As a child growing up in Virginia it was not uncommon to be called derogatory names by buddies, brothers, and sisters. My mother called me “Skunk” a combination of Shortt and Frank. She had names for all the 10 children because it was hard for her to remember each of their names during a tense moment. She usually began at the oldest and by the time she got to the one she wanted to address, she finally remembered their name.
When I began school it was not uncommon for other children to call each other names depending on what they had heard about the particular family beforehand. During high school it got worse as others learned more about who you were and where you were from. Shortt Gap, in those days, did not have a very good reputation due to the carousing of the Shortt Clan!
Anyone who has served in the military of the U.S. will usually have a strong toleration for being called names of all sorts. Our drill instructors in the USAF had a way of breaking us down in order to build us up. Those from California were called “Hub Cap Thief”! Hillbillies, such as how I surely fit the bill, were called, “Dip, Ridge Runner, Stump Jumper, Holler Liver, and a slew of other names unfit to print. I was even told by a D.I. “Shortt, when you go home I bet your mother will run out from under the porch and bark at you!” I was also told that I had one leg shorter than the other because of walking on the hillsides too much! I must admit that I was pretty ignorant and unused to the ways of the world not having been more than 50 miles from home before joining the Air Force. I will say that I came through basic training unscathed and mostly proud that I had conquered all the rigors of training for the future. Of course, there were times during the heat of the training that I wanted to step up and knock the stuffing out of my Drill Instructor, especially the one who discredited my Mother! I was surely not alone in this respect! DI’s made us hate them in order to break us to their will!
While serving at Mather AFB in Sacramento, Ca. the other guys had a field day with my name! I was called Shortttttt (with the intentional stutter at the end due to having two t’s on the end of my name), Short T, Shorty, Hill William, etc. Due to a deep southern accent I was automatically branded a racist by most African American airmen. This could not have been farther from the truth but sometimes it was difficult to overcome until I had proven myself. My “on the job” trainer was S/Sgt Ezekiel Keys a fine African American man who hailed from Orlando, Florida. He was responsible, in a large part, for helping me overcome the stigma of reverse racism. He would simply imply, “What do you care what other men think of you as long as you are doing the right thing!” God rest his soul, he was one of the best friends I ever had in the USAF.
Race riots in the 1960’s did a whole lot of damage to race relations as whole cities were going up in flames! Unfortunately, this was when I was in the Air Force. I could never understand, and still cannot understand the logistics behind burning down buildings at a peaceful demonstration. I always figured that someone just wanted to get something for free and this was a plausible way of getting it without being arrested as the confusion would cover the crime!
Nonetheless, we must be very careful nowadays about what we call, even a friend, as it might not be politically correct! Everything that I grew up with in the 50’s and 60’s while referring to anyone is now outlawed! I still say that if all of us had served in the military, we would be less likely to outlaw a person’s speech!