But it’s hard for me to talk about “them” all together. I mean, if I try to start a sentence with “Black people all…” or “They always…”—well, I can’t think of a way to finish that sentence. Because I can’t think of anything that’s true about all the black people I know, much less about all black people everywhere. For example:
- Greg is a big black guy who moves like a cat on the tennis court, surprising me with well-placed shots that bounce in unpredictable directions.
- Alvy is a tender black father raising a gentle black son who is deciding which college he wants to attend next year. Alvy loves it that his son comes to him for advice.
- Dolores is an older black woman who stays on Facebook so she can be a positive presence in her young niece’s life. We joke about keeping up with technology.
- I don’t know Ruby very well; just some basic facts. Like, she was a nurse for about 30 years. And she’s good at balancing a checkbook.
- Otis is a black postal worker who plays drums at my church and sings soulfully enough to bring tears to my eyes.
- Barack is a black man I know mainly through reading about him. He’s a writer, like me, and I appreciate his wordsmithing ability and his sense of humor.
- Curtis is a black woman who was named after her father. Her full name is Curtistine, which I love, but she prefers to go by Curtis in honor of him.
- Mary and Amalia are both black married women, and they may be about the same age, but I can’t think of two more opposite people.
- Jason is a black man whose childhood was the complete opposite of mine, but today I have more in common with him than just about anyone else I can think of—writing, tennis, Apple products, business models, values, and spiritual dreams.
So I find it difficult to talk about black people. Because I don’t know “black people.” I know Greg. I know Amalia. I know Curtis and a few others. They’re all different from each other. And they’re probably different from whatever stereotypes I might have about them.
Is this all that racism is—seeing people as “them,” rather than getting to know “him” and “her”?