2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them|
Just short of a narrow bridge, their column was herded into a ditch to make way
for a detachment of soldiers escorting a dozen bedraggled Spanish
prisoners. As they passed, the officer, a lieutenant, glared down from
his saddle. Ellis, flush with excitement and patriotic zeal, stood up
outside the rank and saluted, a big grin lighting his face. The
lieutenant reined in and looked up and down the length of the column, taken
aback at three hundred Negro soldiers marching down a road in Asia. His
horse turned circles in the grit in front of Ellis, still standing at attention.
The officer returned the salute, touched the brim of his hat with his riding
heard you smokeys were coming over here, but I didn't believe it."
"Yes, sir. We're surely here."
The officer frowned, his thin hard face displayed the arrogance of a southern
aristocrat. "I can see you're here, Nig. Just what do you think
you're going to accomplish?"
Ellis hitched up his trousers. "Well, sir, I'd be happy if we can just take
up some of the white man's burden."
"You're an insolent bastard," the officer snarled. "You looking for
"No sir. No offense, sir." Wounded, Ellis considered
the officer's disdain uncalled for. "I only meant we'd be proud to fight
those Spanish devils right alongside you, sir."
"For your information, Nig, those Spanish devils are already whipped. Your
best course of action is to get back on the boat and go home to your
plantation. There's plenty of fighting left to do, but we don't
need any coloreds to do it for us. Besides, I'm told the gugus here
prefer dark meat in their stewpots." The lieutenant spurred his horse
and rejoined his detachment.
Ellis saluted the officer's back and called after him, "Yes, sir. I
thank you very much, sir."
Ellis played easily the part of the shuffling nigger, but Fagen couldn't -
refused even to try. He was furious at the officer for
his sneering superiority and angry with his cousin for his naiveté. "Why'd
you do a stupid thing like that?"
Too much going on, Fagen's question flew over Ellis' head. "Davey,
what's a gugu?"
A young soldier next to them spat in the dirt. "It means nigger, you fool."
Ellis winced, didn't like being talked to that way by another private soldier. "Who
are you to know so much?"
"I'm Otis Youngblood, and a man don't have to know much to know more than
you, cottonback. You can tell by the tone of his voice. He was
probably talking about Filipinos, but he meant nigger. They're all the
same to him." He spat again. "Looks like Uncle Sam and Jim Crow
arrived in the Philippines at the same time."