My dad, Nathaniel Spain Chism, whom we all called Daddy Cheese, or just Cheese, told the following story. He got drafted and went into the Navy. But he ended up in the brig–in prison. Why? The Navy, of course, had wanted all its soldiers to declare that they were going to fight “the enemy” for freedom and democracy, and all of that.
Cheese refused to recite such a thing. And he’d never been political. He could just see, and he wasn’t going for the bullshit. So, they eventually walk him over to the Navy psychiatrist’s office, handcuffed, to see if the psychiatrist could “fix” him.
So, the psychiatrist is there, talking shit. Cheese walks over to the window and starts staring to the outside. The psychiatrist goes, “Mr. Chism…Mr. Chism?”
Cheese says, “Come here, Jones, I want to show you something.” Cheese called everybody “Jones,” even women. The psychiatrist walks over to the window where Cheese was standing. Cheese says to him, “Look outside. Tell me what do you see.” The psychiatrist said, “Well, I see the mess (lunchroom)” Cheese goes, “What else?” the psychiatrist goes, “I see the depot [ammunition depot].” Cheese goes, “What else?” The psychiatrist goes, “I see the brig.” Cheese goes, “And what else do you see?”
The psychiatrist goes, “Well, I see German prisoners of war.”
Cheese goes, “Yeah, right–sitting in lawn chairs, sipping their drink. And, as I walked passed them, with my hands cuffed, they pointed at me, laughing, and said, ‘Neegah!!! Neegah!!!’
“So, Jones, as I said before, if I get sent overseas, the only reason I’ll be shooting my gun is because somebody’s shooting at me. I ain’t going over there for ‘God and country.’ Fuck that.'”
They gave him an honorable discharge, just to get him away from the other soldiers!!!!!! Maybe, on some level, they even respected him, I don’t know.
Cheese was almost shocked that way brother and I had become revolutionaries, or so we cast ourselves. One day he said, “I never taught you boys all this militant stuff!! Where did you get it from!!??”
My brother responded perfectly. He said to dad, “Oh yes you did, Cheese. Don’t you remember all those stories about how you stood up to white folks on those construction jobs; all those stories about you and Harold, your best friend, standing up for black women, kicking white folks’ ass. And what about that story about the Navy!”
Cheese said, “Oh, hell, that’s not what I meant!!” My brother and I just looked at each other and smiled. Yes, Cheese, though very smooth and cool, who didn’t have an ideological bone in his body, demonstrated resistance.