The year was 1986. I had just come off what I thought was the worst year of my life to that point. In April of ’85 my mother’s mama died. She was my best friend. Later that year in November, a BellSouth transfer ripped me away from the only place I knew as home, Knoxville, TN, and we came here to Nashville, TN. I wasn’t very happy about it.
Coming to Nashville wasn’t all bad. It was a chance for me to make a fresh start. I missed my friends in Knoxville, but there was ONE thing I didn’t miss about them. Having a “weird” name like Hosie kind of made it hard for me. I was teased on the REGULAR about it. You remember “Ring Around The Rosie”? Well I HATED that. I still do. It often would involve them putting my name in it some kind of way. It would hurt my feelings, but kids don’t give a damn. They kept it up for a while until I starting trying to knock them out. The teasing about “Hosie” stopped.
I had 2nd grade teacher named Mrs.Payne. She was EXTRA country. She would often call her students by their first and middle names (especially when we were in trouble). Since I don’t have a middle name, she took the liberty of assigning me one. “Hosie Joe, stop talking so much!” was something she would often say. Mrs. Payne didn’t know it, but Joe was a gift that I would take with me to my new home in Nashville.
Like I said earlier, I wasn’t happy about moving to the place that up until that point, I had only associated with the TV show Hee Haw. Children are often able to adapt to these situations though, so I guess that’s what I did. There were only two positives I could think of about the move. One, I would be four hours closer to seeing my family in Tupelo. Secondly, I was able to tell all the new kids I’d meet, that my name is Joe, in an attempt to keep the teasing down.
In the summer of 1986 we moved into a house of our own for the first time I could remember. The house was on Bowfield Drive in Antioch, TN. It was a nice two-story, four-bedroom home with a big yard. I was very excited about that, although I still carried a lot of resentment for being taken away from Knoxville. The best thing about the neighborhood was my mama would let me ride my bike up and down our street as much -and just about as far – as I wanted to go. It was relatively “safe” for me to do so. So that’s what I did.
It was about a month after arriving in Antioch when I finally became comfortable with how things would be for me. It was the July before I was to begin 5th grade. I was riding my bike up and down the street as if I owned it. I had fun. It was nice to be free to ride on a street, and not circle around in an apartment complex parking lot. It was a dead end, so there wasn’t a lot of traffic. I was the man – in my own 10 year old sort of way.
Then one day, in a flash, my “manhood” was challenged.
It was a Saturday afternoon. I was riding my bike up and down the street as usual. There were some boys who lived down the street from me who also would ride with me, so I went to see if they could come out. They weren’t home, so I decided I would just go back home because it was boring to ride alone.
Mama gave me ONE rule about being able to ride in the street: Get on the side of the road when cars are coming. I did that religiously. Too bad it wasn’t all that good in keeping me safe from harm.
Now, on my way down to my friend’s house, a truck passed me going really fast. I did what mama told me and got to the side of the road until it passed. It was really loud and I could tell they were going fast from really far away. I moved, so it wasn’t a big deal. On my way back home, I heard those pipes again. I remembered how fast they were going last time, so I got off my bike and stood in somebody’s yard. I was going to stay there until they passed. They didn’t pass.
It was a green Chevy Silverado with what I recognized as a “General Lee Flag” plate on the front. The passenger door was dented in. There were five white dudes in the truck. I think they may have been teens or in their early 20s. Three were in the cab and two were in the bed. The ones in the back were drinking beer, being loud and laughing. The driver stopped the truck in front of where I was standing in the yard. I was getting kind of scared, so I began to walk my bike up the hill to go home. They started creeping next to me as I walked. The guy closest to me in the cab of the truck slung his drink on me and started laughing. I started to cry and I picked up my pace. I tried not to look at them. I was SO scared. They asked me, “Where you think you’re going, nigger?!” I said, “I’m going home!”, still keeping my eyes focussed on where I was going, in hopes they’d leave me alone.
They weren’t done. One of the dudes in the bed of the truck said, “Where’s home? Bordeaux? That’s where all the niggers live!” and hit me in my mouth with a can of beer that felt like it was still half-full. They were laughing the WHOLE TIME. I laid my bike down, and started to run home. They followed me, spraying beer on me. I couldn’t see my house yet, but I was on my way. They threw more empty bottles and cans at me and kept laughing. I kept going. I’ve STILL never been as scared in my whole life as I was in that moment. I think the only reason they stopped is because a car turned left off Reeves Road and the person inside could PLAINLY SEE what they were doing to me. They left and I was relieved… for the moment.
Still crying, STILL wet from beer being poured on and sprayed at me and bleeding from my lip, I finally made it home. I came in and told my mama what happened to me about five minutes prior to me coming through the door. She comforted me, but I could tell she wasn’t surprised by it. It seemed as if what happened to me was some kind of backward-ass rite of passage, initiation-type shit I had to go through. All I wanted to know is “WHY?”
What could I have done as a 10 year old to deserve that? What kind of low-life assholes would do that to me. Why is it so wrong that I lived there? Any level of comfort I had began to have with the neighborhood was GONE. I was scared to even go outside. Would those dudes be back? They told me, “Don’t let us catch your black ass around here anymore!”, as they peeled out in that loud-ass truck.
I never saw them again.
That 30 seconds in time kind of shaped who I am today in some ways. After the intial crying and being sad about what happened, it all turned into anger. I have learned over time to focus that anger directly at those who wish to bring harm to me in any way. Back then, I was just a 10-year-old little boy. Now I’m a grown man, and things would be dealt with differently if it happened to me today. I won’t take that lying down. I made a vow to myself that day that if ANYBODY makes me feel that way again, that whomever is responsible for it, they won’t leave laughing at me. I promise that.
So the next time you are dismissive about someone’s story or how they feel about something they percieve as racist that may have happened to them or see it happening to somebody else, take a step back. Get off that, “It’s 2014 now, and things have changed” attitude. I’m sure some would say things had changed in 1986 when what happened to me, happened. I didn’t write this for sympathy, but listening instead of denying things are how they are would help a lot.
Like I said, I don’t think I ever saw those dudes again. What’s bad is that they probably haven’t thought about what they did to me since about 10 minutes after they stopped laughing.
I’ve been thinking about it every day for over 28 years.