When I was growing up I was taught that all people are the same. I have since learned that is not so. People are very different. They are the product of their genes and their experience. Even twins growing up in the same home are very different people. I embrace the differences. I respect the individuality. I appreciate the variety. The only thing that all people share in common is their humanity.
That being said, I would like to share some of my experience. I had a best friend. Carl and I met in the 5th grade. We were inseparable til we graduated high school. We remained friends over much of our lives. In our senior year he shared an article by James Baldwin entitled "White Men Can't Play the Blues."It was about the cultural differences between black people and white. As I said I was bought up to believe that all people were the same. We discussed the piece and suddenly Carl became very angry. The anger and frustration of being a black man in 1961 came pouring out. This was a man that I did not know. This was a stranger.
I was confused, upset, even a bit frightened. Not over what was said, not about my friend's anger. I was disturbed that my best friend, my bosom buddy with whom I had shared my life for almost a decade had a side that I had never seen. That inside him was a person who was totally alien to me. That unnerved me more than anything.
Since then I have learned that many black people live with that level of rage and resentment that most white people never know. That is something we may never fully understand, the level of rage and frustration of our black friends and neighbors. The vast majority of black people control and repress their feelings very well. That may be why black men have a higher incidence of hypertension than most other ethnic groups. I later became pleased and proud that my friend was comfortable enough in our relationship to let down his guard. However, it served to give me an insight into the life that black people lead.
As I worked registering black people to vote in Mississippi in the mid '60s. As I lived and worked among people black, brown and white. I learned some things about them, about me, about friendship, about love, about respect, about courage. I also learned about anger, hatred, violence, bigotry, about our society.
These lessons took me decades to learn, a generation to process, a lifetime to understand. Even after all these years I'm not sure I do entirely. It is hubris to think that we will understand it in a minute, an hour, an afternoon. It will take years of honest open dialogue. Decades of discussion without judgment, rancor or prejudice. Conversations full of empathy and self reflection.
We have learned over the last half century that the government is, at best, suspect, at worst, corrupt and despotic. Our founding fathers knew it. They installed limits on government into our Constitution. Our minority communities has known it, have felt it, throughout our history.
Policemen spend most of their time dealing with the worst of our society. They leave for work each day not knowing if they will be home, be alive, at the end of their shift. They don't get nearly the respect and appreciation they deserve. They are called all kind of names. Most civilians are uncomfortable around them and they try and protect those close to them from the awful things which they encounter every day. They get to feel, much like combat veterans, that only others who share their experience can understand them. When they are off duty policemen tend to hang out with other policemen. This is where they are most comfortable. That also reinforces their sense of isolation. The feelings of disrespect. That 'them and us' mentality.
Put an educated, celebrated, older black man with a game leg, tired from days of traveling, his nerves frayed, being confronted in his own home, together with a cop walking into a potentially dangerous situation who doesn't get the respect he feels he deserves. You have a recipe for disaster. Throw in our President, our black president, using a word like"stupidly" in reference to the incident, that is a full blown media circus. A tempest in a teapot. It is a story worthy of note. It doesn't warrant weeks of unending rehashing. It is certainly not going to be resolved over a couple of beers in the nations backyard with the press looking on.