Posted August 29, 2017
A few weeks ago, I was making my way to church on a Sunday morning via the 2L bus. I thought it would stop at High and Lane Ave. as the 2 bus would, but I was wrong. I had to take the bus to the next stop it serviced, cross the street, and wait for another bus to bring me back to my desired destination.
I didn't have to wait long for the bus, but while I was there, a young man, who happened to be African American came dancing to the shelter where I was sitting. I struck up a conversation that went something like this:
Me: "You're sure in a good mood today!"
Him: "you bet I am. I'm going to turn 36 in two weeks, so I beat the death penalty!"
Me (Not quite sure what that meant): "Oh, really?"
Him: "Yes, that's what they say. If a black man makes it to 36, he's beat the death penalty."
Me: "Well, congratulations!" I was hoping that was at least a slightly appropriate response to his revelation.
I have not been able to get this story out of my mind since then, and I thought I would share it in this forum, at the request of Bob.
I found this statement to be profound on two levels. First, I love the attitude of this young man. He did not relate it to me in a bitter manner. He simply was happy that he was still very much alive, and that somehow he was lucky enough to have beat the system. I celebrate with that man, if it is appropriate to do so. I'm thankful I did not symbolize the white privilege I have enjoyed by virtue of my race.
Second, and this is by far the more profound, was my reaction to this encounter. I realized there is a whole section of our society who have been targeted by authorities and are literally in fear of their lives. People of color live in a world that is totally divorced from my experience, and such an injustice should not be. My heart is heavy as I consider how people of color view our society, and view it with complete justification.
How can I have been so blind as not to see what was happening to my neighbor? How could I have been so deaf to my neighbor's pleas for help in fighting such injustice? How am I to respond to such an injustice without setting myself up as a "savior" or "superman" fighting for truth, justice, and the American way (as if the American way was really something for which to fight).
How do you respond to this encounter? What would you have said to this young man? In your experience, have you ever heard of such a thing as a black man "beating the death penalty" simply by turning 36?
I would be interested to read your take on this.