I was born in 1955.

I grew up on black and white TV. I remember manually changing TV channels (a pair of pliers due to a lost TV knob), and foiled wrapped around the TV antennae as embellishment (a necessity for receiving a clear station and alleviating static). I grew up with Amos and Andy, I Love Lucy, Ed Sullivan, Baby Huey, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Walter Cronkite, Dr. Kildare, Maverick and Gunsmoke. The closest thing I had to MTV was Lawrence Welk and Mitch Miller. My favorite show of all time--Tarzan with the original Johnny Weissmuller.

The first time I saw people on TV that looked like me was on episodes of Tarzan. I adored the concept. Tarzan had been traveling with his parents as an infant when their plane crashed into the thick jungles of Africa. The whole premise is that the monkeys and apes found the infant and raised him as one of their own, teaching him how to survive in the jungle.

Every Saturday the plot (as best I cold discern in the 1960's as a young "negro" child) revolved around white people coming to the jungles of Africa on a treasure hunting safari. They came exploiting the resources of the land for their own personal gain. Tarzan, friend to the villagers as well as the animals, was Africa's self appointed protector. The script writers' plot portrayed Tarzan's foes with a poaching mentality that centered around abusing, killing or destroying whole villages of African people in order to get the bounty that they desired. Saturday after Saturday, the white men would upset the balance of the Jungle and they would often raid and destroy everything in their path. The villagers of course responded as any patriot would in protection of his or her home land--with anger and a sense of vindication. The European response to the African's preparations for retaliation was summed up by the shows writers in one huge biting phrase that rolled weekly off the lips of the white intruders:

“The natives are getting restless!”

Even as a child that phrase 'the natives are getting restless' would agitate me because it was always the precursor to mass destruction of people who looked just like me. There was something in the way that it was said that made me feel subhuman. I couldn't understand as a child why I was expected to “let” the white man, or any person for that matter destroy my beautiful jungles, kill thousands of my elephants for their tusks, rape my land of her diamonds and me not respond. On Saturdays I was being indoctrinated into sitting idly by and watching these atrocities and indignities occur to the Great African Motherland. And I was being institutionally taught that the only person who could effectively “save the day” was a White man. As harsh as this sounds, the reality was that there were no African or African American hero counterparts to help “balance the day.”

It was the last day of Vacation Bible School. We were preparing to hand out goody bags to slightly over 200 children who were waiting with hunger and excitement. The children began to push and shove in anticipation for their little packages. Somehow, the spirit of the children frightened the other female missionaries. They became nervous as the children began to push and shove and inch in toward them invading their personal space.
The women started gathering their skirts closer to themselves. They seemed to do what we as kids did when we played “COWBOYS” and the “INDIANS” were attacking us. Us “COWBOYS” would “circle up”; standing back to back as a strategy portraying unified strength against the “INDIANS”. Then one of the missionaries said it. The phrase that I hadn't heard since I was 10 years old. The missionary clapped her hands at me, the way my mother used to clap her hands at our pet cocker spaniel when she was demanding its obedience.

“Hurry up,(clap-clap-clap) Yolantha, (clap-clap-clap) hurry up (clap-clap-clap)!!! The natives are getting restless. (clap)”

Suddenly out of nowhere my ancestral slave side stood face to face with my radical…say it loud I'm black and I'm proud side of the 1960's. My head snapped, my chest protruded, my legs went into straddle and I felt my feet grab earth. I was ready to fight, big time.

Out of the corner of my ear I heard, “Miss Yolantha, Miss Yolantha, me first, me first, me…me…me.” Which snapped me back into reality. The venom and bile spit in my mouth splashed back down my throat replaced by a more cinnamon nurturing taste. I quickly began passing out bag after bag of wonderful goodies that had been prepared for the delight of the children--pencils, coloring books, toothbrushes, matchbox cars, afro picks, reading books with bright colored pictures, starlight mints, juicy-fruit chewing gum, baggies of chex party mix. Angelic laughter and Holy Ghost glee was everywhere.

Later on that evening back at the missionary compound, sitting on the porch veranda the female missionaries were discussing their insights on the results of our day. I kept hearing phrases that included, “them” and “those people”. The missionary that had clapped at me earlier, leaned over with her forearms on her lap, fanned herself in the hot Haitian evening with the edge of her skirt, and announced with a nervous giggle, “The natives sure were restless.”

My flesh side forgot that my trigger was still cocked from earlier usage of this phrase. My insides went off like a double barrel shot gun.

Somebody, which I soon learned was me, said, “I'm not sure when we get back to America we will all be telling the same story about what we participated in today.” I knew it had to have been me who said it cause all the other missionaries were glaring at me with their mouths open as if they were singing the last note of a church choir anthem.

That night laying in bed, unable to go to sleep I tried to recount what happened next on the porch. Phrases bombarded and ricocheted around in my head like in some Spike Lee horror movie.

“I don't know what you mean?”
“Are you saying that I'm a racist.?”
“I went to school with a black person!”
“One of my best friends at work is black!”

I just couldn't figure the turn of events out. By the time our “discussion” ended a bucket of crocodile tears had been spilled and I was left sitting on the porch all alone. The only other thing that I remember saying that contributed to this onslaught of American anxiety was, “But why would anyone use the phrase, ‘the natives are restless'? This isn't some Tarzan movie. Why do we keep saying ‘them' and ‘those people'? Because…there for the grace of God go you and I or your children and my children.”

To my dismay there are now a host of women who will not go on the mission field if they know that I'm going. I fear that when I die, this will be one of those “be angry and sin not” scenarios that God will find it necessary to hold me accountable for.

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