Having been raised in a household that was on the cutting edge of the Civil Rights movement, I find myself with a mixture of observations and feelings. Today, we have a Black President; I well remember my father saying that would be the day we had achieved what we set out to. I wish he had been as right about that as he was about playing such an active role in the movement.
Over the years, my reactions to discussing issues of race have ranged from boredom (after all, it was discussed a lot during my growing-up years) to frustration that it is even still an issue.
A few days ago, as I was leaving a restaurant, a well-dressed young African-American man held the door open for me. I said “Thank you, sir” and thought that would be the end of it. This young man was beyond courteous; he was deferential. His parents had clearly had the conversation with him that I never had to have with my own son. He knew that a white person could be trouble. Any white person. And I am horrified that Black parents still need to remind their sons of this.
I like to think that most white people are fair-minded, but of course you can’t tell that about anyone on sight.
Here is what I wanted to say to this kind young man:
“I am so sorry that your safety depends on your being deferential to a person who is in no way superior to you, who happens to have the benefit of white privilege every single day.
“I know your parents raised you right by having ‘the conversation’ with you about avoiding violence or unjustified arrest due to the color of your skin. They were right. What is wrong is that they had to do it.
“Young white men are allowed a few minor mistakes, and even to be a bit mouthy on occasion; it is wrong that you do not have the same opportunity.
“I hope you go far in your life. And I hope that by the time you have a son, you can safely skip that conversation. I saw enough in one brief moment, to know that you are a fine young man and you deserve better than to have to ever spend one nanosecond worrying how people will respond to the color of your skin.”