Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I do have a serious streak, and recent world events have dragged it out into the light. While I’m very relieved about the truce in Gaza, the Ferguson, MO conflict still weighs heavily on my mind. I had been thinking about it when my best friend from college Sonia posted on my Facebook page, “Thinking about Ferguson and race relations…I think it’s time for our Ebony and Ivory duet again! What do you think?”

“Yes!” I replied. I’d been thinking the same thing. I’d been thinking about how although she was black and I was white, we had, in that magical college time, become best friends and crossed the color lines. The duet by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney was on the charts at the time and we use to sing it, as a gag. I think a lot about how lucky I am to have met her in those circumstances where you are primed to delve deep into everything. And we delved deep into each other’s cultures. Although I’d say I was the one who had the steeper learning curve. Black people by default already know about and have to negotiate white culture every day. I was an invited guest into Sonia’s culture, and I had more to learn and gain; she was patient with my questions.

And that’s the thing I keep coming back to. Is it possible to replicate our experience? There is this great divide between blacks and whites, but as a white person, you can’t just go up to a black person and say, “Hey, tell me about being black!” For the most part, I think black people get tired of having to explain themselves to white people, and they shouldn’t have to. Class is also involved, and is trickier, because as much as we don’t like to talk about race, we really don’t like to talk about class–that “anyone can make it in America” thing gets in the way. If we want to improve black/white relations, we have to start with groups in the same class, and preferably they have something in common outside of both spheres. For me and Sonia, we both loved the same kind of music, U2 in particular, but good old rock too. That’s how we met; she heard U2 crooning from my room, walked in, and started thumbing through my fairly decent album collection. The rest is history. So, in honor of that fortunate day in my life, I am reposting the opening of an essay I wrote about our relationship in the Fall/Winter 2009, issue of the Newport Review. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think, white folks, the onus is on us to get better acquainted with black culture. Once we’re better informed, we can knock on the door, and politely ask to come in.

Oh, and one random note, I call her Samantha in the essay–I used to have a thing about using real names in online publications, as if 1) any one was actually reading my stuff and 2) the one person who was would be a crackpot and hunt the named person down. Blogging helped cure that.

The Color of Vinyl

“Hey, black girl. What are you looking at?” I challenged.

“You got a problem, white girl?” she shot back.

We glared at each other. The air in the elevator was still, tomb-like. The two other people in the elevator shifted nervously. Neither one was close enough to the panel to push a lower floor number.

I struggled to keep control. In their darting peripheral vision, the two other riders could see our eyes locked together. I noted the ding of the bell as the floors dropped away from us – 9, 10, 11. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw floor number 13 light up. The elevator slowed. I timed my response. “Maybe I do.” As the door slid open, one of the riders flinched and I lunged to the lobby floor. She flung herself after me. I heard a gasp from the elevator, and could no longer contain myself. We both burst into laughter as the door closed on the terrified, confused riders.

Read the rest of the essay here.


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