Like most people, I prefer to avoid being the proverbial elephant in the room. However, due to my cultural, ethnic, social, or work-related activities, more often than not, I tend to find myself on the center stage of sorts—both indirectly and directly. Here’s one time when it turned out to be a good thing.
In December, I attended a private memorial service for a former classmate that passed away in the fall. The service was at the home of another former classmate and childhood friend. More than a dozen people were at the event, including some people I hadn’t seen in about 40 years. We all laughed and chatted about old and new times during the 3 or 4-hour informal tribute to the dearly departed classmate. At the same time, most of us imbibed a few adult beverages and chowed down on a table full of delicious food and delicacies.
Toward the end of the enjoyable and far from a weepy or maudlin tribute, one of my former classmates pulled me aside and quietly said, “Glenn, when you have a second, I’d like to talk to you about something..it has to do with race.” I nodded. After about 10 minutes of blabbing and laughing with others, I eventually made my way back over to the classmate and said, “You wanted to talk to me about something?” He looked at me, hesitated for a moment, and reluctantly said, “Do you think all of us here are phonies?” I looked at him with a quizzical and perhaps slight scowl on my face and said, “What do you mean?” Then he said, “Do you think we don’t like you because you’re Black?”
My brain immediately kicked into high gear, and reporter mode took over. The subtle effects of more than 2 hours of imbibing mixed libations and scarfing down a plateful of barbecued meatballs were dulled and nearly vanished. I knew what he was talking about. He referred to some of the previous social commentaries and editorials I’ve written about racism and my unwavering stance and solidly entrenched disdain for most Trumpers and Trumpism. No journalistic objectivity is required for social commentaries, editorials or, opinion articles.
I said, “When I walk into a room, people see a Black man walking into a room. We are not at a point in this country, and I don’t think we ever will be in my life when people see just a man walking into a room.” I quickly followed up with the question, “Do you think racism and discrimination is still a big problem in our country? He looked at me and, with deep emotion, said, “It shouldn’t matter what color a person is when he walks into a room. And Yes, racism still exists. People need to take care of themselves and their families–that’s what it should be about and not all of this hate and anger.” The conversation ended on a happy note—complete with a Man Hug and several group photos taken.
Perhaps, what touched me most about the brief encounter was its emotion. I gained a level of respect for my former classmate. He is saddened, frustrated, and hurt by the current sorry state of race relations. I respect him for feeling comfortable and brave enough to approach me and have a frank and respectful conversation about the hot button topic of race–something others, especially former classmates and co-workers, have repeatedly failed to do. While I still prefer to hover quietly in the background at some private gatherings, I will say that sometimes being the only “Fly in a big bucket of white paint” can be enwhitening…I mean enlightening.