William is the whole package. Handsome, successful, personable and stylish. He would be a great catch for any woman (or man, as the case may be). But, his gorgeous wife and 3 stellar kids seem to have made that option moot.
Our friendship goes way back to the 1970 Kent State days. Yes, those Kent State days. I enrolled in the Autumn of 1970 amidst the angst that draped the campus since May 4. “Sho Mo” as William liked to call himself (damned if I know the “significance of”or “why” to this day) has remained my “Brother from Another Mother”. Never occurred to me that he was “black”, “colored”, “negro”, “African-American” or any other designation that seemed confusing and pointless. He was Sho Mo then. Still is now. And I am glad to be his best buddy, “Arab”.
Back then everybody called me “Arab”. It was my moniker, nickname and (believe it or not) an endearment. I wore the title on my intramural jersey and tagged it beneath my student government documents. “Arab” was cool. Being of Middle Eastern ancestry seemed exotic and interesting to my associates. One girlfriend loved introducing me as her “Phoenician”. Flashback:
He arrived at Ellis Island.
“What’s your name”?
“I am Isaac, son of Shakir”.
“Hmmmm. Isaac Shaker. Next”.
Grandpa hailed from the Maronite conclaves in the mountains of Central Lebanon. As Catholics in the Levant, they were particularly profiled-persecuted people during the Ottoman scourge. He made it to Niles, Ohio, open his dry goods store, and became a successful citizen.
Isaac and Sophia Running Shaker’s Store in Niles Ohio circa early 2oth Century
As I discussed the present day immigration issue madness with Sho Mo, I could not help but reflect on my life in Northeastern Ohio. Grandpa Isaac served and then was embraced by the predominately Italia and Irish immigrant communities of steel belt Niles. Everybody came from somewhere else and the “I am a (blank)-American” was always part of an introduction. After all, the Lady in the Harbor was holding a torch, not a stop sign.
Lt. J. G. Mitchell F. Shaker
My dad never talked about any “race/bigotry” issues other than the collective residents kicking the crap out of the KKK when they tried to get off the train at the Niles Depot in the 30’s. People got along, drank fro the same water fountains, went to war, praised the peace and started the Baby Boom. Mom and dad were prolific at this. I am the 5th of 8.
Fast-forward to 9/11, Iraq, Paris, Daesh, San Bernardino and all that is evil. In the past 15 years, I have had my humble share of profiling, insults, stares and glares. My personal feelings ranged from mild annoyance to fear to utter rage. But, no suite at Guantanamo or “right”eous indignation had befallen me (yet).
This was the subtle basis of my discussion with William when we caught up a few weeks ago. The obligatory chitchat about family and career completed (he is a bank VP with a killer suit / I am still the happy hobo), I slipped into my diatribe about demonized profiling and how it had come to roost on my brown-bearded head.
My “American” Clan in the 50’s
My mantra on affirmative action, civil rights, Dr. King and a colorblind paradise was Nobel-Prize-worthy. “One Country=The World”. “One Race=Human”. I preached, taught, believed and ministered this message throughout my adult life and it remains the core of my conscience to this day.
The KoomByeAh aria ended with my humble admittance. “William. I never truly appreciated the struggle until this past decade. I have been searched, called ‘sand nigger’, been told to go back where I came from…Hell, I even had people move their seats on airplanes to avoid my foreboding presence”.
I can almost empathize to some degree. Back in 2003, when I was in the Mel Gibson film, “Passion of the Christ”, I looked like this.
“Eyepatch” / Temple Guard for the Pharisees
Scared myself every day on set for 3 months when I went to “Hair & Makeup”.
Sho Mo sat there in facial neutral, baking my words. Would I get a fist bump? Maybe he’ll give me a slap on the back, welcoming me to the prejudice victims party. Most likely, he will tell me to stop whining, grow up and deal with it.
6-second silence pauses can be an eternity, especially after one has born their injured soul in hopes of alliance or just plain sympathy. At 7 seconds, the Sho Mo neutral expression bloomed into a smile that illuminated the otherwise bastille bar we sat in. By the 8th second, he calmly rolled out these wise words.
“Arab, it’s just your turn at the woodpile”.