Columbia, SC — ‘You’re one of the good ones.”
When I write about race, I almost always get that comment during an email exchange or phone conversation in which a white person is telling me how awful black people are.
And, sure enough, two callers bestowed that — is it a superlative or slur? — upon me as we talked by phone following two columns I wrote after the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial last month. One column was about how black boys and men are looked upon with suspicion all the days of their lives, while the other declared that protesting and marching mean nothing if black folks don’t insist that our boys reject crime, violence and gangs and help them become the educated, productive citizens they’re supposed to be.
As you might imagine, I got lots of email and phone responses. As I do from time to time, I’d like to share a few of the comments to give you a flavor or what our neighbors are thinking.
But first, what on earth does it mean when a white person tells me — or any other African-American — that I’m “one of the good ones”? Good what? Does it mean that I’m literate or that I’ve got a job or perhaps that I’m not a criminal (despite the fact that it’s OK to profile me)?
Am I supposed to be flattered that I am accepted by a white person? Am I to assume that since I’m “one of the good ones,” I’ve somehow come out from among a group of “bad ones”? Are there white people identified as “good ones,” and who does the evaluation?
It’s that kind of thoughtless, insensitive, condescending attitude that makes it clear that despite the many strides we’ve made and the many one-on-one black-white relationships that have been cultivated, we still have a long way to go when it comes to having civil and meaningful conversations about race, let alone taking real steps to deal with the barriers that exist between races.
But there’s hope. There are people of good will of all races and creeds who rise above this “good ones” nonsense and just treat one another as God’s people. They’re building bridges every day.
You might find a comment or two from some of those bridge builders below:
• “I don’t want to be afraid of young black men, but every night when I turn on the news, 90% of the violent crime stories at the top of the newscast show young black men’s photos across the screen. When someone on the sidewalk nearly runs me over or expects me to get out of their way, 99.9% of the time it is a young black man or a group of them. In fact, I don’t recall a white person ever doing that to me. White people give equally as much space when passing each other to avoid a collision.”
“When is the black community going to start demanding more of its youth?”
• “We all need to take responsibility for changing mind sets and help eradicate unfair and unjust behaviors.”
• “In reality it’s human nature to size people up at first glance. Everybody does it, whether during a job interview or just seeing people approaching on the street. I don’t think that will ever change. It’s part of our survival DNA and that of any other living being.”
• “If you want black children to stay out of jail, fix the problems with the family the Dimocrats have fostered for years with indignation, ‘we’re special’ attitude and a tribe mentality that fosters more illegitimacy, crime, and poverty.”
• “I just hope that we as black people take action instead of the usual complaining and waiting for the next injustice to occur.”
• “In reality, we are all racists to some degree since this is nothing more than a form of selfishness. Once we admit we have these tendencies then we can deal with it.”
• “I’m sorry if it offends you, but I view a group of young blacks approaching as a potential threat to be avoided if possible. I know they probably aren’t, but err on the side of caution anyway. One mistake may be all I get. It is a shame that we can’t all live our lives free of fear and prejudice but the world is what it is and I don’t see a near term solution.”
• “It isn’t a black problem or a white problem, it’s an AMERICAN problem. … I live in Lexington County, and while not as high-profile, most of our crime comes from young white men. Most of whom, I would guess, come from poor, fatherless environments. Add Meth to the mix, and the results are predictable. … We all need to teach our young men that there are consequences to our actions. And most importantly, we need to teach them that being a sperm-donor does not make one a father.”
• “You are right; until the black men step up the black boys are at risk. We all know the negative crime statistics in the black community. One has to wonder why the black community has not assimilated as well as others into the America system. As far as racism, the 11 o’clock news nightly does not give a very favorable impression of the black male, as the crime reports are an endless series of black crime. Hence the suspicion by society towards the black male.”
• “I’m curious. In my church, which has minorities, but is predominantly white, racism is not talked about much. It’s like it’s a “bad word”, lets not have controversy. I don’t agree with this abstention! … How is racism talked about in the black Churches? … I believe it’s up to “Us” to try to get the dialog out there as to ‘quit blaming the other side’, and look at yourself and the examples we set for our children and get them to open up their eyes as to improving themselves and influencing others, instead of taking the easy way out and blaming things on the opposite side ‘regardless of your race’.”
• “The majority of ‘white folks’ left race behind a while ago. … Are there still some that have not gotten past the past? Sure. But that is a two way street.”
If we’re going to deal with issues of race, it’s going to take level-headed people of good will coming together — not simply the “good ones” — to start meaningful dialogue that leads to real change.
Email Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.