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Memory: Walking with my dad, a Korean War Veteran, and watching him nod to other black men

Walking with my dad

by Frederick H. Lowe

BlackmansStreet.Today

When I was growing up in Tacoma, Washington, I would walk with my dad, Mitchell Lowe. I was usually behind him because he was tall and had long legs. Sometimes, I walked very fast or ran to keep up.

One thing I noticed is when my dad and another black man approached each other walking in opposite directions, they would nod their heads to acknowledge each other. My father is dead, and I ‘m a senior citizen. My age has led me to think about what was going on at the time.

Mitchell Lowe, wearing his U.S. Army uniform. He retired as a Chief Warrant Officer W 3. He is father to Joel, Frederick, Karl, Mitchell Eugene and Ruth Kirsten

 

I didn’t have to look far.

In a essay published in 2014 by  Musa  Okwonga, a Berlin-based musician, poet and author, described the “Nod: a subtle lowering of the head you give another black person in an overwhelmingly white place.”

“The nod is a swift yet intimate statement of ethnic solidarity,” Okwonga added in his article published in “M Matter.” Much more intimate than a high five or a handshake.

My father was a U.S. Army officer stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska, and later Fort Lewis, Washington, near Tacoma, where he retired. Both areas were overwhelmingly white.

In uniform, black men found some form of respect. Out of uniform, cops stopped and arrested black men for no reason other than they had the power to do so.

I witnessed this when I was 13 or 14.

I had entered the Soap Box Derby. Two white kids accused me of stealing their Derby wheels.

Their accusations were enough to have five cops from the Tacoma Police Department harshly question my dad in the backyard of our home at 3130 S. Melrose Street about the wheels and his time in the service, including serving in the Korean War.

Their questions made my dad angry and me scared. The next day a youth officer from the Tacoma Police Department and the two boys came to our house. The boys quickly admitted they had lied about the wheels. The cop turned and left. I don’t remember him apologizing.

Black men are constantly under assault from police, black women and other racial ethnic groups who come to this country to build fortunes while we stand in place.

The assault on black men is painfully evident in the movie “Harriet,” the biopic about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. The film is being boycotted partly because of its racist depiction of black men.

I don’t see black men nodding to each other anymore. We usually look straight ahead avoiding,  looking at women of all races fearing what they may think.

But we should at each other, because we all face the same daily microaggressions from women who clutch their purses in fear. Security guards follow us in stores because they believe we are thieves. I was standing in line to buy as a book on Chess at Barnes & Noble in Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.

The black security guard squeezed in behind me. He unbuttoned his gun holster so he could quickly reach for his weapon to prepare for me robbing the store. Stupidly, I bought the book enriching Barnes and Noble’s racist management that was ready to murder me based on their racist indoctrination and his ignorance.

I am a regular patient at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. I was inside Gaulter Pavilion walking to my appointment when an Indian woman physician clutched her purse as though I was there to steal it.

When I see a black man, I always manage to greet him with good morning, good afternoon or good evening. Some ignore me and turn their heads. Others smile and greet me in return because as black men we all need a lift, a felt sense of having allies in an unending barrage of unwarranted negativity.

 

Our dad served 21 years in Army before retiring. U.S. involvement in Vietnam War was escalating. I wanted to enlist to fight in Vietnam. Dad said no. “I went into the Army for you. You go to college. I did, and I graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle. It was the best decision he ever made for me. I wish he was alive to hear my gratitude on this Veterans Day.

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4 Comments

  1. Judson L. Jeffries, PhD

    Good Morning Fred,

    Thanks for this nicely written and conceptualized article, my Brother. Just FYI: Black men still nod, especially those of us of a certain age. I’m 54, I do it every day. My spouse noticed this many many years ago before we were married. She said, “I notice that Black men speak to you, why is that?” My answer: “There’s nothing special about me, this is just something that Black men do, we acknowledge one another.” Now; you’re right, I do see it less these days than ever before, but there are still many of us who continue to honor this age-old custom.
    Sincerely,
    Judson L. Jeffries, PhD

  2. Well done. Well said. Well remembered. Thanks!

  3. Very impactful and touching article. Society’s attitudes have changed very little, if not are worst in current times. No matter what complexion, dark or light, meaningful accomplishments, standing in society or just standing on the corner, how a Black man, men of color, behaves just going about our normal everyday lives, all of us can be, are subjected to generations of racism, then and now. “Black Lives Matter”, even if it’s just a nod of recognition of one Black man to another Black man in affirmation of respect and there within, our importance.

  4. Fred:
    What a moving tribute to your Dad. I feel the love and respect in your words and I know he see/hears/feels the tribute.
    The “nod” was a show of reverence and, in this day of incivility, it’s refreshing to read about a stand-up man.
    God bless you for having been raised by such an inspiring man.

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