What do you think of black men? I think we as whites (at least some of us) need to change our thinking. I know I did.
Perhaps by revealing my wrong thinking, it will help you discover your own…and put our nation one step closer to racial reconciliation. According to African American men, Jemar and Tyler, of The Witness, we all have blind spots no matter our skin tone. (I recommend their podcast episode #123). Just so you know where I am coming from, I grew up in a very white world in the south…and I tend towards fearful thoughts.
The Black Man in the Parking Lot
I started noticing my wrong thinking about black men a few months before my life-changing coffee conversation of August 2017 with my new African American friend. That same black friend and I had gone to our very first coffee. This time we were just getting to know each other and race didn’t surface in the conversation. We managed to close the coffee shop down and moved to my car since the employees had warned us that we shouldn’t stick around outside out of concern for our safety due to some recent incidents in the area.
As we conversed in my car a bit later in the empty but bright parking lot, I noticed in the side mirror a black man coming our direction. Instinctively I immediately locked the car doors. As I explained my sudden movement to my friend stating a man was headed our way, I felt I had just possibly made a blunder in our newly forming friendship. I felt the black man was a threat, but did my new African American friend also see him as a threat? Although I would have locked the doors no matter the appearance of the male, I was keenly aware that race had played a part in my quick reflex. In the presence of my African American friend, I felt conscious of a blind spot I had not known existed.
The Black Man at the Park
On another later occasion I was with my kids at a park. We were the only ones present in the somewhat secluded child’s paradise. In the distance I saw a man out jogging towards us on the trail which passes right by the playground. I immediately registered that he was black. I immediately felt my heart-rate quicken. I immediately felt he could be a threat. I immediately looked around for a quick escape route if it was needed.
Then my racing thoughts suddenly came to a screeching halt.
Wait a second.
I remembered my new African American friend. We’d had our first racial conversation by this point.
I remembered her black husband who had been to my house.
I captured my out of control fears about this unfamiliar jogger and told myself that this man could be just like my friend’s husband.
NOT a threat.
And, I started viewing the jogger in that light, trusting the best about him and not the worst.
My heart-rate slowed.
The man passed us with no incident. He didn’t even seem to acknowledge us.
My blind spot was now becoming very apparent to me. I feared black men more than white men.
I was appalled at myself.
Sure, I see all men as a threat to some degree in some situations. Men are stronger than me. But, if I am being honest, I have instinctively felt safer when I encounter an unfamiliar white man than I do an unfamiliar black man.
Now that I am having more and more interaction with people of color here in metro-Atlanta, I’m seeing things in me that are making me pause and reflect. Things that are making me feel uncomfortable about the way I have viewed African American men.
A black man is no more a threat to me than a white man. I think movies, news, and the lack of African American friends and acquaintances in my life are partly to blame for my wrong thinking. Praise God, my thinking has changed greatly simply by becoming aware of my fear based on race. And, the kind African American employee at Walmart pickup was a huge reason for my change in perspective as well.
To my African American male readers, who I greatly appreciate, please don’t hold this post against me. I am concerned I could inflict pain with what I have written which is not at all my intention. I trust that by revealing my former wrong thinking, others with similar blind spots will see and change as well. That is my hope.
We Can Change
I graduated in 2001 from a university that historically banned interracial dating. They dropped the rule during my Junior year in 2000 after much negative publicity. I believe the ban did have a negative impact on me and helped reinforce my blind spot. However, I am encouraged to see that this university has done a complete 180. Earlier this month, the current school newspaper editor printed her thoughts on her own interracial relationship: white Rebekah Anderson is engaged to African American Ray Holden.
Individuals can change. Schools can change. The Nation can change. Yes, we have a horrendous historical stain of racism, but we can change. Never lose hope that we can change! I’ll say it one more time for the weary, we can change.