I grew up in a household that had rather strong views on race. That is to say there were strong opinions on one or two other races. Opinions that were not very… positive. Ah screw it, my family was racist as fuck. Sadly growing up in a white neighborhood and going to predominantly all white schools where most everyone looked like me I was pretty ignorant to the world at large. I always thought it was odd that my parent’s had aggressive and harsh words for people they had never met but I usually ignored these rants or left the room if I was able.
It wasn’t until I hit high school that my world opened up a tiny little bit more. Full disclosure though, I went to a private school so even the people of different backgrounds I encountered there were more or less affluent. I remember being assigned to a project my freshman year with a young man named Albert. He was African-American, his father owned a chain of pharmacies in town and although he was on the football team with me I had barely said two words to him up till then. I kept the details of this away from my parents mainly to save both Albert and I the embarrassment of my dad getting involved. We worked on our project in school and before football practice when we had time and I remember thinking to myself at one point, “he seems like a cool guy and not that different than me. Other than being rich I suppose”.
Our project ended (A- if memory serves) and although I think we both mutually considered each other friends I never invited him to my house for fear of the fallout. I remember considering that and thinking it was unfair that I couldn’t be friends with someone because my family, who had never met them, was prejudice against them because of the pigment of their skin. The whole concept seemed ludicrous and so began the divide between my parents and I on race, politics and a great many things in life. My first job outside of the family business was at a major fast food chain but this too was in a small semi-rural area and so my exposure to people who didn’t look like me was limited. Still, I met good people from various backgrounds and having my own car (88’ Ford Escort) afforded me the liberty to drive to parties or go to school functions without my parent’s constant supervision. Admittedly I usually told them I was going to my friend Andy’s house to save me from having to explain but as he was usually with me I didn’t feel too terrible about lying.
College was when the cuffs were really off as I went to a state University that had a diverse melting pot of cultures. I applied for campus housing late so I got stuck with two roomates who were even more rural backwater than I was and seemed constantly in a state of shock from our suitemates who hailed from the urban core of a large city. They were unapologetic for their actions most of the time which put them at odds with the rest of us at first but after the shock value of being thrust together wore off we slowly found common ground.
I remember coming home from work and finding a large group of people gathered around the TV in the common room watching Ice Cube and Chris Tucker star in the 1995 comedy movie Friday. I had never seen a movie starring an all black cast and after being welcomed over I eagerly took an empty spot on the couch. Looking back at that moment I now remember how ignorantly I imagined it was an “accurate” representation of black culture. Regardless we all laughed and relished in the moment connecting as young adults finally set free from the bonds of our parents and finding friendship without irrational limits. I don’t think that I was the only one who found that event significant as Friday made a constant appearance on that TV. (Scooby-Doo and Price is Right being the others for some reason.)
Now 20+ years later I’ve have had friendships, relationships and partnerships that span cultural and racial divide. I can proudly state I have friends that live on 5 continents due to prior employment and that I regularly interact with folks from all walks of life. I do my best to impart the value of diversity to my children and try to lead by example. Despite that we still observe racism in our city and across the nation. We live in divisive times but we still need to stand up for what we believe and defend our fellow man. Only then can we correct the sins of our fathers.