My real friends know I’m just a poor kid from the projects at heart who is more at home in simple environs. One place is a neighborhood soul food spot where a group of fellows often gathers to eat, talk and just hang out. The same crew has frequented the same haunts for years — the restaurant, a nearby park, a barbershop and various sporting venues in the city. I took a visiting friend with me to the eatery last week and the usuals were there debating current events. As we joined them, neighborhood mainstay Will had the floor.
“Have a sit down and take a load off, Doc. We was just talking about that Supreme Court boy — Scalia. Whose your friend?” Will asked.
“This is Kerry,” I responded. “He wanted some good soul food, so I brought him by.”
“Good place to bring him. Welcome, Kerry. I’m Will. My granddaddy, Jesse, always said you ought to give a man your full name when you meet him. Mine is William Ulysses Burghardt Semple. I know that’s a mouthful. That’d be Will U.B. Semple for short. My friends just call me Will. If you a friend of Doc’s, you a friend of mine.”
“Nice to meet you, Will,” Kerry said.
“Back to what I was saying, Doc. I know you and your smart friends got a lot to say about what that boy Scalia said about black folks going to good schools. We was just talking about is he right or wrong? Is he racist or ain’t he? What do you think?”
“Scalia has always been an interesting personality,” I said. “If he isn’t racist, he’s certainly a bit racially insensitive. Of course, some people feel that his questions were warranted. Others still are strongly against affirmative action and think it is racist. This group thinks anybody who is against it will be negatively labeled. It’s controversial and people differ.”
Will laughed, leaned over and hugged me. “See, that’s what I’m talkin’ bout, Doc. You and your smart friends over there at the school get so wrapped up in all your analyzing that ya’ll can’t see what’s plain. Seems to me that boys like Scalia be forgetting a lot when they talk about this affirmative action thing. They want to whoop up on black folks, but don’t never talk about how white girls done got a whole lot more out of this deal than us. Then they want to talk about we ain’t smart enough to go to they best schools. Well, the way I see it is folks who thought that boy Bush was smart enough to go and become president two times ain’t got much right to talk about who is intelligent and who ain’t.”
Will continued, “Now, I ain’t too much surprised and I ain’t much troubled by what Scalia said. Black folk been going through that kinda mess for a long time. I reckon we going to go through it for some time to come. My problem is with that boy Clarence sitting there and letting him say it.”
Kerry asked, “So, Will — are you surprised by Thomas? It’s no secret how close he is to Scalia or that he’s against affirmative action. It’s also no secret that he rarely speaks during these arguments before the Court.”
“I didn’t say I was surprised, Kerry,” Will responded. “I just said I got a problem with him. My granddaddy always said that it don’t matter if our folks is at the table if they saying the same damn thing other folks at the table been saying. This boy Clarence just don’t say nothing, which is the same thing in my book.”
“I don’t know about that,” the Reverend Booker T. Thomas interjected. “Many people say Justice Thomas doesn’t talk because he’s listening intently. That’s all. And I don’t necessarily think Justice Scalia is racist. Everything isn’t about racism. Black people need to stop crying wolf about every little thing. If we worked harder to educate our children so they had more competitive grades and test scores, this wouldn’t be an issue!”
Will smiled, “See Reverend, you just like the Doc — just on the other end. Doc, you think too much. Rev, you think too little. Some things is just simple as they seem.”Join us next month for the continuation of our conversation with Will U.B. Semple and friends.