Before I get to what I want to say, let me tell you a short story. I was born in the mid-fifties living in a small town in
New England. Our town was multi-ethnic which
means that, in addition to the folks like me of Irish/ French Canadian descent,
we had people living there that were Italian, Polish, Greek, German and folks
descended from several other European countries. However, based on my best
recollection, I never had any classmates in my early days in New
Hampshire that were Hispanic, Scandinavian, Asian or
African American. In fact, the first black kid I ever met was a boy from New
York that was part of the Fresh Air program. He was my best friend that summer of 1962. We were inseparable.
His name was Jim. I obviously knew that he looked different from me but, I didn't
think he was really any different because he enjoyed doing all the same things
I liked to do. We climbed trees, caught frogs, played ball, rode bikes, shared
Coca Colas and all the other things little boys do. At the end of the summer, when
he left to go back home, I remember giving him a hug and was a little embarrassed
that I cried in front of everybody.
I don't know what ever happened to Jim. But I have never forgotten him. That summer is engraved on my life. My first encounter with a black person was profound because it was just so normal and natural. A few years later, I moved as a military brat to
then South Carolina and realized
that things were different in the Carolinas than they
were in New England. Forty plus years ago, I landed in Georgia
where I live still.
I am a white male born during the baby boomer generation. I am part of the most powerful and influential group of people in the
States today. I don't know what it is like
to be in the minority except for those times when I have gone to a foreign
country. In America,
I’m it. So my perspective on things comes from that reality. I see the world
and am seen by the world as not female, not black, not Hispanic, not poor, not
all the other things that I am not.
I have never been made to feel different because, for my entire life, I was not different. People that look like me were, and still are, in charge. I'm a man and I’m white. I don't have to provide a history lesson on how our society has treated and considered women in general and people that are not white. The short answer is…differently. Sure, things have changed a lot. Today we say that women are equal. We say that people that are not white are equal. That’s what we say. And we have said it enough that we believe it. Even when the reality doesn't match the declaration.
When we visited our daughter and son-in-law in
I got a small taste of what it feels like to be different. Everyone around us
looked Korean (of course) and… different than us. They talked differently.
Their habits and customs are different. Some Korean, especially older ones,
gave us unwelcome looks on the sidewalks and subway. I wondered what they
thought of us. Don't get me wrong; we met many, many friendly Koreans. But what
I remember were the looks from those that seemed to not want us there. I got a small
taste of what it must be like to be “different”... not in the majority.
My wife remembers being a little girl going downtown with her sister on the city bus with their maid, Louise. Louise was black. The girls always wanted to sit up front and would beg Louise to let them sit there. Louise would tell them that the seats were so much better at the back of the bus and she would walk them back there. She never told them that she wasn't allowed to sit at the front. She just told the little girls in her care that the seats were better at the back of the bus. Different.
Think for a moment what it might be like to be black in
you are only about 12% of the US
population. 88% of America
is different than you…76% of what you see are white people, almost half of
which are male. Most positions of power and influence are held by white males. 75%
of the Senate members are white men, twice the percentage as their population. In
the House of Representatives, the percent of white males drops a little to 70%.
But, after all… it is the people’s House. But mostly white, male people.
Things are not so good these days. People are marching in the streets all across our country because of recent incidents with police and decisions made by grand juries in
and New York City. Blacks are
upset. I understand why. I can probably cite statistics that would suggest that
police are justified in their handling of confrontations with blacks since we
know that blacks, after all, kill each other at alarming rates and commit
crimes at a higher rate than their population would suggest. I could say that
people shouldn’t resist arrest or they'll have what’s coming to them. That
would be the easy but inappropriate response.
If your wife tells you that a certain attitude or behavior of yours hurts her feelings, you can argue til the cows come home that she shouldn't feel that way because that is not your intention. You can tell her that she should get over it. But that doesn't change how she feels. In fact, that response makes the hurt even worse.
When black people say that they feel like the police, the justice system and authorities treat them differently (more severely and with an assumption of guilt) than they do whites, we can say that it is not true…that is not the intent of the police and others…. that the evidence doesn't match their concern. But that ignores the reality of how many black people feel. And that makes it even worse. We disregard their concerns. We argue and cite statistics. We tell them how many black people kill white cops. Or how many black cops kill white people and how you don’t see people getting all outraged about that. But that misses the point. And it helps nothing.
I wish we could block out all the noise and shouts of racism and just start having some frank, honest, respectful conversations about what we all believe and feel. Talk about what we each see as problems and what we think needs to change. We have to get off the defensive. We have to start treating one another better. We need a change of heart. Early in this blog I told you that I am middle aged, that I am a man, and that I am white. But that isn't my most significant identifier. My bible tells me that I am made in the image of God. That each of us is made in God’s image. I am a child of God and so are you. I need to start behaving that way. And so do you.