Monday, September 19, 2005

You are kidding, right?

A Big White Lie
For 26 years, Dave Myers was told he was white. Learning the truth, that his father was black, sent him on a quest for his identity and leaves him estranged from his family.

Every family has its secrets. There are things parents never tell children. There are lies that become family legend. There are stories that were never meant to be told.

Judith Hartmann's secret, when she married Bill Myers in 1959, was that she was pregnant by a black man.

When the baby born to two white parents came out black, the secret became a lie.

Throughout his childhood, David Myers was told that his skin color was a disease called melanism. He was lucky, his mother said, because the skin discoloration was all over his body, instead of just splotches of brown like most people had.

So despite his dark skin, Myers grew up in white, middle-class neighborhoods in Ohio and New York believing he was white.

"For many years I thought I was white. I thought like a white kid. There was a feeling in me that I didn't want to be associated with blacks. I wanted the story to be true," says Myers, a 45-year-old Orlando tennis teacher.

The secret shrouded in a lie lasted 26 years. Keeping it hidden all those years would turn Judy Myers into a hard, angry, unhappy woman, her family says. It made Dave Myers a defiant, rebellious, hostile child who would grow estranged from his parents, sisters and brother.

Learning the truth would send Myers on a search for identity. And it would convince him that his story is the story of America -- a white America that has been lied to, a black America oppressed and discriminated against, and a society unable or unwilling to discuss race.

When Judy Hartmann told Bill Myers that she was pregnant, he believed it was his.

And when the baby was born on Feb. 28, 1960 -- five months after their marriage -- he thought his son's skin color was jaundice. And then he thought there might have been a mix-up at the hospital.

And when his wife told him the doctors said it was a skin disease that had turned their boy's skin dark, he thought she was telling the truth. No questions asked.

Because that is the kind of man Bill Myers is. He is soft and gentle and pliable, his children say. He accepts life as it comes, assumes the responsibilities of a man, a husband, a father.

As far as he was concerned, Dave Myers was as much his child as the three daughters and son who followed.

If Judy said it was a skin disease, that was the end of the discussion.

Uhm... were there no mirrors in his house?

UPDATE Since I wrote this, I realized that I may come across as a bit of a racist. Trust me when I say that I am not.

My beautiful sister, the pastey white red-head that she is (with lots of frekles) has two, count 'em, two bi-racial children. Their (the kids) father is black as the Ace of Spades. A jerk, to be sure, but she never has a bad thing to say about him in front of her kids.

One boy, and one girl. And, my only nephew. I love them both dearly.


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