Commentary-The Scoop LA’s Publisher, Buddy Sampson Talks About His Father and RaceCommentary — By Buddy Sampson on June 12, 2012 at 9:41 pm
My Dad, Jutson Sampson
I’m taking this time to honor my father, Jutson Sampson. His birthday was June 8, 1927. He passed away in 1993. My Dad and I didn’t see eye to eye on a few things, but as I grow older, I realize that some of his life lessons have been invaluable. He ran a successful barbering business for many years and supported me and my younger sister, Carol and my two younger brothers, Steven and Gregory by hard work and dedication to his craft. My mother, Rosalie, also worked, but he was the primary breadwinner. He sometimes worked 16 hours or more a day and he taught me from a young child, the value of work and earning your own money. Sometimes, in his barber shop, he would have me shining the shoes of the customers and it was nice, as a young kid, to not only have a little allowance, but to earn my own money to do what I wanted with it. He was a very good Dad in many ways. I’m very lucky to have had the parents I had, even though I don’t have them any longer. Their lessons, to this day, resonate in my spirit and consciousness.
My Dad, A Recent Incident and Race
My Dad was born in Rocky Ford, GA and grew up in Savannah, GA. Savannah wasn’t exactly what you’d call a town that’s a bastion of racial harmony and my Dad, I’m sure, experienced more than his share of racism, although he rarely talked about it. That sensibility, I’m sure, colored his world, when he decided, along with other members of my family, to relocate to Philadelphia, a city of opportunity. First, my father joined the military, then found his way to the City of Brotherly Love. He learned the barbering business, started a family and moved to the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. At the time, West Oak Lane was primarily a middle -class, predominately White area of town. As children, we were naive to the concept of race. We knew that other kids had a different skin color than ours, of course, but they were just other kids to us.
(Now the following may be graphic for some readers-we apologize in advance, and don’t want to offend anyone, but the point needs to be made.)
Once, I was playing outside and the two neighborhood bullies, who happened to be White, that lived across the driveway from us, decided they wanted to beat me up and I ran in the house crying. My Dad saw what happened and said, “Boy, if you don’t get back out there and fight, I’m going to kick your ass!” So I went back out and kicked both of their asses. I never liked the experience, but knew and learned in my later years, that sometimes you have to fight to gain respect, even if you don’t like it. Now it’s very important for me to mention that the kids’ grandmother, who was also White, was one of the sweetest, kindest ladies I ever met and used to babysit us ever so often. But Dad always warned us, “Don’t ever trust them crackers. You’ve got to stand up for yourself.” He said what he said, likely, as a direct result of his experiences in the South.
My Mom, however was different. She was born in Philadelphia. She was raised in the church and insisted that we learn manners and how to act around others. I went to an all academic school in Philadelphia, Central High, the same high school that Bill Cosby attended. It was a predominately White school and, as I had just started getting serious about music, I met some White friends that became very close to me and I don’t mind mentioning their names, Gregg Davis, an amazing guitarist and another friend and guitarist Christopher Tate. I bought them home with me (and by this time West Oak Lane was 75% Black). She was positively delighted when they would come to visit. But then again, my Mom was the same with everyone, quick to smile and all the kids in the neighborhood loved her. She bought us up to judge people not by their culture or race, but by their character and who they are as people. Having the balance of both my parents was invaluable.
My father became a figure in the community. He worked extremely hard, but was respected, even by the higher ups and popular people in the city, including politicians. He’s cut Frankie Beverly’s hair and Kobe Bryant’s Dad (Joe Bryant’s) hair. (Joe became a friend of mine.) He worked hard and played hard, often going to the neighborhood bars. But he made his share of mistakes. He had the misfortune of encountering the neighborhood bully in a bar, who beat him up. It was a terrible mistake by the bully. My Dad shot and killed him. Because it was ruled self-defense and there were several witnesses, my father did very little time in jail- he was convicted on a weapons charge. But still, the incident was incredibly traumatic for my family.
