Vicki Marie’s Sexy Summer Reading Series: One Chapter A Day
THE BACHELOR CHAPTERS: A THINKING WOMAN’S ROMANCE
Leon Davis was not my first black boyfriend, but he was my teenage favorite. When we first met in 1971, I was a Jackson Five fan with a mile high crush on the pre-legendary Michael Jackson. Along with my Motown spinning girlfriends, we spent our allowance’s on the 45-hits of Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, and of course, The Supremes. We were drawn to black culture because it was exotic and super bad to a hip clique of thirteen-year-old white girls, raised on rock and roll.
As a child, I had early and positive contact with black culture because of the civil rights era I grew up in, because of the uncomplicated anti-racist messages from my folks, and because of the 1960s activism of the university neighborhood where we lived. On the Ave, the University of Washington’s retail core, white students wore “Free Angela Davis” shirts, and Black Panthers canvassed for money to fund the Feed the Children Breakfast Program. We were all crazy proud that Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle, and “Black Is Beautiful,” was a slogan of pride repeated by my best white girlfriends. My brother and I were also made fully aware of the tragedy of the civil rights struggle. Dad pinned black bands on our arms, and we marched in Seattle’s streets with thousands of our black and white neighbors, singing “We Shall Overcome,” to mourn the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
It was at Eckstein Middle School where my boyfriends included the afro-styling, Levi-pressing, cake-cutter-carrying boys from the Central District the year that Seattle finally answered Brown vs. Board of Education, and began bussing black kids to white schools. Apparently, the Seattle School District was making history, but we were just kids making new friends. Periodically, racial tension would emerge, but it played out like the disputes between conventional cliques in every public school; there just wasn’t the depth of racism in the city to sustain prolonged battles between the students.
While black and white culture was Seattle-style dynamic for me growing up in the sixties and seventies, there was next to no interaction in my adult business life during the 1990s. I had studied art in college and graduate school, but landed the job in commercial print sales when I turned thirty. Like all manufacturing businesses, printing was a white man’s game, and had opened up to white women in the 1980s, thanks to the major anti-discrimination gains from the civil rights movement known as Affirmative Action. Contrary to what I said in my opening page, Richard Nixon definitely got it; he was so convinced the field wasn’t level that he signed the executive order and made Affirmative Action the law of the land. White women were the majority benefactors of these ground-breaking laws; every white-collar, white girl, and her blue-collar counterpart, can trace her paycheck and her career back to the Black Americans who went to the streets with their demand for equal access. The white feminists joined in later, with their fist-pumping chorus of equal pay for equal work. Together, these activists moved mountains; they impacted the laws of our land and the social fabric of our country.
When the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the anti-discrimination mandates for federal contracts in 1971, my father, a lifelong union man, supporter of civil rights, and the first feminist I knew, told me straight-up that white women were going to win big. He explained to his thirteen-year-old daughter that the law wasn’t going to stop racism or sexism in employment, but it did make it illegal. With employers facing consequences for discrimination, they would be forced to hire minorities.
“They’ll pick white women,” dad told me. “They don’t want women any more than they want blacks, but when given a choice, people will stay with what’s most familiar.” He was talking about the nation, but that pretty much summed up racism, Seattle style. My career took me into every business, cultural, and municipal organization that laid ink on paper; my potential customers were behind every office, factory, and city hall in the area. Twenty years on, I could make a barstool argument that dad’s prediction had played out. I had solicited thousands of people, representing hundreds of Northwest companies and organizations in my career. White women were everywhere: private companies, government, and the largest nonprofits. But it was the rare private business, not dependent on federal contracts, where diversity strayed from white females to include workers with brown faces.
Meanwhile, in the media spotlight of the 1980s and ‘90s, the reportage emphasized that Black Americans were exotic at best, and dangerous at worst. The media barely featured the fact that these were the decades when Black Americans entered the middle class in record numbers. They graduated from every university, made it into every category of employment, bought homes, enrolled their kids into private schools, and then packed their own children’s bags for college.
Instead, the media’s bright lights beamed narrowly to illuminate two sharp contrasts: deadbeat dads, welfare-cheating baby-mamas, gangsta hip-hop, and deadly crack-land warfare; or the superstar successes and extraordinary talents of celebrities like Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson. It was at my twentieth high school reunion that I became aware of the stories missing from my narrow lens of the families we had begun calling African American. It was only then that I recognized that my perspective had been influenced from years of bias.
“Vicki Marie, I have not stopped thinking about you since 1976, and I sure can’t believe you’re even more beautiful than I remembered.” I couldn’t believe my eyes either. Leon Davis was a man. He pulled me into his arms for a hug.
“You’re going to have to tone that down, Mister Davis. Show some respect. I’m a married lady now.”
“I’d like to show you some respect, all right.” His laugh was like a flashback. “Are you sure that white boy from West Seattle is a keeper?” He was my eighth grade buddy and ninth grade boyfriend. It was 1996. It had been more than twenty years.
Leon was exceptionally popular when we first met at Eckstein Middle School in 1971: funny, smart, and athletic. With his brilliant smile, quick wit and cute face, he had the social skills that allowed him to transcend every clique on campus. This young boy was a consummate flirt at thirteen, and with his playful demeanor and his tween-star good looks, I was smitten, along with half of the student body. He and I became friends instead, until our ninth grade year, when we had our romantic moment.
His story of the years after high school began with a college scholarship, followed by a football career in the Canadian league, and finally a shift to a career as a chef in some of the city’s best restaurants. The year we reconnected, he was also the proud father of a young man bound for college, and a precious baby girl, the undisputed love of his life. From his stories, I understood clearly that Leon had made success a way of life by working hard, staying above the bullshit, and going for what he wanted.
Leon told me about similar biographies of the eighth grade class of black kids that had been bussed to our white school in 1971. So many had done well in careers that included banking, real estate, law, sports, education, government and hospitality. There were marriages and divorces; kids had been born and raised. There were troubles and successes. Listening to Leon’s stories, and hearing the accomplished outcomes of my former classmates, left me grateful for their successes, but also nagged me with my ignorance. How come I didn’t know about the African American middle class? Why had I come to believe that all of Black America was failing under the weight of poor schools, poverty, drug abuse, and single-mother households? Having fun with my old friend and laughing about our school days had provided an unexpected opportunity for reflection. I was embarrassed with myself that I had accepted an image of a helpless and hopeless Black America, when in reality families like Leon’s were thriving, just like their white peers. I was pissed about the relentless media narration that had affected me. And I was grateful to my old friend for opening my eyes to the diverse truth about Black America at the end of the twentieth century.
TOMORROW: Chapter 32
Copyright Vicki Marie Stolsen, 2014, Forever Forty-Four Publications, Publicity Rare Bird Lit, Tyson Cornell, Tyson@rarebirdlit.com, Distribution by Ingram, Available online and in bookstores in paperback, eBook, and audio format.