“I AM SAMOAN!” DECLARES GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’m Samoan. You may not believe it, but a whole bevy of racists in the 1970s believed it and it has become an inside joke in local media  — or at least the retired members of local media.

Maybe you’ve heard it before and then again, maybe not. Back in the early ’70s, Boston was grappling with court ordered school desegregation and forced busing. It was an ugly time for race relations in The Hub of the Universe.

“The cradle of liberty” was under an international media microscope. Not pretty.

I was out covering the story and to my credit, everyone hated me. Black, white, politicians — everyone thought I was on the other side. I was proud of that. It meant (to me) I was on the right side.

One day, there was an incident in South Boston — also known as “Southie,” where all the action was taking place. A bunch of white thugs had cornered me and my crew. They were screaming the usual epithets, throwing rocks and bottles. They were on the move, coming in to give the hated, lying media a serious tune-up.

At that moment, I had what I call “A Mel Brooks Moment.” An veritable epiphany. The angry mob quieted as I raised my hand for silence. I spoke calmly, in my best (and most popular) soothing voice.


“Hey, I’m not a nig**r. I’m Samoan!”  


My crew looked at me dubiously. Surely, no one could be that stupid. Besides, I had that infamous ironic smile on my face. The angry mob was still quiet and obviously confused. So I repeated it again, slowly and louder, so the crowd could read my lips.


“Hey, I’m not a nig**r. I’m Samoan!”  


A brief pause and then … the crowd cheered. “He’s not a nig__r. He’s Samoan!!”  

They approached with broad smiles, offering handshakes. We got the hell out of there and pretty much ran for the truck. Yes, they were that stupid.  To this day, many colleagues call me “The Samoan.”

Now, that was real news!!



Categories: Anecdote, Boston, Garry Armstrong, Media, Photography, Racism and Bigotry

Tags: , , , , , ,

54 replies

  1. I always liked this story. I hate to say it but geography is not a strong point for many Americans. Back in the eighties my penfriend reported to me that students in the high school where she was a teachers aide or something were unclear as to whether Australians spoke English as their native language.

    Like

  2. I know some Samoans who lived through the ‘Dawn Raid’ period in New Zealand history, who’d have been very surprised to have been offered a handshake instead of police brutality and deportation.

    Like

  3. well done, Garry. You Samoans are very bright. (aargh) And the real skill is in confusing people–how easily they can be disoriented if they lose their black/white thinking. As I often remind clients–all the colors of the rainbow come between the black and the white.

    Great story, and quick wit.

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  4. Garry, Wow! Quick thinking (something I lack). A Samoan 🙂 – Hatred is an ugly thing. I’m happy you and your crew were safe that day.

    I am reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers (I don’t know how to italicize or underline the book title in this box). One of the ongoing themes in the book is that people will usually “default to truth”, meaning they will believe what you tell them. Thankfully, it seems like that worked in your favor that day. A little stupidity goes a long way. It seems to be our nature.

    The even bigger subject of the book is that we don’t know how to talk to strangers and how that affects our lives and our world; about how that leads to conflict and misunderstanding (paraphrasing the audio book’s description). Extremely relevant in our current social climate.

    “[R]emain awake through a great revolution.” (from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last sermon before he was assassinated). Hopefully, this is the great revolution that will bring about change.

    I appreciate your sense of humor.

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  5. Great story, Garry! I do hope you’re compiling all of your experiences into a book…

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  6. Oh Garry, I can’t imagine what you have gone through. I am glad you got out safely, physically that is. You must have gone through so much in your lifetime and probably have plenty of stories and scars. I just can’t fathom people hating other people because of their skin color. I was born in late 1960 so missed much of the racism riots and protests. I only know you through this blog and I know I am grateful to have you in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow. And certain things that I never before understood (inside jokes by certain entertainment “stars” and writers fall into place with a loud bang! Glad to meet ya, Samoan man. 😆 (very clever and quick thinking too)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love it when you talk about work, Dad!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That’s a good one Garry. You had them there…

    Liked by 1 person

    • They obviously didn’t have any idea what a Samoan looks like, either.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Leslie, I shared this story with Walter Cronkite on his boat, Martha’s Vineyard, 1976. He heard someone refer to me as “The Samoan”.
      He looked at me, puzzled and I suggested he refill our drinks. He did.
      Told him the whole thing.
      He stared at me with that “Uncle Walter” poker face for what seemed like a long moment.
      Then a slow smile, then he began to laugh and laugh and laugh, dropping his pipe.
      He was laughing and crying.
      Uncle Walter looked at me, at the other local journalists who gave thumbs up to confirm the veracity of my tale.
      Uncle Walter, still laughing, filled his pipe and said, “My God, we have a nation of idiots, my friend”. I nodded.
      Then, Uncle Walter said, “Okay,YOU get the next round”.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Wow, that is such a crazy story, on so many levels!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So, you are NOT A SAMOAN?! NOW I’M REALLY DISAPPOINTED…. (HA)… NOT HAWAIIAN EITHER?! ….. GREAT STORY THOUGH.
    Sorry for the CAPS…. that was unintended.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Garry doesn’t even look remotely Samoan. You think racists are stupid, but every now and again, you realize, they are even MORE stupid than you thought.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think that rather than being stupid, they had no idea what a Samoan looks like. So would I…. but of course it was a brill idea to throw that spanner in the works…..

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kiki, a little sidebar here. The Suits at that TV station thought little of viewers. That’s another kind of bias. They also thought since I had that trustworthy face, they could push the envelope.
          Thus, I was once assigned to infiltrate (embed) a local Vietnamese gang that was terrorizing neighborhoods. YEP! I reluctantly, VERY reluctantly met with some of the gang members who started laughing before I could finish telling them about my stupid assignment. So, they played along with the bit and allowed me to “penetrate” the Vietnamese gang. We had a hard time keeping straight faces.
          And, the TV suits smiled – convinced they’d scored a journalistic coup.
          Yep!

          Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t even recall why I came up with “Samoan”. It just popped into my head and I went with it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s the great thing about it – to react on a spur’s moment – and since nobody knew even if Samoans’ were a real word, it worked perfectly well….. I once got away with not paying a (then, very modest!) fine of Sfr 5.- for crossing the street closer than the ‘allotted’ 50m to the next pedestrian crossing because I only spoke in English (instead of Swiss German or German, the police person might even have known French, but not English at that time)…. NORMALLY, I come up with the PERFECT retort 48h later! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

    • Kiki — the caps, eh? Yeah, it’s a wacko, crazy, funny and scary story. I can still see myself – “in the moment” and thinking (Excuse my French here) “Yikes, they actually BELIEVE me. No one else will. But THESE people believe me. We need to get the hell out of here, FAST”

      Liked by 1 person

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