal would do more to pique our interest and he was right.
He continued, “I grew up on Claredon Street, which was just north of Central Street. My small town was sandwiched between two larger towns, though I am not sure how that came to be. I was around about 10 or 11 years old when I noticed, or actually was informed, by both my father and mother that I was not to go beyond the end of our block in either direction. They said it was for my own safety, but I was not sure what could be unsafe about scouting out the other streets with the intention of making new friends. From that day forward, looking for answers, I listened to every conversation my parents had, even if there was eavesdropping involved.”
Father paused and looking down at us said, “I have read this whole diary and know what it says, but I do not want you two to be getting any ideas about taking a ride in your FX2’s without permission. Great Great Grandpa did his own exploring and without the permission of his parents. That got him into some trouble and I do not want you to put yourselves in the same situation. It is a big metropolis out there and I don’t want you getting into an area you don’t know or having a breakdown on the Spaceway.”
We used our FX2’s to go to school or to visit friend’s houses. Everyone got them when they turned 14, which meant I had just gotten mine, but had little chance to try it out yet. I have to admit, I am intimidated by the Spaceway, an interconnected series of marked areas where you could travel almost anywhere you wanted.
Father looked back down at the diary and continued, “My parents were speaking often about protests and which ones they were going to attend. My father refused to be treated unequally just because of the color of his skin and intended to make the lawmakers put that in writing. However, my dad also knew that things had been that way for as long as he could remember and was not optimistic about them changing any time soon. He loved to denounce the Jim Crow laws which meant he had to use public facilities separate from the whites, live in different towns, have his kids go to different schools and, even though voting was now legal for coloreds, most couldn’t vote because they couldn’t pass the literacy tests.”
Again wanting to make a point to my sister and I, Father paused his reading and said, “Now, when Great Great Grandpa is talking about coloreds, it must be confusing for you, as you have always lived in this era where everyone has the same color of skin. However, it took generations to get here and a lot of trials and tribulations along the way. You see, the colors finally could take no more and the World Government had no choice but to intervene. That is why today, we have no color status. We are all the same, but we no longer use the term white to describe ourselves. Through the wonders of genetics, we are all equal though some might question that claim.”
I had a bit of a hard time understanding what Father had said. If we are all the same color now, where did the coloreds go? Perhaps it will be in the journal, at least I hoped so.
Father read on, “In the small town where we lived, we very seldom saw white people except on television and when they ventured south of Central Street to pick-up a good feed of ribs at The Rib Shack, though they never stayed and ate in the restaurant. One day, my dad was at work and my mom was busy with her social friends so, not thinking or really knowing what the big deal was, I set out to look for some friends in one of the towns that bordered ours. As I turned the corner of Claredon Street and walked to the next block, I sure could see a difference. In addition to a car in almost every driveway, there were nicer houses, neater yards. Walking further along, I saw some kids playing road hockey up a cul-de-sac and decided this would be a perfect opportunity to make some new friends.”
Again, Father stopped in spite of my large groan as I wanted him to go on. He said, “Like I said before, I do not want either of you to just take off in your FX2’s. I know there is a whole universe, it seems, of kids out there who you could get to know, but you have your friends right here in our region. You also have more friends at school that you can spend your time with. You do not need to go looking for more. I know you might think differently, but there is no need to go beyond our boundaries. You have all you need without venturing out alone.”
Like my great great grandfather, I could not see what the big deal was. Sure, I could get lost or need vehicular assistance, but surely those were the only dangers that should keep me from going and looking for those new friends that my great great grandfather set out to find so long ago.
After taking a drink of water, Father continued, “As I approached the lively game of road hockey, every one of those kids stopped playing where they stood and stared at me. When I reached the net that was closest to me, I asked simply if I could join in the game. My request was met with blank stares so I asked again if I could join in. I told them I didn’t have a hockey stick, but I would be careful if I borrowed one of theirs. Apparently, that question woke up the biggest of the boys. He said, ‘What the hell are you talking about? No, you can’t play or borrow a stick. You’d just steal it. Now, go back to your own town nigger before I punch you in the head.’ I was shocked by his response. I just wanted to play and I had no intention of stealing a stick. To accuse me of that was mean and unwarranted. Especially troublesome was when he used the word nigger. In my town, the only person who could call someone a nigger was another nigger.”
