A few things: May 2020

Actually, only one thing. Because, in the words of my 18-year-old son, the world is re-making itself, and we’re at the dawn of that time. It’s fantastic. And terrifying.

In this fantastic, terrifying time, I have a specific request for my white friends and readers: Take a few quiet minutes, all by yourself, and play a version of the George Bailey game. Only in this version, pretend not that you were never born, but rather that you were born non-white.

Consider this in very detailed specifics, not abstract strokes.

If everything else in the entire world were exactly the same, but you were born with rich, dark brown skin, how might your life have been different?

Would your name be the same? Would your parents have lived in the same house?

Would you have gone to the same nursery school or kindergarten? Would the old white lady at the bakery counter have given you a ladyfinger when you shopped with your mother, or would the security guard have followed you from aisle to aisle?

Would you have the same nickname, the same third grade lunch companion, the same first date?

What would your social group have been – the same, or different? Would your parents have allowed you to spend the night at the same homes of the same friends? Would their dog have barked or wagged when you walked through the door? Would those friends have been allowed to spend the night at your home?

How many times would you have looked around and found yourself surrounded by people who looked nothing like you? Or perhaps you’d have been surrounded by people who looked exactly like you, the white world an entirely foreign land.

Would you have answered a teenage impulse to stray from the straight and narrow, follow a risky friend, bow to peer pressure? What would the consequences have been – the same or different?

What you would have watched on television, and how would it have made you feel? How would you express and share feelings of unrest, uncertainty? Would your words have be interpreted differently, or exactly the same? Would your teachers have listened or dismissed you?

What would your first job interview have been like – the same questions and circumstances, or different ones? Who would have written your reference letters, gotten you a key internship, opened the door for your big break?

How about buying your first car? Getting your first speeding ticket? Would your father’s friend have made that call to get you out of a tight spot, or into a sold-out game?

Would you have the same life partner that you have now? Live in the same house and neighborhood?

With all of your intelligence, hard work, and industry, surely you would you have been able to accomplish exactly the same things that you’ve accomplished, without any unexpected hindrance, right?

I can’t speak for you, of course. I can speak only for myself: Had I been born a child of color, in Memphis, in the 1960s, I’m certain my life would be entirely different and harder in ways that make my heart ache just thinking about them and the unfair injustice of the world.

The Great Pause has given all of us a chance to reflect and consider carefully our behavior, how we treat our companions. We, the privileged, have had weeks to reconsider how we’ll apply our unique gifts as we get on with the ordinary business of living and dying together.

And now the world calls us to summon both empathy and fortitude that we may act.

So, gentle reader, to what occasion will you rise in this new world? Has the reality of your eventual death fed fresh energy to choose a side, chase a dream, slay an evil dragon, stand for justice, live your one true life?

It’s time. Don’t waste it.

7 thoughts on “A few things: May 2020

  1. I’d have lived in a pretty funky neighborhood of Long Beach, CA. I would likely still attended the same Catholic high school which would have cost less than we paid because I would have been a faster running back. I probably would have been dead by the age of 22. I would not have been allowed to test into OCS and aviator school, which meant I would have served in the infantry. New soldiers had a predicted life span of 3 months. And, like the rest of my race, I would have been cannon fodder.

    Understand that if I make good cultural pictures it’s because of Black people. I’ve often said the Krewe of Zulu is the soul of NOLA and Mardi Gras Indians are the heart. That’s what I think.

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  2. So exactly right.
    My thought experiment this weekend was, what would it look like if every group of anybodys doing anything looked different? Like what if it was required somehow that in that group of 4 police officers there’d been two men and two women (or maybe someone altogether non-conforming), only one white man joined by people whose parents or themselves had come from India or Mexico or Africa or China or an Indian reservation in South Dakota. Someone gay someone Muslim, some old, some young? And what if that were the same in every board room, government office, classroom, faculty lounge, college classroom or dorm room. How would we all experience power differently? What would we each feel confident to say or do? What would we understand about ourselves and each other? I just keep thinking we’d have all been such better humans collectively in that moment and in every moment.

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  3. Like you, no, my life would not be the same. I am deeply aware of the advantages I have had and for no good reason. I am sure I stand on the literal shoulders (and backs) of those who came before me, and I am afraid of where their access came from.

    It is, indeed, time.

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