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We need to examine our hearts

It was about this time of the year when it happened. Maybe it was a bit later in the summer because it was a hot day, a blazing summer-in-South-Alabama day.

I’ve written about this before because it is something that lives in my memory, a small thing that made a big impact. When that memory comes knocking, I still feel bad and wish I’d made a different choice in how I reacted.

The memory is knocking loudly right now as I watch the protests going on after the killing of a black man in Minneapolis. It reminds me how long we’ve looked at skin color and seen difference.

I was 12 or maybe 13 that summer day. My friend and I spent the morning downtown browsing in the library and walking through the stores. We stopped for a drink at the drug store before heading home.

With icy drinks in hand, we crossed the street and walked toward city hall. There was a car parked in front of the building and inside were two black children.

As we came up even with the car, my friend started laughing and poking me.

“Look at those little chocolate drops,” she said, pointing to the kids in the car. “That chocolate’s gonna melt in that hot car.”

In some ways, it wasn’t so much what she said as the way she said it, the intent behind the words. There was a put down in her tone, in her laugh. There was a sense of being a little better than them. I knew it. I recognized it.

I looked toward the children, hoping they had not heard her. Then I did what I feel badly about doing — I laughed too.

I didn’t think it was funny, but I went along because she was my friend and I didn’t want to say anything about what she said not being nice. And, that is what more than 50 years later I wish I’d done differently.

The other day on Fox News I heard a Republican congressman (yes my liberal and conservative friends. I sometimes watch Fox News) say something worth repeating. (Yes, my Democratic and Republicans friends, folks on both sides say things worth repeating sometimes.)

He said when he hears discussions about race relations and racism, he asks people if they have ever invited someone of another race into their homes for dinner. Have you sat together and talked and listened to each other was his question.

That, he said, more than politicians sitting in some room talking about change, can be the real catalyst for change. People getting to know each other, listening to shared concerns, finding common ground.

Yes, I think there must be change made in policies by people who can make  changes. Our leaders must be leaders for people of all colors, religious beliefs, sexual orientations etc.

But what can I, one person in South Alabama, do to make a difference. My friend, Sharon Hughes Taylor, speaks to this.

“At the heart of this, for me as a white-person, is ardent self-examination,” she wrote.

Beyond the words in support of those protesting racism, I must examine any lingering attitudes I harbor. If I see a group of young black men, do I look at them differently from a group of young white men? Do I wonder what they are up to when I wouldn’t think that about the other group? I must be painfully honest to see if I am holding unconscious judgments.

“The heartbeat of antiracism is self-reflection, recognition, admission and fundamentally self-critique …” A quote my friend, Sharon, shared that says what I’m trying to express.

If we want a different world, we must look and see how we are alike, how we are human. We need to sit together and talk, and more importantly listen.

And, I need to apologize to two black children I never knew. I’m sorry I laughed. I’m sorry I didn’t say something to my friend when she laughed.

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