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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/22/13

Why We're Not Done With The Heartache

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Message Phyllis Reed


As I registered for an appointment, the clerk glanced up at the TV and grimaced about the continuing reaction to the Zimmerman verdict and calls for a criminal civil rights trial.  "Why?' the clerk said, "it's done!" she looked at me (white) for agreement.  "Well, millions of Americans.  .  ." I began, and that ended the conversation.

She quickly handed me the paperwork,  but the task of walking a mile in someone else's shoes?  Would she hear, let alone feel what President Obama's own experiences as a black youth were like and begin to imagine his humiliation and fear?   Yes, the TV was blaring the conversation that America has yet to tackle, and she didn't want to hear any of it.

Earlier in the week I was in a medical waiting room, filled with an even mix of about ten black and white patients.   None were watching CNN's guests analyze the Zimmerman verdict - were they afraid to exchange glances and open a heated debate? 

Meanwhile, reflecting a mirror image, white parents of a white teenage boy published online the scary story of their son's daytime walk in their own upscale neighborhood. ;   It turned out that the brown-haired youth was "walking while 'tan'," bronzed from the summer sun.  A woman started following him in her car, even pulling into a driveway to cut him off.  When she couldn't continue, she called the police.  She was sure he was up to no good and probably on drugs.  Soon a policeman pulled up beside the boy and asked him multiple questions.  Though stunned and puzzled, he answered every one to the officer's satisfaction and was allowed to go home. 

His parents tried to help him sort it out and in order to find out who had followed their son, they e-mailed the story to everyone on the Neighborhood Watch list.  It was only then that they learned she was the Watch captain.  The woman tearfully apologized.  

The parents had to explain to their son that the woman assumed he was on drugs and casing the neighborhood.  It was humiliating, but later the boy began thinking of all the black and brown teens across America and how they must feel.  He was white and had  taken being accepted for granted.  Now he wonders if he's safe anymore.

Back in the '90s, a well-dressed black businessman in Grand Central Station was stopped for questioning.   The  movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" showed that no matter how well-educated, successful and well-spoken, a black man still faces strong emotional barriers.  In 2009, Prof. Henry Louis Gates, returning to his home and having to force open his jammed front door, was reported by a passerby to police who came and arrested him, in spite of Gates' proof  it was his own home.  Can we get past the fear and ignorance that keeps us separated?

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Freelance writer, activist, composer, retired from nonprofit journalism educational foundation.
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