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THOMPSON: How I know black people are different from white people

June 08, 2020 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


Black people are different from white people. I know this because - as a white person - no one follows me around in department stores. No one crosses the street in fear of walking on the same sidewalk as me.

I never went to a bad school growing up in Florida. I never had less than good and mostly great teachers...and my books were always new. When you live in good communities you go to good schools.

The part of town where I lived and played had plenty of parks, recreational centers with swimming pools and lots of top-notch equipment. Summers meant camps and swimming and baseball games with real uniforms.

My family never locked the doors to our home or car when I was growing up. The neighbourhood was safe...our shopping places were safe...nothing was ever stolen.

I never lost a school mate to violence. No one ever offered me an illegal drug...much less forced me to take it...or sell it. My few school-yard scrapes were over girls not gang-related retaliation. I never heard of a drive-by shooting until I was an adult.

My father never sat me down for a talk about the necessity of answering police with “yes, sir” or “no, sir”...of being hurt for doing nothing. Cops were our friends...even if they were strangers. Policemen didn’t inflict pain and suffering...they ended it.

Police never stopped and harassed me...until I was in the Air Force in 1970 and my best friend - a black man - drove off base in Tampa with me as a passenger. They separated us before asking me what I was doing with him.

I was outraged, and after the police let us go, my friend warned me to never argue with police again because he knew what I didn’t, and explained, “They’re just looking for a reason to kill me, brother...don’t ever do that.”

Courthouses and jails were just big buildings I passed regularly. You don’t get arrested for driving while white...or walking suspiciously in a neighbourhood...you’re not likely charged for petty offences...even if you commit them. A gathering of three or more white men...not to worry. Three or more black men...there could be trouble.

I was never turned down for a job...not as a teenager or an adult. No one ever asked me to leave a bar or restaurant. But as a child I saw others refused service in places I could eat and drink. Only one of the four movie theatres in my home town allowed non-whites...and that one had a separate entrance and segregated balcony-only seating if you were black, Hispanic or Seminole.

The water fountains in the grocery stores in my hometown were marked “white” and “colored,” as they were in the Greyhound Bus station, where whites had a separate waiting room and boarded buses first and sat upfront.

I attended a top-notch university...and there was never a doubt that I would hold anything less than a well-paid job...that led to a career.

I bought five houses in five great neighbourhoods as an adult. I was approved on mortgages every time...once with just a signature and copies of my IRS Form 1040 for the previous two years. I’ve bought numerous cars - expensive models - usually driving them off the lot the same day. I had credit card offers...by the score...with increases in limits with just a phone call. I was white...with a job.

Whenever I was ill or had an accident...I knew high-quality healthcare was as close as our family doctor or the hospital emergency room. Later, as an adult, I could afford health insurance...even when the costs skyrocketed.

Yes, black people are different from white people...and so are Hispanics and so are Asians.

We have made it that way...in virtually every institution...in virtually every aspect of our culture.

An honest dialogue on issues of race is long overdue. Conversation is a starting point...but talk is cheap. We need to act. We need to change laws...locally, at state levels and nationally.

The words of the Constitution and Bill of Rights need to be more than aspirations.

Fellow Americans, if you don’t call your local council member, your mayor, your governor and state legislators, as well as those in Congress who represent you - Republican and Democrat - you are part of the problem.

Ask them what they are doing about judicial reform, healthcare, education. Get specifics...none of the standard campaign speech pablum. Then, tell them you want answers...not excuses.

Even if you’ve never said or done a racist thing in your life...that’s not enough. If you’re white...even a poor white person...you have advantages people of colour do not. And, yet, we’re all Americans.

My great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War...on the wrong side. I never knew the man. But any guilt about my ancestors is less important than my belief that it’s time we as a society do the right things.

The days of us versus them...white versus black...must end. We owe those who suffered - literally and figuratively - at the hands of our ancestors....and at our hands because we didn’t do enough to change things.

Black people are different from white people. You see, if I were black...you wouldn’t be reading this. I would likely have died some time ago. Because until black lives matter...they don’t. And that’s no less true here than America.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.

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