Have you ever been discriminated against while you are in Scouts? I don't think discrimination is right, and I think that everyone in Scouting should be equal except for the professionals since they get paid to work on Scouting. Were you a Scout? In your group, did you work on something and didn't get it, while the white kids in your group worked on the same thing and got their badges and what nots? What did you do about it? Did you get every badge you went out for or were there some badges that you could not get because you lived in a place that didn't have all of the "good stuff" like a swimming pool, or hiking roads or things like that? Did you buy your uniforms from the store or someplace like Goodwill or Salvation Army or (name of thrift store)? Did anyone know the difference? How did you raise the money to go to camp or were your Momma and folks rich? Did your Daddy help you to earn your badges or was he gone? I ask all of these questions, not because I want to get into your stuff, but because I'm a Scout and I want to someday get all of the things you have...but I want to know will I have to be around all kinds of other people to get them or can I do them by myself and with my Momma's help?
Great questions. First, my Mom and Dad were NEVER "rich". My Dad retired from the Army at the grade of E-7 (Sergeant First Class (SFC)). When he retired, SFCs made $2200 A MONTH. That's it. He did not receive a housing allowance because we lived in base housing most of my life. My Mom has been fortunate enough to learn a trade that has done her well...she is a beautician and a great one at that!! She has saved and scraped up enough money over the many years of standing on her feet and doing other's hair, to afford a nice house and a nice (Lexus!) car. But that came with a lot of sacrifice on her part and on her family's.
Yes, I was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Explorer growing up. My first Boy Scout uniform was purchased from the Post Exchange in Stuttgart, Germany, and I grew out of it a year later. My second Boy Scout uniform was purchased from the Thrift Shop at Fort Knox, Kentucky and I have alternated between purchasing brand new uniforms and purchasing used uniforms. I now own five uniforms, three of which are the 'old type', the old khaki uniforms. I also own an Explorer/Venturer shirt and a "dress shirt" (the one in which I am wearing on my website). I have purchase uniforms over the years from second-hand stores, from Goodwill and from Salvation Army and I'll be truthful with you: nobody really cares where you got your shirt or pants. Nobody has ever asked me where did I get my uniforms from. I dry clean my wool shirts and have all of the other shirts pressed with creases. When I was growing up, I washed and pressed my own uniforms with a hand iron and spray starch.
My parents helped me when I was a Cub Scout. One of my favorite family experiences is explained in "Patches and Pins", one of the books I've wrote about my Scouting experiences. In a chapter, I explained that my parents didn't know what a giraffe was and I had to show them photos of what the animal looked like. They needed to know this so that they would assist me with making a paper mache' version of one. It was too much fun...everyone - Mom, Dad, my younger brother Shell - we were all around the kitchen table making this "chewed paper" and applying it to coat hangers and balled up paper. I was so proud of my animal when I brought it to the Pack meeting...I didn't win any prizes, especially since it wasn't a giraffe but a lion!! (They knew what a lion looked like and so that's what we ended up making!) I was proud of my family for helping me. There were some boys in my Den whose parents didn't help them at all, and I felt fortunate. Talk about counting blessings!
My parents didn't help me when I became a Boy Scout, though...they couldn't. My dad has been on "bivouacs" with the Army, but has never been CAMPING before. My Mom didn't see the use in it. Soon, I was really on my own as my parents felt that "I should have been over that Scouting stuff" and it started downhill from there. My Dad did serve on a Troop Committee for a year and did help out with transportation (his specialty in the Army!) from time to time, but soon, other things and their displeasure with me being as active as I was in Scouts got the best of them both.
How did I earn money for camps? I cut grass. I washed cars. I babysat, frequently with an old girlfriend and we split the pay. I bagged groceries before a contract moved all of the kids out of the local Commissary. I painted buildings. And I begged for money from my parents, like every other child does. Eventually, I held a part-time job managing Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting and doing tours of Fort Knox for Scouting groups. I also went door-to-door selling holiday cards and disposable flashlights.
Have I been discriminated against while a Scout or Scouter? Yeah. How have I dealt with it? Sometimes I became really angry about it all and swore I was going to involve Reverent Jackson or someone like that in it. Other times, it didn't bother me at all because the issue was not a big deal to me. I guess the best advice I can give to anyone whose been discriminated against or who feels slighted because of something someone else did or said, is to back up and think "if that was ME saying or doing those things to HIM or HER, how would that make them feel?" Then, I would work from there. Sometimes, people - White, Black, Orange, Maroon - really don't KNOW that what they've said or done is considered "discrimination". I had a Scoutmaster to always bring out watermelon to a campout and I would have to go out somewhere downwind from it until everyone was done. I can't eat watermelon, and even watermelon candy gets me physically ill! He didn't know that...he assumed that "well, since he's Black, he must LOVE watermelon and so I'll bring him and the rest of the guys a special treat!"
Next time, I told him once, bring me some vanilla ice cream as a "special treat!"
I've had other people to suggest merit badges for me to earn, because "I would be great at it". Merit badges like Athletics. And I've had people to suggest that I find other things to do, because "Black people don't like Scouting and they never will...because they can't be in charge of it."
If you find yourself the victim of discrimination, talk with someone you trust first about it to insure that you are not over-reacting to a given situation. More than 200 years of discrimination and racial bias tend to make a lot of Black Scouts and Scouters "trigger-happy" whenever we're around in a situation... so before you pull out the "race card", check yourself: is this REALLY discrimination or racial bias or is it just something I've never been exposed to before and since I've never BEEN there, it's GOT to be "racially motivated."
I lived on military bases most of my young life, and while you would think that they had everything, some didn't. I didn't get to do a lot of stuff in Scouts over the years simply because both my Mom and Dad worked and I couldn't get out to wherever the event was. Other times, I would get rides with different families and while that was great, I didn't want to impose on them so I didn't go to some things. Then, there was the whole thing of the "hand-me-down uniforms" that I had on...some of them to ME looked like they were bought from the Thrift Shop, even though to others it was just the same as what they were wearing. So, yeah, there were some badges that I really WISHED that I had been able to earn when I was growing up...but I didn't. But just to show you that NOTHING is truly impossible: I called up an old girlfriend of mine whose family bought a farm in south Hardin County. I asked to speak with her father, and while he wasn't too hot about me personally, he allowed me and four other Boy Scouts to spend an entire week on his family's farm so that we could earn four farm-related merit badges. I learned about cows, meats, chickens, hogs, tobacco and how this family make ends meet from week to week, month to month. You have to know and use your resources, that's all. NOTHING is impossible for you to achieve through Scouting... absolutely nothing. All it takes is your desire to do your best, and knowing where the resources are to do the things you want to do.
The thing that really makes me excited about Scouting is the fact that unlike other stuff... Scouting is the GREAT EQUALIZER. No matter where I'm at, or what I'm doing, or who's Troop I belong to... I earn the badge, I get the badge. I may not get the badge at the same time as other boys get the badge, but I get the badge. And if I don't get the badge, I can call upon the people at the BSA office at the Council and at National (and now, I've got people all over the nation online I can contact and talk with!) and through them, I can "get the badge". The days in which Johnny Gorlen tells me "you ain't gonna get that badge because my daddy's the Scoutmaster and I'm gonna tell him not to give it to you" are OVER AND DONE WITH.
And a big AMEN to that!
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