The next day starts with Professor Williams asking the class for a list of derogatory terms that white folks call black people. Someone says, “Negro.” and he writes it on the blackboard. It is followed by “colored” and literally a dozen more of what today would be called “major racial slurs.” Each one written on the blackboard.
I’m really beginning to wonder what this has to do with African-American Literature and I’m thinking that a little Frederick Douglass would be a good thing about now.
To say the atmosphere was thick would be an understatement. This is not going well. Professor Williams, sensing the tension, says, “OK, guys. Everybody relax. Be cool. These are just words, other names that white folks call us. Work with me.”
I’m thinking that this would be a good time NOT to participate. I looked at Gwen, a girl I knew from another class, and she rolled her eyes as if to say, “This might be a good time to get out of Dodge, white boy.” I winked at her in a false display of bravado.
This goes on forever and the list was quite comprehensive. Finally, a big guy named Samuel, who in the ‘60s would be dubbed a militant, could stand no more, and I don’t know as I blamed him! He stands up, looks at me, and says, “Do we have to listen to this s+*t with Casper sitting here?”
I said, “What the hell did you call me?” Samuel was waving his arms and stomping his feet and he replied, “Casper! You know, Casper the ghost. You look like a ghost sitting here among all these black faces!”
Well, it was quite a hoot. Gwen laughed, as did all the girls. Professor Williams started roaring, and the guys in the class laughed, as did I. Even poor Samuel fell victim and couldn’t control himself, either. Isn’t there an old cliché that “laughter is the best medicine”? It sure was that day!