You may hate me for this
Growing up I didn’t have many black friends.
I was born in 1967 and grew up on a tomato farm in Northwest Ohio. The first time I saw a black person I was confused and scared.
Once a year, we’d go school shopping in Toledo which was almost an hour away. Those trips were always the best. It was exciting because we got to buy new clothes and we always got a pair of shoes. After we spent some time at the Lion store in Southwyck Mall, we’d go to Cricket West and get shoes for Kyle. He always had extra wide feet. That was a painful part of the outing. It was the only store that seemed to carry his size.
It always seemed to take so long and the store was so small. Oftentimes, we would just wait in the car until mom and Kyle come out with his new shoes. Waiting has never been something I liked to do. I think that’s where my distaste started.
Maybe it’s because I was hungry and I knew that dinner was waiting.
Here comes Kyle with new shoes in hand. Time to eat.
This night, mom and dad had a special treat for us. It was the “Top of the Tower”. It was right near the river that ran through Toledo.
To get there, we had to go through some rough parts of town. That’s what I thought at the time. All I knew is we were not on Portage Road anymore.
It’s then that I remember seeing a black guy.
My brothers and I’s first reaction was to lock the doors. We weren’t on our turf anymore.
I remember being afraid. What was I afraid of? The unknown. We thought this must be the rough part of town. I don’t know if it was, but they were different from me.
I remember wrestling in high school. At one of our high school tournaments, there were some black wrestlers. I remember being put off by that. “Why were they here?” I was almost indignant. “I hope I don’t have to wrestle one of them. They smell.”
That was our impression. Whether they smelled or not, probably had more to do with their hygiene than anything. Were we racist? Sure. Were we doing it to take a political stance? Of course not. We were boys being boys that wanted to be who we were. We didn’t care about anything else.
As I continued through college and my first job, I had bad experiences with people that were black. There was the black guy that sang out loud on the elevator or Randy in the Shipping & Receiving Department.
That’s the difference. These experiences were with people that were black, not with black people. Huh? If you’re like “two years ago” me, that last sentence doesn’t make much sense. That’s OK. I get it.
Then around 2005, I met someone different from me. His name was Dallas. We were both working at IBM and he was a lot smarter than me. He started to change my mind about black people. I started thinking of them as people that were black.
You and I need to stop generalizing, labeling, and judging. Easier said than done, but the first step is naming the problem. When we generalize or label we look at small sample sizes. Expanding our view allows you to see others. That makes you more inclusive.
I still didn’t have many black friends.
That’s not because I’m racist. They’re just not in the circles that I run in.
I know I still don’t say the right things in the right way, but my thinking has changed. If I’ve offended anyone, I apologize.
The change that I’ve experienced has come in tiny shifts. These tiny shifts can sometimes take generations to happen.
This has been hard to write because it gets to a much deeper root cause. If you would, please reply and let me know your thoughts.