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.