I spent the weekend at a tennis tournament at a local country club. (I made it to the semi-finals, thanks for asking.) It was no diversity summit, but you might be surprised. There were Asian players and Indian players and African-American players and Hispanic players and gay players and, as expected, a whole lot of middle-aged white players.
A friend and teammate of mine, who is African-American, was also in the tournament. After the July 7 shooting (it is incredible that I need a date reference, but there have been so many), I had sent her a brief Facebook message along the lines of: “I want you to know that I love and care about you and your boyfriend. I don’t know what to say beyond that.” I felt like an idiot. I needed to reach out, and that was the best I could do.
When we sat down for a drink after a practice match on Friday night, she thanked me for my note. I was glad she had not been offended but was ashamed that something so ridiculously minuscule as an acknowledgement that I cared, whispered across the racial divide, meant something.
She had fled town the weekend after the shooting to visit friends in a cooler city, temperature- and emotion-wise, unable to explain to co-workers why she was openly weeping at work. (The fact that they needed an explanation in and of itself was an affront to her reality.)
A transplant from a Southern city, now an executive at a North Dallas Fortune 500 company, she has spent a lifetime adapting to the world I was born into. Younger and smarter than me, she will surpass me in her career trajectory. But she has faced, and will face, challenges I cannot comprehend. Sitting on the patio in the July heat, she talked. And I listened.
A few things I learned: that if she sits with her black friends at her corporate cafeteria, she is acutely aware that they may be viewed as separatist. So they often purposely sit apart.
That she has to tell her African boyfriend, who did not grow up here and does not feel the weight of hundreds of years of American history, not to jog at night.
That she has to ask him not to wear hoodies and sweatpants outdoors.
That she won’t let him take the garbage out to the alley behind their Plano condo after dark.
That when she dogsits for co-workers, she makes sure she shows up at the house during the day, she enters and exits through the front door, and her boyfriend never comes with her.
That she has lived much of her life in my world and understands much of my reality. Yet I have clearly chosen to understand so little of hers.
I may be an idiot, but I’m trying to change that.