Early this morning, I arrived at the bus station to catch a "red-eye" to DC for a work conference. While waiting for my (delayed) bus, I met a guy from down South who was headed in the same direction. He was a middle-aged white male, maybe 45 years old. We first exchanged frustration over the delayed trip.
I assume I seemed very approachable because he continued to share with me about how he was traveling up this way to handle some very personal family matters. We chatted for a bit about the family challenges he was facing, as I felt I could easily relate. About 20 minutes into our conversation, we were interrupted by a news update regarding a questionable statement that Trump had made earlier that morning.
At this point, he turned and looked me dead in the eyes and said, "can I ask you a question?" I said, "sure!"
He went on to say, "I don't have a lot of black friends but I have questions and nowhere to ask them. Can I ask you?"
"Sure," I said. What then transpired was a 4-hour conversation with a complete stranger on some of the most sensitive race and political issues that exist. Everything from President Trump, to gentrification, to police brutality, to the prison system.
"I grew up in the South and in my family, white folks calling black people the N-word was considered normal," he said. "My parents were racist, and so I grew up racist. It wasn't until I hit my 30's that I realized how toxic it all was," he shared. "But things are so segregated where I'm from. I don't know who to talk to."
I didn't judge him, but offered a listening ear.
We talked more about politics and the polarization of the country within these last 4 years. I educated him on black history and offered answers to many of the "whys" he had and by the end of the conversation, the expression on his face was one of enlightenment and pensiveness. I could tell this conversation was going to be a MAJOR turning point for him.
We shook hands and he deeply thanked me as we parted ways.
So many times, what we perceive as racism, is more accurately "ignorance" in its truest form. We are taught to believe what we are taught to believe...and until our beliefs meet authentic human interaction, they remain impenetrable.
I don't know how long this man had held onto his questions but I'd like to believe that our conversation was a divine appointment. And I'm grateful for his bravery to ask them at the age of 45, to a complete stranger.
A good friend once stated this, and I agree wholeheartedly: "If you are a White person, you need a Black friend who you can talk to openly. If you are a Black person, you need a White friend who you can talk to openly. Otherwise, you will never have real conversations."