In sixth grade, walking late to band class by myself, trumpet in hand, a door opened as I passed it and a hand dramatically pulled me in to the dimly lit bathroom. I found my short, pudgy, thick-glasses self pinned against the wall. Convinced I was about to get beat up, the black kid who’d grabbed me had one question for me: “Do you have any black friends?”
“I said, do you have any black friends?”
My brain quickly started trying to think of a black friend. Heck, at that point I was just trying to think of a black person I could name. Thankfully, I thought of my friend Rudy…from like four years prior whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to since.
“Of course I have black friends!” I said.
“Good. That’s all.” After which I was promptly released and allowed to continue on my way to band class.
I can’t relate to what it means to be not-white. I don’t share in the same struggles or fears. I don’t face the same dangers. I face zero societal persecution.
I grew up as a middle-class white kid in Mississippi, went to a small private high school where exactly zero not-white kids attended. I went to one of the largest southern baptist churches in the south where I recall seeing maybe one or two not-white families there out of literally thousands of families on a given Sunday.
My upbringing was just about as white as it could get, and in hindsight, most of the people around me were just blatantly racist. The only exception to this was my immediate family. I’ve never heard a racist thing come out of my parents mouth, but outside of my own home, racism was rampant. Rampant in the most destructive way possible: in the tiny thoughts, off-hand comments and actions that are nearly imperceptible, making them seem palatable. Acceptable. Normal.
But even given my upbringing in the south, the events of the past few weeks have felt so…I don’t know. Raw? Barbaric? I don’t know the words I’m looking for here. Just so…not human.
The dark side of humanity that’s been surfacing lately isn’t new. I don’t believe not-white people are being targeted or singled out more. I think they’ve always had the terrible end of this deal. It’s just now the prevalence of video and social media have made it easier to surface how broken we really are.
I wish I could understand what it means to be not-white. I wish I could properly empathize. Every day some new video surfaces of a racist, sociopathic white dude opening his mouth and find myself just staring at the screen shaking my head. How did we get so hateful?
That slightly comical, temporary kidnapping on the way to band class 20 years ago has always stuck with me. I’ve always thought it was such a peculiar thing to ask someone. But now, instead of it being a funny story of junior high bullying, it’s a deep look in to how different my entire world is and always has been.
The last thing on my mind as a sixth grader was the race of my friends. But for that black kid…the only thing he wanted to know, the only thing he cared about, was how his race and my race were getting along. He didn’t want to beat me up. He wanted to know he wasn’t alone, that his race wasn’t an outcast. That he mattered.
So, as I sit here processing my thoughts out loud, knowing there’s very little I can do to properly empathize or somehow fix this, the only thing I know to say is that you matter, you have value and you are loved.
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