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QUIT PLAYIN’: “Them White Folks and Peggy”

I met a lady named Peggy in the store the other night. We took a chance and bought a few lottery tickets. Please don’t hold it against us. If your skin was kissed with the sunlight of melanin, you take a chance every time you walk out of the door.

But I will leave that subject right there because that ain’t my thesis statement today.

Peggy was a forceful voice of encouragement. “I read you every week, and whatever you do, continue to keep it real. You be telling the truth so keep it up.” So here we go.

Every day, as we traverse from place to place, we are stopped or stymied by road construction. Everywhere you go, there is a road crew fully engaged. The high number of projects have caused a shortage of concrete, asphalt, rock, and other road material.

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From I-35 to US 67 South in Oak Cliff and all points north, south, east, and west, there are cranes, bulldozers, dump trucks, and hundreds if not thousands of men working but something is amiss!

My problem is not that Hispanics make up 95% of the crews. My issue is that so few of the teams include Blacks. I ain’t got nothing but love for my Mexican brothers. They are “coming up” because they show up. These dudes are working 40-70 hours a week and deserve what they earn.

“If a man (woman) is called to be a street sweeper, they should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”— Martin Luther King Jr.

Meanwhile, our community has subrogated our former place in the “dirty job” market. College should be the ultimate goal, but not the only one. If you survive as a minority in the next 30 years, you better learn a trade/dirty job to.

My paternal grandfather had a fourth- grade education, but he was smart enough to understand the need to develop some brawn to go along with that brain.

Papa Hall was a truck driver until diabetes rendered him legally blind at the age of 51. After that, he became the best truck loader on the dock at the Farmer’s Market. He made a place for me as his helper.

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At the age of 13, I overslept, and my grandfather was furious. I woke up at 4:30 a.m., 30 minutes late. He probably allowed me to oversleep so that he could deliver a lifelong lesson.

Papa yelled, “Boy get up. I don’t know how you can lay there when you know you owe them, White folks.” Was there a hidden message embedded in his admonition? As the years went on, I gathered that Papa’s instructions were two-fold.

His primary point was that I needed to have a sense of industry about myself. Some get up and go. Later in this lecture series, he reminded me that every man ought to be able to “set themselves” at night before bed. You don’t need an alarm clock when you live with a sense of urgency.

He taught me to work hard but work smart. Tools and machines are there to be utilized. Learn how to operate everything in your workspace.

Secondly, Papa’s caveat was that if you don’t own anything in this world, you can’t afford to sleep. Slumber and slothfulness are luxuries afforded to those who own and lend or develop and control. That’s where “them White folks” entered his soliloquy.

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Papa Hall was born in 1918, lived through the Depression and the Voting Rights Act. Yet, throughout the breadth and span of his 71 years, White folks owned virtually everything economically, socially and politically. And they still do.

Don’t get mad because Mexicans are “coming up!” Hispanics and other minorities do not prosper at our expense. That ignorance Trump infers about them “taking your jobs” is a damn lie. You too can come up sweeping streets if you are willing to work!

It’s 2021 and we still owe them, White folks. However, we also owe a debt to the 22 generations of Black folk who built their reputations on hard work and industry.

Thanks, Peggy for reminding me to work hard with a pen or a fluorescent safety vest!

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.

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Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and award-winning columnist.


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