Revolution #211, September 12, 2010

From Ike to Mao and Beyond
My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist
A Memoir by Bob Avakian

from Chapter Four: High School

Basketball, Football...and Larger Forces

At that time, the basketball coach at Berkeley High, Sid Scott, was a Christian fundamentalist. He was always lecturing the players about religion. He was also a big racist. Every year when I was in high school, and even before I got there, the starting team would always be three Black players and two white. My friends and I used to always talk and argue about why this was, because while sometimes there were white guys who should have been on the starting five, a lot of times you could easily see there were five Black players who should have started, or at least four. I thought that this coach's thinking went along the lines that if he had four Black players and one white on the floor, the four Black players would freeze out the white guy, so then they wouldn't all play together — even though, of course, this was ridiculous. And if he had five Black guys out there, he figured all the discipline on the team would break and it would just be an undisciplined mess — also ridiculous. And he couldn't have less than three Black players because it would be so outrageous, given who was on the team and how good different players were. This is how I used to analyze this.

But when I would discuss this with a lot of my Black friends, including ones on the basketball team, they would explain to me very patiently, "Look, man, it's not just Sid Scott, it's the alumni and all that kind of shit from the school, people who have more authority around the school, they don't want an all-Black team out there. So this coach, yeah, he's a racist dog and all that, but it's not just him." And then I would argue, "No it's him, he's a racist dog." And, of course, they were much more right than I was.

My friends and I would go to each other's houses, stay overnight at each other's houses, and we'd talk about this kind of stuff all the time — especially the more the civil rights movement was picking up and the more this carried over into all kinds of ways in which people were saying what had been on their minds for a long time but were now expressing much more openly and assertively. One time, when I was a senior in high school, our school got to play in a night football game. Now, we didn't get to play many night games. They would always be afraid there'd be a riot at the game, because of the "nature of our student body." I think this was the only night game we ever played. We went on a bus trip to Vallejo, which is maybe 20, 25 miles from Berkeley, and the bus ride took about an hour.

During that time and on the way back after the game I was sitting with some Black friends of mine on the football team, and we got into this whole deep conversation about why is there so much racism in this country, why is there so much prejudice and where does it come from, and can it ever change, and how could it change? This was mainly them talking and me listening. And I remember that very, very deeply — I learned a lot more in that one hour than I learned in hours of classroom time, even from some of the better teachers. Things like that discussion went on all the time, on one level or another, but this bus ride was kind of a concentrated opportunity to get into all this. A lot of times when we were riding to games we'd just talk about bullshit, the way kids do. But sometimes, it would get into heavy things like this, and there was something about this being a special occasion, this night game — we were traveling through the dark, and somehow this lent itself to more serious conversation.

Dating...and Larger Forces

I was not part of the social life that a lot of people with whom I'd gone to junior high were part of. There were girls who actually liked me, but they would say things like, "You know I like you but I can't go out with you because you hang around with all these Black people," and things like that. And that instantly made me not want to go out with them anyway. There were things that were explicitly said like that, and then sometimes you could just tell the deal by the way people acted. And all this was being shaped by the larger things going on in society and the world. Whom you were even attracted to and whom you were interested in going out with, whom you were interested in as a girlfriend, and whom you wanted to be friends with — this was being shaped, or heavily influenced, by these larger things going on.

There were taboos. You didn't date "interracially." You didn't do that. There were a few kids in my class who did, and they took a lot of shit for it. In my senior year, there was one girl that I was very fond of, who was in glee club with me, and we went out for a little while. She was actually the head of the one Black social club in the school. Now it was a rule that every social club had to invite at least the president of every other social club to whatever function they had. So she was invited to a New Year's Eve dance sponsored by one of these white social clubs, and she asked me to be her date for that. I said sure, 'cause we liked each other. So we went, along with another couple, two Black friends of hers. Of course, there's this whole tradition that on New Year's Eve you give your date a big kiss when it strikes midnight. So, at the dance there was all this tension because we were there and we were dancing together the whole night, and hanging out together, just like any other couple would. Except . . . I could tell as it got to be 11:00, 11:15, closer and closer to midnight, this palpable tension was in the air: "What's gonna happen when midnight comes?" When midnight came, she and I gave each other the biggest imaginable kiss — both because we really liked each other, but we also really wanted to make these people eat it. So we had a great time doing that! But it was a big deal. The tension there was very real.

Of course, I got called things like "nigger lover" and I didn't get invited to join these social clubs — which was nothing, because I wouldn't have wanted to do that anyway. But whatever ways in which I was "ostracized" and "outcast" among the mainstream whites was really nothing compared to what my Black friends went through. From the time I was a junior in high school, there were four of us who hung out together: Matthew, Joel, Hemby, and me — two of us white, two of us Black. We were always hanging out together. One time Matthew, who was Black, really had a crush on this one white girl; he wanted to ask her out and finally he worked up his courage and asked her out. And she told him, "Well, you know, I'd like to go out with you, but my parents and my friends . . . " and all this kind of shit. That was much more painful than anything that happened to me — it was very painful for me, being his friend, and it was the kind of thing that I know left a deep scar in Matthew. It was just horrible and excruciating, and the scars of that were much deeper than anything that happened to me.

Street Corner Symphonies

I had this friend Sam. Actually I knew him before high school, because I went to a church in Berkeley where his father worked as the custodian and he would come around and help his father sometimes. Then, when I went to high school, he was a little bit ahead of me but we became friends and then we became part of a singing group.

Sam had this one characteristic: when he was eating, he didn't want anybody to say anything to him. It was just leave him alone and let him eat. I don't care who it was or what the circumstances were. That was just Sam, you just knew you should stay away from him then, because he didn't want to talk, he wanted to eat. So one day, I had forgotten to bring my lunch money, and I was really hungry by lunch. I couldn't pay for anything in the cafeteria or the snack shack, or anything. I was walking all around looking for some friend to loan me some money. So first I went over to Sam and I knew that I was violating his big rule, but I couldn't help it. I went over and I said, "Sam." "Leave me alone, man, leave me alone." I said "Sam, I'm really hungry." "Leave me alone, I'm eating lunch." So I just finally gave up there, but I started walking all around looking for someone to loan me some money or give me something to eat or something.

Finally, I saw this guy who had a plateful of food. What particularly stuck out to me was that he had two pieces of cornbread on his tray. And that just seemed so unfair, because I was so hungry and he had not one, but two pieces of cornbread! I just sat down at the table, across from him, and stared for a long time at his plate. He kept looking at me, like "what's this motherfucker staring at me for?" I just kept staring at his tray. And finally I said, "Hey man, can I have one of your pieces of cornbread?" "No, man, get the fuck out of here." I said, "Please man, I'm really hungry, I forgot my lunch money. Can I please have a piece of cornbread?" "No man, get the fuck out of here." I don't know what came over me — maybe it was just the hunger — but without thinking, I reached over and grabbed one of the pieces of cornbread. He kicked his chair back, jumped up and got ready to fight. So I didn't have any choice, I jumped up too. He stared at me for a long time — a long time. And then he finally said, "Aw man, go ahead." So I took the piece of cornbread. Then after that, Sam, who had looked up from his eating long enough to see all this, came over to me — again it was one of these things — and he said, "Man, that was Leo Wofford, you don't know what you just got away with." But I was just so hungry, and I guess Leo figured, "oh this crazy white boy, he must really be hungry," so he just let it go.

To be continued

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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond