Thursday, July 21, 2005

White Man Dozing

Tuesday evening I sat down at the bar of a nearby Chili's restaurant. I placed a "to go" order and turned my attention to the baseball game underway between the Yankees and the Rangers.

Somehow I struck up a conversation with the guy seated next to me.

We talked about the Rangers' lack of pitching and the failure of the organization to do much about it.

The guy told me he graduated from a local Dallas high school in 1978. That made him about ten years my junior. High school football came up.

He seemed a nice enough sort of fellow.

But then, he began talking about African Americans. Some of the things he said should never be repeated. Anywhere. Ever.

I was shocked, startled and amazed.

His comments were so offensive that I felt paralyzed. . .as my family and friends will tell you, a very strange feeling for me.

When my food arrived, I uttered my protest and excused myself.

"I can't believe this guy!" I said to myself as I made my way to my car.

"Where has he been for the past forty years?"

The answer hit me hard: he's been right here.

My mind moved automatically to a meeting I had attended earlier in the day. John Greenan, the leader of our community development corporation, and I met with a committee from a public entity here in Dallas that owns a piece of property we are trying to acquire for housing development.

The group had a list of questions for us as they considered our development plans.

An African American man serving on the committee pressed us hard about our policy and practices regarding discrimination in hiring, purchasing and programming. We welcomed his questions because they gave us--two white guys--the opportunity to talk more about one of our core values and objectives in Dallas: racial reconciliation and justice.

As I reflected on the comments of the guy at the bar, I realized the man on the committee had to ask the questions, not because he was being politically correct, but because of what he understood about racism and discrimination in Dallas, most likely by personal experience.

As I continued to unpack my thoughts and feelings, I realized that the most disturbing part of the experience for me was the fact that I was surprised by the guy at the bar.

Somehow I have been lulled to sleep.

I'm a white man dozing while the insanity and the hatred continue.

A trusted friend of mine put it this way, "Larry, you have to learn to live with an edge because it is not going away and you have to be prepared for battle."

Sadly, I know he is correct.

But at least today I am awake.


Anonymous said...

As someone who has been in a white southern church my whole life, this has to be my biggest complaint against the church, and by inference, against me. Some of the most "religious" men I knew would not hestitate to use the n-word or tell a racist joke. Sermons codeming racism were (and are) nowhere to be found. It seems to me that if churches divert the time that they spend condeming gay marraige (or whatever their complain du jour is with the contemporary culture) and spend it on eliminating bigotry from their midst, the world would be much better served.

It is for this reason that I really struggle with being a part of southern Christianity. We got something so wrong for so long and it seems to me that we have a long way to go before we as southern Christians have truly repented of this sin, which I think it still tacitly allowed to this day.

Anonymous said...

Being an African American female, I wake up daily with concern not only for myself but for my husband and my children. For my husband, who is qualified and educated for the job he works and will continue to be overlooked because the color of his skin. For my children, who no matter how many A's on their report cards or their exceptional reading level, will never be treated as their white peers. I used to struggle daily with my skin color. Questions haunted me... will I ever be good, smart, or pretty enough? My fears and anxiety were calmed one day as I thought about the reverence of God. He is perfect and he chose to create me just as he did, full of purpose and wisdom. Although, it is hard when white people constantly step over me in line or when I am ignored or followed by security at North Park Mall, I am filled with the hope that God is just. (As a side note: Do white Christians, who struggle with race, think heaven is segregated? I think this should be a future blog thought!!)

IBreakCellPhones said...

What steps can we take to make it go away?

Anonymous said...

As the Anonymous African American responding, I don't think it (racism) will ever go away. I would like to challange those of you (my white brothers and sisters) to speak up and challange those on who use the n-word or tell a racist joke. Tell them that kind of thinking is out dated and how respect for all human beings is not a option but deserved. Most whites will not speak up because they believe it is socially inappropriate but will get around those believe like they do and voice their angry--a.k.a. "preaching to the choir". The same passion that ignites your anger towards this kind of thinking, should be the same kind of passion that sets the record straight.

Larry James said...

Thanks to all of you for these responses. To our last Anonymous, let me say that I completely agree. Registering my disgust to the man at the bar was very important for me and for him--even if he blew me off. This issue is one of human integrity and human solidarity. I remain ashamed that I was surprised by what he said. I won't be surprised ever again. Thanks for your wisdom and for speaking the truth.