Black Coffee. Black Kids. Gray Matter.
*The following is a guest post from my husband, Hot Nerd – who I think should write here more often.
I almost never go to Starbucks. That’s the real scoop here… But that day we ran out of coffee and J told me it was kosher to sleepily drive to the closet caffeine station and pick myself up a cup o’ joe. I wound my way through the typically slapdash parking lot we find so often in SoCal (no master planning here!) and walked inside. Since I leave at 6 am for work, it wasn’t crowded and that left me pleasantly surprised. I ordered my coffee, stopped at the prep station, thought better of it, kept it black, and started to make my way out.
It seems without fail that whenever I am going out the “out” door, a bunch of people started streaming “in”. I put aside my usual hatred for disorder and those who can’t follow directions, and held the door as a few people waltzed in. Right before I was going to let go and walk back to my car two kids come racing toward me. The boy, about 12 years old, is rushing his sister, probably around 10, into Starbucks. (It always strikes me as odd whenever kids go to Starbucks. Do they really need caffeine at that age? That act like maniacs as it is, you’d think someone in Washington would have gotten on the “No Kaffeine for Kids!” kick years ago.) And that’s when it happened: both kids quickly turned back to me and said “thank you sir” before heading in.
Both kids were black.
I stood stunned at the door for a second. I hadn’t had a sip of my coffee, but it wasn’t the sleep that stopped me in my tracks. It was this simple fact: I as a college educated successful white male held the door open for two black kids who went into the same store I just came out of. No drama. No nasty dialogue. No thoughts of calling the police. No pointing to any signs. No kicking the kids out. No threats of violence against some “uppity” black kids trying to weasel their way into my people’s establishment.
It’s been 50 years today since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I won’t go down the path of saying how Dr. King would feel today. Too many people abscond with our idol’s actions and use it to pervert their own interpretation of today’s realities. The truth is I have no idea what Dr. King would think today. But I don’t think he would have stopped fighting. Whether for women’s rights, or GLBT rights, or children’s rights, I think we only saw the start of the blazingly brilliant force Dr. King would have been before he was gunned down that April night in Memphis.
One thing that has to be kept in mind for those who wish to call the Civil Rights Movement a part of “Grievance Incorporated:” an entire race of people was enslaved for the benefit of another race. There is no modern society on the planet that has this sordid history. This country was built in no small part on the back of black slaves who never knew or would taste the freedom we all have now. And that continued for generation after generation until it became imprinted on who we are as a people.
So for those who will undoubtedly read this and say, “I never enslaved anybody. My grandparents came from Germany in the 1890’s, Hot Nerd. You just feel guilty!” – remember where you are. You are in America; you are American. And right, wrong, or indifferent you have a duty and a responsibility to engage, embrace, be revolted by, love, hate, but most importantly, own, every last bit of history this country has become known for during its last 400 years as both a colony and a free nation.
We walked on the moon. We eradicated polio in America. We developed the telephone. We invented both the radar gun and the fuzz buster. We invented the internet. We defeated the Nazis. We lost the Vietnam War. We used the atomic bomb. We bought Manhattan Island for beads. We wiped out 90% of the Native Americans in North America by bringing smallpox from Europe. We invented Wall Street. And we took Africans from their homeland by force in huge ships, made them work for us, raped their women and children, sold them like cattle, beat them to death, worked them into the ground, and then went to Africa to get more slaves. We tore our country asunder in 1861 in no small part because of slavery. Yet after all slaves became free men with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, we still segregated. We reconstructed. We established Jim Crow. We lived “separate but equal.”
Those two kids have grandparents – presumably alive and well – who remember all of this. They remember the day that a white man would rather have them dead then frequent the same institution he did.
The question that keeps nagging at me:
Would I be that same white man?
If I lived in rural Alabama 50 years ago, would I feel the same way I do now? Or would I have chased those “dirty coloreds” out of the store for daring to come to the same place my people goes to buy their coffee?
If racism is really dead, then I can’t figure out why I am writing this post. Why did the thought of those kids’ race even enter into my head? I think the answer lies here: there is a big difference between no longer remembering something and choosing to forget it. Someday I hope children will no longer remember racism, but today in America – here and now – we are making a big mistake by confusing the two. Do not choose to forget. Racism is as alive today, when Trayvon Martin was followed for his “hoodie,” as it was when Emmett Till was murdered for “flirting with a white girl.”
I choose not to forget my country’s history. Please join me. Together let’s remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. It is only in this remembering that we learn,
and we choose not to repeat.