The third of five vignettes.
I played football against him, and I saw him not only at the games, but at the various league events. And I saw him at my cousin’s school banquets, open houses, graduations. He was the captain of their football team, the president of their student council and their student class; he was the recipient of various league honors whose names escape me, but, I believe, had to do with Most Sportsmanlike, and so on. I saw him suffer through this adulation as a young black man in a white community.
His high school coach cried when praising him at the league’s year-end banquet, and I am sure, though I do not remember, that many of the parents’ generation were moved to mistiness at his valedictory speech. It may have been a good speech, or it may not have, but the half remembered or imagined emotion on the audience’s part must have been mixed relief and self-congratulation; relief at the first hint, in their world, of the end of racism, and self-congratulation at their (imaginary) part in the correction. How could it be otherwise? It could not. Who was harmed? No one except Bill MacDonald, who was the victim of the good-willed farce.
How badly was he harmed? I saw him behave graciously at the various banquets. I thought well of him for his self-possession, for it was clear that he found the fulsome praise not grueling, but devastating; for he was, in effect, and irrespective of their motives, turned, by the whites, into a toy, and his various, real achievements not actually praised but apostrophized.
My cousin told me that he had been courted by all the Ivy League schools, and had chosen one, and was there studying something or other, but that his classmates had lost touch with him. I ran into him, halfway through my own college career, on his Ivy League campus. He, politely, shunned me.
I didn’t take it personally. He was a man who’d been abused by a group which owed him better treatment, and we could never pay what we owed.
I heard he’d studied law, and often wondered what became of him.
David Mamet is a stage and film director as well as the author of numerous acclaimed plays, books, and screenplays. His latest book is Three War Stories.