Psychology of a Race Riot

This column by Kays Gary was originally published by The Charlotte Observer, February 24, 1968.

What is really the backbone of “demonstrations?” The single incidents that flare into race riots?
The black man who stopped by my desk had his own ideas.
“The main thing isn’t just the obvious issue, some segregated place that is being picketed, or some isolated incident; it is the endless experience of countless indignities.
“People may wonder why so much fuss over a bowling alley or a laundry. It isn’t just the bowling alley or a laundry. It is having authoritative illiterates constantly calling you ‘Boy’ when you’re a man with a Master’s degre.
“It is being talked to in public like an animal instead of a human being. It is being called ‘Daisy’ during an interview when your name is plainly ‘Mrs. Daisy Jones’ on the application. It is being mocked in your own dialect by somebody who doesn’t have that dialect. It is being told to wait in some place apart from the place whites may be waiting.
“It is being a Negro serviceman back from Vietnam and visiting a doctor’s office where he is ordered to sit in the colored waiting room. He is back from a place where the foxholes were not segregated and where the white and black bodies were lined up side by side. Do you meekly follow the orders? Would you?
“Now a doctor, say, or a nurse could say this is private property and it is their right to have anybody sit where they’re told but do they accept responsibility for the reaction? Huh-uh. But they’re right in there, baby, in the mind if not on a picket sign.
“Well, people who do these things are responsible. You don’t demonstrate because somebody calls you ‘boy’ or because of any of these little things. But this is what is going on out there when the streets are angry and the fellow who did it isn’t just that guy who wants to keep Negroes out of his bowling alley. It is all those people who get their kicks out of psychologically kicking a ‘nigger’.”