Real Talk About Race: Chapter One
As promised yesterday, I'm kicking off the first of what I hope will be a long string of weekly conversations about race relations, things we know about one another, things we should know about one another, things we think we know about one another and things about one another that just shouldn't matter.
I thought I'd make this first installment personal. Others will be personal. But as we talk and as folks open up, I'm hoping you guys will share stories with me and we'll talk about your questions and speculations too.
So I was having a conversation with a good buddy yesterday and he asked me one of those "why do black people..." questions. I didn't take offense. This is my buddy, and I knew that if he was starting a question out that way, then he really, genuinely wanted to know. And his most comfortable reference point to black people was me, his friend.
Anyway, the question was in reference to two news events that happened in Florida this week. One of them, right here in the Miami area, involved the guy(s) who allegedly murdered a roadside fruit vendor. And the other event was a brutal beatdown applied by a group of teenage girls against a solitary girl in Lakeland, Fla., in the central part of the state.
After these two incidents occurred, I heard about them on the radio before I actually saw photos of the people involved in either case. So as I was chatting with my buddy my first reaction was to shake my head and grimace.
His reaction to mine was to chuckle and say "go ahead, say it." So I said it: "Please God, don't let them be black!"
I was joking, but then again I wasn't.
"Why," my buddy asked. It's a question he's asked me before, and usually I brush the question aside. This time though, he persisted and asked further, "why do black people do that?"
By the way, the girls in the Lakeland beatdown were white. The fruit vendor murder suspect is black.
So let's answer this question and wrap this up. Many black people fear that we still live in a time in which we can't be sized up - for better or worse - stricly on our individual actions. Many black people fear that when one of us screws up we're all going to be scrutinized. It may not be so, but its what some of us fear.
Let's be honest. When you think of an accomplished black man, you do think - even if just for a fleeting second - about him being black. It's not a knock on anyone. It's what we do in this country...still. Conversely, many black people today have personal experiences, memories from times past, and stories shared with them from times even further past about their color being held against them, without consideration for the content of their character. I know people who look like me who compare notes about being lumped into this category or that.
Think about the last time you saw a white man paraded on TV for having committed a horrendous crime. Did his skin color cross your mind, or did you just think "Crazy S.O.B?"
What about the last time you saw a black man in the same setting? C'mon, did his look even cross your mind? I'm a black man. I can admit it. Yes, I thought for a second about him being black. For several seconds. Maybe you didn't.
What can I tell you? I swear to you every time I hear about a horrible crime I silently say that little prayer, 'cause I don't want the offender's behavior to be used as an excuse by some closed-minded person to treat all black people like we all committed a violent crime.
I joked with my buddy that I need to learn to think more like white people in these situations. Why? I've never seen him or any other white person I know cringe when a white person is splashed across the TV in handcuffs and accused of some horrible crime.
I asked my buddy why. He said "I don't know that person. Why should I feel guilty about what they did? Why should I worry that I'll be connected to him. I don't know him. No one is gonna look at me differently 'cause some white guy in Bismark went nuts!"
Refreshing. He's right and logical and appropriately confident. Usually after I say my silent prayer, I chant a silent mantra to the effect of what my buddy said. Sometimes it works to soothe my mind. Sometimes it doesn't.
I'm not ashamed of who I am. You can say I'm proud. But I fear being lumped in with bad people who look like me but don't act like me.
That's my word. What are your thoughts?