I was in high school in the late 1970’s. Five years earlier schools were segregated in Charlotte. By the time I got to high school we, the kids, had figured out the black and white thing even if our parents hadn’t.
If you remember high school you remember all the “clicks”. We had the jocks, the nerds, the heads (dope smokers) and so on. The white kids and the black kids each had their own clicks and for the most part remained separate with the exception of the jocks which I was a part of.
The jocks hung out at a burger joint about half way between the white neighborhoods and the black neighborhoods, it was neutral ground. In this era, the schools may have been segregated but that didn’t mean the restaurants were. This was a place we could get together, as a group, after football and basketball games, sneak some beers and not get hassled by white or black adults. Thinking back, I am not sure why this place was integrated or so progressive at the time but thankfully it was.
Now the jock group consisted of, obviously, the jocks and the girls that liked or dated the jocks. There was a hierarchy, a leader if you will of both sides and a pecking order of where you fell below the most popular white or black jock. I was somewhere in the top three-quarters, not the leader, but also not bringing up the rear.
Before I continue let me back-up a little. Even though I was raised in a deep Southern Baptist region I am and have always been attracted to African-American women. Mixed couples are certainly more commonplace now than they were in 1977. But honestly both sides of the racial coin frowned on mixing the two in the 1970’s, white Dad’s and black Dad’s.
Brenda was the most popular black female in our high school class and as such dated the most popular black jock, Jerome. I had known her since the seventh grade and thought she was beautiful then. I had my own girlfriend, cute, from a dysfunctional family, but her looks trumped that baggage. One day Brenda needed a ride and I offered to help her out. As we sped down the road together I couldn’t help but feel the flush of all those sixteen year old hormones rushing through my veins. She was so pretty, so sweet, so smart, and damn she smelled good.
We stopped in front of her grandmother’s house and rather than getting out she smiled at me. We sat in the car and talked for an hour. Everything I knew and felt about her was confirmed. I decided to take a chance and kiss her which she thankfully accepted. When she got out of the car she leaned down through the window and gave me a beautiful smile and said thank you. I thought about her the rest of the evening.
The next day Brenda grabbed me in the hall and said she needed to talk to me. Her grandmother had seen us kiss and told her Dad. He was not happy. She touched my hand and once again with that beautiful smile said thank you. I asked for what? She just shrugged her shoulders and walked away.
Brenda knew what I didn’t, the world, at least our little world, wasn’t ready for that kind of relationship. The pushback would have been fierce and although my parents are very progressive they would have recognize the struggle. We remained friends for the next two years of high school, friends with a secret.
I wonder sometimes what our life would have been like together. Would we have had to move out of the South to a more accepting region or was acceptance at that time simply a pipe dream? Sometimes I think the world has changed and then I wonder if it really has.