Father paused to take another drink of water then said to us, “You are probably wanting a little more explanation about this business. Well, since I didn’t live during that time, I can only go on what I have read, which sadly, is not much. After the Great War, not a lot remained of the earth’s populations and their possessions save for the stuff that survived the fighting and bombs. I do know, however, that name calling was one way to get another person angry. Though it was despicable, it went on for hundreds of years. Now, as the World Government has stated in their laws, you may only address someone by their name or title. I know you both have been taught about the discipline you would receive if you used an old slang term or invented a new one and I don’t want to have to go with either one of you to report to the Regional Council. I just want you to understand how different it was when your great great grandpa lived.”
My sister and I both assured our dad that we would never think of calling someone by something other than their name or title, as we were anxious for him to get back to the diary. After clearing his throat, father kept reading, “Not wanting to be on the receiving end of a punch to the head, I turned away to walk back home. When they guffawed and directed more mean language toward me, my pace quickened for I did not want them to see the tears that were stinging my eyes. When I got back home, I plunked myself down behind the shed in our backyard. Though I did not actually cry, I felt miserable because my excursion to make new friends had gone so badly and mostly because of that awful word. I had heard my dad say that if anyone other than a colored ever called him a nigger, they better be ready to run because he would lay a beating on them if he could catch them. It wasn’t until a few days later that I got up the nerve to tell my parents what had happened. I knew I may be setting myself up to get in more trouble, but I wanted to know why things had gone so badly with those boys. Surprisingly, my parents were very understanding and I got some learning done that day. Dad did the talking while mom fiddled with the lace on her dress. Unfortunately, Dad did not provide what I thought to be a satisfying answer. He told me how it was best to stick with my own kind as trying to get involved with the whites would only get me into more trouble than I had already encountered. Other than that, he didn’t have much more to say. Sure, he had told me the way it was but he said he really couldn’t answer my main question which was ‘why’? To that, my dad just said that is the way it was.”
This time, it was me who interrupted my father. I said, “Father, why were those other kids so hostile? It seems the only difference is that great great grandpa had dark skin and the kids had white skin. I can’t imagine what that looks like, but I can’t see why there would be a fight over it.”
Father answered, “That is why we have preserved as much history as possible. So that never happens again. Even though the World Government says we are all equal, I have heard ramblings that in different parts of the earth, people continue to be divided by their race and nasty fights break out with major groups of people battling other groups of people, some of them with both skin color the same, which is why we do not go there. We are much safer here with our own kind, where skin color does not matter because it isn’t an issue.”
I was a bit confused and alarmed that Father was confirming that there was this type of goings-on far below us on earth. We had not been taught this at school, but some of my classmates had heard their parents talking about it and now with my dad saying it, I knew it must be true. I wondered why they chose to stay on an earth ravaged by disasters instead of taking to the safety of the sky.
Unfortunately, Father told us that he was not going to read anymore that night. It was getting late and he had an early morning start. He worked at an office where the time that you had to be at work was in constant rotation. As with all work places, it was evened out so employees did not have the same schedule for more than a month. This, the World Government said, was the kind of law that kept everyone happy with their jobs. Also, until you had proven yourself to a company, which meant working there for many years, you had to do the menial jobs, such as waste management, that most people did not like but which had to be done. Thankfully, those abject professions were mostly automated.
I did not really know what to do with the information I had gotten that evening, both from the journal and my father. Yet, I decided right there curled up in my pod that I was going to look further into the World Government laws when I got older. I surmised that a lot of my investigating would have to be done with as much secrecy as possible, lest I rattle the Regional Council where I end up appointed to where I would live once I became an adult.
Even if there was nothing there, nothing unusual about the World Government’s way of running things, I could not help thinking there was something that was not right.