A Scout’s Song

I am baffled and confused by the ignorance of some (White) people when it comes to the acceptance of racism in America. What makes it worse, are the things that are said (or sung) which are blatantly racist and the one’s delivering the message, think there’s nothing wrong. Sound familiar?

For those of us that don’t look like the pale majority, this is and has been the reality we live with, every.. single.. day.. of our lives.

I do want to say for the White allies educating yourselves about systemic racism and actively working to create a shift in the imbalances, inequities, and injustices that have and continue to impact Black lives, thank you, and there is more to learn and do. To those White people who haven’t yet felt the urge to expand your social outlook when it comes to helping create a better way of life for everyone, what’s holding you back? Some might think or even say that they don’t know or have any Black friends. I get that. America (US) is a big country with lots of sparsely populated areas, but there may be historic reasons for that. I strongly believe that even though there might not be a direct physical connection, you can still elevate your perception about other races beyond the stereotypes. Meaning, just because you may not have personally bore witness to racism doesn’t discount its validity. 

We Black people are frequently and have been the victims of the denial and complacency when it comes to race. A White person who is witness to social wrongdoing is equally responsible for injustice when they do nothing to break up racism. Or when White people believe their actions and or words are used in jest. 

When I was a young boy, I was a Cub Scout. I loved being a part of the pack and the many adventures, friendships, and life skills we developed. As I grew older, my passions for scouting increased with my placement in the Webelos and eventually the Boy Scouts. By this time in my family life, my mother and father, Judge Sr, divorced and my interest in Scouts waned as well. That was until we, with our now new Air Force stepfather, moved to Honolulu, Hawaii for his transfer to Hickam Airbase. Scouting in Hawaii was a blast. During one of our day excursions, we even came across a downed Japanese fighter plane from the Pearl Harbor attacks of 1941 while hiking in a canyon. 

Following another divorce, my mother moved us to the Golden State of California. We ended up in the conservative North County area outside of San Diego. I was now a teenager and my thoughts were less about scouting and more about my hormones and trying to fit in. There weren’t a lot of Black kids in my school as we settled into Rancho Peñasquitos living, or as we used to call it back in the day, “skinny penis”. We couldn’t easily just blend in here. The Garden Apartments was where we would call home through my high school years. Here, there were immigrant families from the Philippines, Korea, and Guam. It felt safe knowing that we weren’t the only minority family living in our apartment complex. Strangely, it was almost like being on a military base, just minus the amenities of the PX (Post Exchange) and Commissary. 

After months of getting acclimated to being back on the mainland, I told my mother I wanted to join the scout troop that convened at Penasquitos Elementary School, just a few blocks from our apartment. She agreed and thought it would be helpful with fostering new friendships and keep boredom at bay. When I arrived at the school, there were a smattering of uniformed scouts chaotically running around before the start of the meeting and none of them looked like me. That didn’t bother me and I decided to join Troop 622 shortly after that first meeting. As time passed, I quickly advanced in the ranks; from Scout, Tenderfoot, First Class, all the way to Eagle. But during several of our overnight campouts, things hit a sour note. 

There’s an old sailing shanty (song performed while doing labor – swabbing the deck) from the early 1900s by Percy Grainger entitled, Drunken Sailor, that was later recorded by several musical notables such as the Irish Rovers. 

The version I became most familiar with was, entitled Drunken Negro. The lyrics were altered from the original to: What do you do with drunken negro, What do you do with drunken negro, what do you do with a drunken negro early in the morning; Drag him through a watermelon patch, Drag him through a watermelon patch, drag him through a watermelon patch, early in the morning..etc. This was sung to me by the scoutmaster with his guitar during several campouts while the other (White) adult leaders did nothing to silence the serenade. I had never signaled out like this before. My fellow scouts laughed and thought it was hilarious. I was embarrassed, trapped, and couldn’t escape anywhere. I stood there frozen, waiting for the song to end. I never told my mother about this because I didn’t want to make her angry, risking my removal from the troop and jeopardizing my chances of advancement. I didn’t want to be viewed as a trouble maker so I just put up with it. BTW: Less than 5% of Black scouts achieve the rank of Eagle. To this day, I honestly wish that I had the confidence as a teenager to stand up and to say something to the scoutmaster.   

Anytime that I hear the original jingle, I’m always reminded of the alternate version. I will always remember a Scout’s Song, and will carry this memory with me until the day I die. Words even in jest or parody have power and can have lasting impacts on young minds. I know there are other Black people with stories similar to mine and they too will carry these mental scars with them for the rest of their lives. In 2020, it’s important for everyone to hear these stories of our shared experiences. We have to personalize racism to those who are unfamiliar or doubt the validity of our history. Black lives matter and for 400 years, the lives of Black people have been taken for granted and have been viewed as expendable, less significant, and not even thought about at all. 

Change begins with a story which then leads to a conversation, but you first have to be open and receptive to listen. I’m sharing my story because I don’t want any Black child to ever have to be singled out because of the color of his or her skin. 

#vote #boyscoutsofamerica #racismlives #blacklivesmatter

3 thoughts on “A Scout’s Song

  1. This story is so sad and so infuriating. I’m angry at the guy who sang that song and at all the white people who not only let him do it, but encouraged him and enjoyed it. You deserved better, Judge, and it’s a testament to your drive and your kindness toward others that you didn’t let this incident stop you from becoming an Eagle Scout.


  2. Judge Kemp – did you write the above? nicely done – impressive – if time were to ever allow, i would love to meet


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