I’ve had a number of racial incidents in my life. But I was very surprised to have, recently, a few weeks ago, an apparent racial incident. Without going into specifics (there will be a trial coming up) I went to a party and was talking to an actress, who happened to be White, that I had interviewed 10 years ago. There was a gentleman there, who was also White, that throughout the evening, made very bizarre remarks to me. I didn’t pay it much attention, I just laughed them off. At one point, he said to the actress, “There’s an Italian guy in the other room that wants to meet you.” Still, I didn’t give his comments much thought. The party wound down and I asked the actress if I could walk her to her car. After all, the party was in Hollywood, and I wanted to make sure she was safe. The same gentleman (well, I guess in retrospect, he wasn’t a gentleman) was outside and yelled at the actress “don’t let this guy in your life, he’s money hungry.” I honestly thought he was kidding, so I wasn’t on my guard. Suddenly, without warning, he walked up between the actress and I and head butted me! I was positively stunned!
In that moment, several emotions ran through me. As I felt my face and eye swelling, I thought of my Dad, the lessons he taught me. I thought of fighting with the White kids that beat me up as a kid with me in return beating them up after my father implored me to. I thought of my impending rage and I thought of my Dad killing someone in self-defense, but still killing someone. I visualized and felt the same emotions that I’m sure my Dad felt. I saw myself charging the guy and strangling him and my rage was at a fever point. I was furious. And time seemed to stand still. The actress asked me if I was okay, but I wasn’t. I was confused, dazed and enraged. Something had to be done to this guy. So I reached in my pocket.
And pulled out my cell phone and called the police.
Now I know I did the right thing, but I am still very angry about it. I was working my evening job last week and thought about it and silently cried. My tears were not of fear, not of trauma, but tears of feeling bad for our society. I cried because of the pure senselessness of the incident and my failure to understand how anyone could hurt somebody just because they are different from them. They were tears of frustration for my lack of comprehension. Why?
Since then, the guy has been arrested. I couldn’t believe that in 2012, someone wants to hurt me because of my skin color-because I was talking to a female that happens to be White or that people want to hurt each other because they are Latino or Latina or Caucasian or Indian or Middle Eastern or Jewish or Black (or African-American). Now I’m not completely naive. I experience racism most days, but have learned to ignore it. I live in Woodland Hills and pretty much at least once a day, people cross the street when they see me coming. I want to yell, “Hey! I’m a nice guy, why are you doing this? I won’t hurt you. I’m not like that.” But many of us, particularly Black men, have that experience on a daily basis.
A friend of mine said to me last week, no matter what status you achieve, no matter how successful you are, in some people’s eyes you are just a (the N word). Well I beg to differ from him. I’m a proud Black man, who is proud of his race and proud of the many vast and amazing accomplishments that people of color have made in every type of endeavor-in medicine -Dr. Charles E. Drew, for example; in music-from James Brown to Michael Jackson to Ella Fitzgerald and too many to list; in everyday daily travels-the traffic light, the modern version invented by Garrett Augustus Morgan; to sports- Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. But don’t get it twisted. I’m a man first and a Black man second and refuse to let others define me.
Luis De La Cruz
Now this whole commentary is about race and I’m going to first embarrass someone that has become a dear friend to me, Luis De La Cruz. Luis is bear of a man, and if you don’t know him, you would think he’s pretty intimidating. But Luis is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. He has a heart of gold and if you are his friend, he will go the extra mile for you. He’s one of those old school guys that believe in taking care of his family. He lives at home, along with his mother, but that’s not because he can’t get his own place. He does it because he wants to be there for his mother. He once told me that “she always took great care of me, so now when she needs me, I’m not going anywhere.” You’ve got to admire a man like that. A popular person at my evening job, Luis is quick to make everyone laugh and everyone loves him, including me, which I’m not ashamed to say. I just wish he would get the break he deserves and make more money. When I think of Luis, I smile. He and I laugh a lot and I’m totally proud to call him a friend. I have to admit, one day, we decided to meet at a club, after work, with his friends and I totally expected that when I got there, to a mostly Latino club, that he would act like he barely knew me. But we had a ball. He acted like I was part of his posse and I was proud to be included. His friends were very nice to me and I immediately liked them all. Don’t let Mr. Luis fool you. He comes across as a guy that you better not mess with, but really, he’s a bear with a lovable spirit, a huge heart and a loveable energy. He doesn’t know it, but nobody better ever mess with my boy, Luis. I’ll just have to get ready to fight and as he says, “regulate.” Love that guy. He is just a man and who gives a heck that he happens to be a proud Latino-he is my friend.
