Signs. They are everywhere! You have stop signs, street signs, store signs. You have warning signs and signs that you are about to fuck up in your life. There are signs that this town/city/state/country/world is screwed up and is going to end/fall apart/collapse/need rebuilt, etc.
What really got to me was a article I read some time ago here in the US papers about a sign that was posted in a swimming pool in Ohio that said "Whites Only". As you can imagine, there was an enormous uproar, it went national in the media, lawsuits and threats of lawsuits are being made, and it has turned into a media circus of the best sort!
Now, the apartment owner says he posted it and it is an "antique" and for decorative purposes only, while one of his tenants-who is white but has a mixed race daughter. Said daughter does not live with the tenant and was only visiting and wanted to use the pool-says that it was posted to keep his daughter out of the pool, because she "uses chemicals in her hair and they turn the water cloudy". As of this post, the issue is still up for grabs and has not yet been settled.
Anyway, I (like the vast majority of us, I expect) read the initial story, browsed through one or two of the followups, and pretty much put it out of my mind. After all, it doesn't really affect me, my family, or my life in any direct way, right? Well, until today. As many of you who occasionally follow this chronicle of the journey I'm on may have read, I have recently moved to a different home. As with any move, you spend days and even weeks unpacking, getting everything in place and just as you like it, and just getting settled in. Also, you spend months running across stuff you had packed away and haven't seen in years or even decades.
I found a picture of a sign today, and it brought back memories of a time that a great many of you probably never experienced. It was of a billboard on a main road in a town that I moved to back in 1975 (I was 14 at the time) and it said "Nigger-don't let the sun set on your ass in this town". Shocking, huh? A huge ass fucking billboard right out there on the main road saying something like that!
You see, I had been living in East Saint Louis, Illinois as a kid, and it was what you would call a "mixed" neighborhood. I think there were two or three other families in the entire neighborhood that were white, so you could say it was mixed, I guess. But see, the thing is-I grew up with these kids! We played together, ate at each others houses, got in trouble together, and stuff like that. They weren't "Niggers"-hell, I had never heard that word until I moved to lily-white rural America! They were my friends.
So, the sight of this old picture combined with the memory of that article got the old neurons to firing and I started thinking. Most of you who are under the age of 45 have never seen such signs, but those of you who are older have probably seen them, as they were a very common sight all throughout this country up until the mid 60's and could still be found in some locations for up to 10 years after that.
Water fountains on opposite sides of the room labeled "White" and "Colored". Bathrooms segregated by skin color. Signs in resturants (this in Lancaster, Ohio in the late 60's!) that said "We cater to White Trade only". Designated seating in public transportation and places like movie theaters. I lived through the tail-end of this shit when I was growing up and had forgotten about it until I saw that picture.
Signs. Pieces of wood or metal with words painted on them. So meaningless, and yet so powerful.
Rightfully so, these signs and the mentality that goes along with them have been thrown out with the rest of the stuff that this country has outgrown. When customs that are accepted for generations are harmful to this country and to what it stands for, they get tossed out. After all, how many of us remember "No Irish need apply"? Does anyone still remember when Jewish families were routinely turned away from hotels? How about when drunk driving was winked at and considered as no big deal? What about the cigarette companies who told us for decades that there was nothing wrong with their product, mocked claims that it was bad for people, and posted signs throughout the roadways of his entire country that the only way to be cool/successful/liked was to smoke their poison?
Signs. Signs of the times, maybe! Signs that this country has come a long way. Signs that we have a long way left to go. It may be helpful to remember that while we lose our way more often than I personally would like, and we certainly make our share of mistakes, in the long run, we get things right far more often than not!
It would be difficult to make the argument that Americans live in a racial paradise today. But those signs are gone now. It may have taken far too long for the country to figure out how wrong those signs, and what they signified, were, but that figuring got done.
The American road is very long, and we are all still on it. Sometimes, it is a good idea to look at the signs along the sides of that road.
Especially the ones that are no longer there.
I threw the picture of that sign away because I thought that we, as both a people and a nation, have outgrown such things and that reminders of such were, quite frankly, a little disgusting. After a little more thought however, I dug it back out. I showed it to my daughters, who couldn't believe that such things ever happened. They told their teacher, who invited me to bring it in to their civics class. I did, and we had a good discussion about these evils and how we perpetrate them on each other. I left and we all had a better appreciation of how signs affect our daily life.
I'm glad I didn't throw it away now. I sign from the past, detailing a shameful period in our history, was used to promote understanding and fellowship among the people who make up our future-our children.
Signs. Words painted on a piece of wood or metal. Signs that reflect our opinions, our desires, our wants. Words that shaped our country. Words like "nigger don't let the sun set on your ass in this town". Words like "White Only".
Words like "I have a Dream". Words like "We shall Overcome" Words like "All Men are Created Equal ".
I think words like these are the signs that we are growing up and maturing, while leaving the foolish signs of our childhood behind. Not to be forgotten, though.
Never to be forgotten!