Reflections on Racism and Greens
I have the privilege, everyday, of working with people of many different colors and from many different places. Perhaps, as a result, I think about racism a lot. Not in the context of overt racism, which is easy to see and dismiss, but more in the context of its subtleties.
A Mutual Love of Greens
Recently, a friend of mine, who happens to be black, asked me if she could have some collard greens from my garden. We both enjoy greens and she was looking forward to preparing some for her family in celebration of Labor Day.
I got distracted and forgot, multiple times, to bring them to work. She called me. I answered my cellphone but I wasn’t actually home at the time. I invited her and her husband to simply drop by my house and pick and take as many as they needed.
An Uncomfortable Situation
My friend quickly responded ‘Dr. Stork, I don’t think it’s a good idea for two black people to be wandering around a backyard, in your neighborhood, picking greens when you are not home.’
Racism, in my experience, real or perceived, leave ones with a sense of sadness, loneliness and lost opportunity.
At first I laughed, along with my friend, but then, I suddenly felt very, very sad. Why shouldn’t my friends, of any color or religion or persuasion feel comfortable in my neighborhood when I’m not around? What made me even more sad, however, was that my friend was right. In America, in 2016, my suggestion was naive.
Choices Reflect Values
My friend’s response got me thinking. How could I have handled this differently and how could I have handled it better? I think the answer can be found in the greens themselves.
- I could have left myself a note and been more diligent about remembering to take her the greens in the first place
- I could have picked them and taken the time to drive them to her neighborhood and personally delivered them to her home
- I could have picked them myself and invited her to drive out and pick them up when I was actually home.
When I was a very young boy, growing up in an almost exclusively white community, my Father worked with a black man named Jay. They were friends. I remember they laughed and joked a lot and genuinely liked each other. I never remember Jay coming to our house, and I never remember visiting Jay’s.
I think the ongoing battle against racism is not only deeply political, it’s also deeply personal. I can’t do a lot about the political, but I can try to continue to think and act differently myself.
I wonder how, someday, my son will remember me? Will he remember me as a man who interacted with persons of different color from a safe distance or will he remember me as a man who truly valued and engaged others, no matter what they look like, where they were from or what they believed, as true friends?
Living the Dream
Maybe it was my conscience, my heart, or the memory of my dad, but something inside me told me I needed to talk to my friend. And that’s what we did. We talked. We talked about our respective neighborhoods, our children, the foods we both enjoy and our hopes for the future of our greater community. I came away from the conversation feeling genuinely more connected with her, and blessed to call her my friend.
Have you ever had a similar experience? If so, I’d enjoy reading about how you handled the situation and what you learned in the process?
Racism is a sinister social disease that, knowingly or unknowingly, effects everyone of us. It is evil and it’s unrelenting. Even though I try to guard my thoughts, assumptions, words and actions against it, I sometimes fail. Fortunately, when I do, I have friends who aren’t afraid to call me on it and offer me a different perspective.
At a time when our country seems to be becoming increasingly divided, I learned from this experience that reflection, caring, concern, and open communication serve to bring us closer together. If we truly want to live the dream, these are the ingredients we all need.