Blacks and Latinos
Speaking of that, Blacks and Latinos have more commonality than differences. Much is made of the tensions between Latinos and Blacks and that, while it definitely is a problem, too much is made of it. You rarely hear stories of Blacks and Latinos being friends, breaking bread and that sort of thing. You hear about the tensions in jail, the gang fights, the incidents where people have been ambushed by Black and Latino gangs. But to paint all Blacks as racists or all Latinos as racists is a crock. We listen to each other’s music. Growing up in the Black community, there was always Carlos Santana, Malo and Carlos Antonio Jobim. And you can always hear Black music, particularly rap and hip hop, blaring from Latinos cars. Tracing back in history, people of color influenced mariachi music. We eat each others’ food in restaurants and have learned how to cook each others’ food. Every New Year, in my family, tamales bring in the New Year. So why the hate? It angers me to think that a Black person or a Latino person can be killed by wandering in the wrong neighborhood, just because of their culture. Please and I’m begging you if you are reading this, stop the hate and stop it now! And take time to learn a little Black culture if you are Latino and Black folk- you can take time to learn Latino culture too- and make a whole bunch of new friends.
Caucasians and African-Americans
There’s still a lot of tension at times, between Caucasians and African-Americans. The stereotypes abound with both races. Now I do enjoy a good laugh from comedians who make fun of Blacks and Whites. I like that because it’s great to laugh at our differences, rather than to hate others because of it. Robin Williams, who I’ve had the fortune of interviewing, is one of the funniest comedians I’ve ever met and he has a Black accent down. And Chris Rock and Jamie Foxx have White accents down. Comedians are important because they open dialogue about our differences in a way that makes people laugh, but also opens social consciousness. But in terms of race and racists, America, and the world for that matter, still has a long way to go. My father once said to me that he will never see racial harmony in his lifetime. Unfortunately, he was right. But I wish he would have lived long enough to see a Black president. He would have been proud. But I want to remind Black folk of one thing- there were many Whites that died in this country fighting the injustice bought about by slavery in this country. I implore my people to read about John Brown, a White man, who was hung for treason after he fought valiently for the right of freedom. Or read about Levi and Catherine Coffin, Quakers from the North that helped many Blacks escape to freedom. So when you paint all Whites with one brush, remember their contributions to Black culture.
I implore Whites to stop believing everything they see on television and on the news and stop stereotyping Blacks. We are not all robbers and thieves or rappers or hip hop artists with girls in scantily clad bikinis. Most of us, when we watch the news and hear bad news, we pray it isn’t someone that’s Black, because it’s one more strike against us, fueled by the media. And we don’t all drive Cadillacs and beat up our women. Think for one moment, our culture without Blacks. Think of that Black doctor, the surgeon that saved your mother’s life. Or that lawyer that happens to be Black, that got your son or daughter, who made a mistake, out of jail. Or the Black judge that sends a killer to jail. Or the President that protected our country by capturing and killing one of the most notorious of criminals and made us more safe. Think of that and please stop it, stop putting all Black people in a box and judge us each on our own individual merit. It’s more than overdue that we begin living and executing Martin Luther King’s dream- for everyone to co-exist. Just think of the good that we can do for our planet if all cultures, all races work towards a common goal- the betterment of man and womankind.
Really and I implore everyone- stop the hate and stop it now.
I recognize that I’ve said some things that may be controversial for some readers, but I encourage you to write us and tell us what you think. There’s no need to sugar coat your remarks. We are interested in hearing what you have to say on this topic. I’ve opened up comments and please feel free to leave one or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know that we love you here, regardless of your race or culture and please take the time to tell others how much love you have for them.
God Bless and Love to you all.
Buddy Sampson, Publisher, The Scoop LA