Today I was scheduled to talk with my old friend Chad, who lives in a Washington, DC suburb on the Virginia side. But it turned out Chad couldn’t talk because of troubles with the DMV and a speeding ticket. Apparently last night Chad was pulled over by Virginia highway patrol. They had no reason for the stop – except, in Chad’s words, “for the offense of being black. I have been pulled over so, so, so many times,” he told me. After hours at the DMV, he was too angry and too far behind to talk.
Hearing Chad so exasperated again reminded me of what it was like being with him back in the early 1990s on a daily basis. Nevermind that he was an incredibly sweet and gentle guy - as a 6'4" black man with dreadlocks, racism plagued him frequently.
I remember very early one morning – maybe 4AM – I was waiting for a car service to pick me up at our dorm for a scheduled ride to the airport. There was virtually no one on the streets, and occasionally taxis would see me standing at the curb with my suitcase and slow down in hopes I could be their next fare. Chad was waiting with me, but standing a few feet away. At one point he started talking about how taxis would never pick him up, and offered to prove it. I left my suitcases at the curb and Chad took my place standing with them. Suddenly the taxis going by no longer slowed down. Chad clearly represented their only realistic chance at a fare, yet they refused to consider the big black guy.
A fleeting weblog post is not the right forum for a detailed consideration of the complexities of contemporary race relations in America. Besides, when I talk with Chad again in our rescheduled conversation, I want to talk about music and movies and our lives, not this crap. But today, for the first time in awhile, I have a heightened sense of how racism lingers in both subtle and not too subtle forms. It’s all too easy for a white person like me to live virtually an entire life without seeing it first-hand. I’m both thankful and sad that I have.