OP-ED: It's not personal. Well, yes, it really is
I live in fear for the lives of my son, my grandsons and my brothers. I have had the “facts of life” conversation with all of them. Oh, not that “facts of life” talk; the other one: “You’re going to have to work harder; you’re going to have to be extra polite; you’re going to have to avoid the everyday coming-of-age pranks in which most teenagers engage.”
Why? Because they are black men in America. It’s personal.
In the early 2000s, my oldest daughter attended a basketball game — York High vs. (no need to divulge the name of the school), and during the game a quiet but increasingly loud chant echoed the gym: “jig-a-boo, jig-a-boo,” yet not a single adult thought to correct it. It’s personal.
Some years ago, a brown-eyed precocious 6-year-old told me that I was a really good substitute teacher even though I was black. My youngest daughter shared that she was always told, “You are the prettiest black girl I know.” It’s personal.
Although I have not been called the N word to my face, I have often been second guessed by colleagues, had my decisions tabled for the time, only to resurface and become someone else’s great idea. I’ve walked through stores with my husband, who isn’t a black man, and watched women smile at him but not look at me. It’s personal.
This week, I was driving in an alley in York approaching North George Street. As I waited at the stop sign, I noticed a woman across the street beckoning me. She gave me a peace sign, which I returned. And then, at the same time we gave each other a thumbs up. She crossed George Street and approached me. I got out of my car and waited for her. Her smile was bright and inviting and I returned the smile. She simply said, “Attitude and perspective. It’s about attitude and perspective.” I voiced my agreement.
For the next few minutes, I listened as she told me about the injustices she experienced growing up in poverty. She shared that she had endured trafficking, incest and rape. She told me about bouts with depression and desires to die by suicide. Through all of it, she said, attitude and perspective helped her survive the trauma.
I listened and, in my listening learned that this woman, who was white, experienced many events that I had experienced at one time or another. Ignoring the social distancing rule, we ended our conversation with an embrace. It’s personal.
I am taking a stand to stand. To stand as well as sit. To sit in order to listen. To listen in order to understand. To understand in order to empathize. To empathize in order to change. To change in order to offer hope. Yes, it’s personal.