When you see a crowd running in one direction, what would you do? Black people start running with the crowd and ask questions later. Following the crowd hasn’t worked for African-Americans in economic terms. African-Americans are especially vulnerable because their median weekly first quarter 2015 wages were below the U.S. national average. Black Americans earned $647 weekly (Table 2) while Whites earned $835, and Asians earned $966 weekly. The overall median U.S. weekly wage is $776 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Black Americans must find jobs that pay more money. Jay Harold entered a non-traditional job for Blacks when he started working the oilfields of Oklahoma upon graduation from UAPB in 1982.
Money, Drink and No Black Women for the Brothers
Some people would say two out of three isn’t too bad, but for a brother leaving a black college, no black women was a serious problem! Jay Harold lived in Oklahoma City, which had a significant black population. The problem was Jay Harold worked in El Reno, about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City. The city is best known for its Federal Prison and Old Military Fort. Jay Harold saw no reason to check out the landmarks of the city. Even worse for Jay Harold, almost all of the oilfield work were in areas where few black people lived.
Life in the oilfields for a brother is full of both fun and danger. When times are good, there are few jobs better. The money is better in the oilfield for high school graduates than in areas African-Americans are traditionally employed. Even more important than the money, is the fact that this is a results-oriented industry. If you just do your job, people don’t mess with you. How unusual is that for black people?
It’s easy to work with people who aren’t actively trying to destroy you. The fact that one person was doing their job improperly puts everyone’s life at risk allows you to call out anyone. A bond develops among the members of the work crew. This bond allowed Jay Harold to hang out with rednecks after work occasionally. Rednecks talk a bunch of stuff. It sounds like what a black guy would say if he were white. Since Jay Harold is from Texarkana, rednecks are people he knows well. One redneck kept telling the brothers at work about this 6’2 redhead at an Oklahoma City strip club.
Jay Harold had a dilemma. Common sense says that Jay Harold shouldn’t go to a redneck bar looking at white women with plenty of drunk white men around in 1982. Please realize this; cheap drinks and the curiosity factor are powerful enticements.The justification came when other black members of the crew went along with Jay Harold. Were the brothers becoming rednecks? Were we going to be the people you see on the news and wondering what the hell were they thinking about going into that redneck bar?
We had a great time! The redhead stood about 6’1”, but she looked 6’3” after a couple of drinks. Jay Harold cautions brothers about doing this on a regular basis. The black man “swag” may make some cowboys uncomfortable in a country and western bar. Bars are a place of refuge for many. Dripping snuff, telling hunting stories, and the Good Old Boy environment allows people to relax. No black people are around neither.
85 Miles to Elk City & Take a Right
Jay Harold’s job in El Reno was to learn the basics of the petroleum service industry. He drove 18 wheel cement “bulk” trucks and pickup trucks to the oil well. The routine was to meet at the company’s office in El Reno around 1:30 in the morning and drive the truck to the Kettle Restaurant. From there, we would drive to the oil well and setup for starting the job at dawn. The only problems with the plan were that Jay Harold didn’t drive 18 wheelers well. He had taken a two-week course learning how to double clutch the transmission in an 18 wheeler. Directions to the oilfield were the other problem.
The oilfield is a different world than most of U.S. society. The oil patch at the time was a male-dominated, military type environment. “Follow the truck in front of you,” or go 85 miles to Elk City, Oklahoma and take a right at the gas station were normal directions. These directions work in daylight hours or with an experienced driver, but neither condition was present. Jay Harold jumped in his bulk truck and hoped he could keep up with the other trucks.
You know what happened! Driving a fully loaded cement truck in the middle of the night is frightening. Jay Harold drove the 18 wheeled truck very carefully and was left behind. Turning right at around 85 miles, and driving a few miles, Jay Harold realized he was lost. He stopped at an old house and knocked on the door.
An elderly white woman in her late 60’s opened the door and screamed like Jay Harold was the devil! She slammed the door in his face. Jay Harold pondered his options.
- Run to the bulk cement truck and get the hell out of there.
- Explain to the person coming to the door whom Jay Harold was working for and ask for directions.
- Do a combination of the above.
Well, Jay Harold was stupid! He picked option 2. The husband came to the door with a loaded shotgun and pointed at Jay Harold! When your life is in danger, don’t talk like Olinga from the “Mack,” but like John Shaft. The first words out of Jay Harold’s mouth was “driving a bulk truck and got lost getting to the oil well.” Those words saved Jay Harold’s life. The man lowered his shotgun and gave directions to the oil well. Jay Harold asked the wife why was she so afraid of Jay Harold. She said the only black person she knew was “Huggy Bear” from Starsky and Hutch. Jay Harold asked her when was the last time she saw a black person in person. It was over ten years ago!
After the job had been completed at the oil well, Jay Harold thought about the incident. He knew that Huggy Bear didn’t regularly visit Elk City, Oklahoma, so she must have seen him on television. He realized the power of television in shaping the views of people. Jay Harold kept in touch with the couple for several years until the husband died, and the wife moved in with her children. They were wonderful people who just believed what they saw on TV. The sad fact is that a large portion of the United States only know African-Americans by what they see on TV. This fact applies to 2015 as well as 1982.
Jay Harold knows personally how stereotyping black people has caused huge problems for the United States. When you interact with people and listen to them, most of the problems can be solved. Jay Harold has listened to people’s problems for years. As a pharmacist, you talk to people under stressful conditions. The color of your skin doesn’t matter when you or your loved one is sick.
“Do not walk behind me; I may not lead. Do not walk in front of me; I may not follow. Walk beside me, that we may be as one.” – Ute saying