Black and White

I have personally been friends with two African American men in my entire life. One is from Nigeria and we met playing tennis 30 years ago.

Another was my partner in crime during community organizing in Florida in 1971 and we have long since stopped communicating. So that leaves one friend of color.

As far as dating an African American woman, I have never even come close.

In the cases of my two friends, there were and continue to be so many things unsaid and misunderstood and so many differences that are shrouded but impact on keeping the friendships at a certain level and no further.

Am I a bigot? I don’t know but I know that my world growing up was and now is almost universally white. I simply do not routinely cross paths with people of color and I fully understand that that is no accident and in fact, has been a building block for as long as the nation has existed.

For anyone who doesn’t think we live in separate worlds, take a look around.

My childhood neighborhood, all white.

My childhood friends, all white.

My grammar school and high school, all white.

My teachers, all white.

Little League, Babe Ruth League, all white.

The owners of local stores, all white.

My doctors, all white.

Favorite TV shows, all white.

Jewish Community Center of Paramus, all white.

My girlfriends and wives, all white.

Skylands Universalist Unitarian Fellowship, all white.

Informal group of musicians that gets together monthly, all white.

Informal group of beer drinking friends, all white.

My current neighborhood, almost all white.

My office and colleagues, all white.

My fitness center, almost all white.

Local restaurants, almost all white.

Local bars, almost all white.

Local police, all white.

Local rescue squads, all white.

Local clergy council, all white.

Local school district, almost all white.

Local elected officials, all white.

County elected officials, all white.

Local state officials, all white.

Local federal officials, all white.

The only exceptions, and they are glaring ones, are people of color in entertainment and sports.

Virtually every one I meet on a daily basis is white and that has had an overwhelmingly negative effect on my life.

I am angry that I have lived such a segregated life and largely, continue to live a life isolated from people of a different color and how, in turn, I have missed out on all kinds of great experiences and all kinds of wonderful people. And worse is how I was and continue to be manipulated and controlled to stay with my own tribe.

I cringe when I think of all the missed opportunities to meet other people and experience other worlds. And as a child, at least, none of it was of my own making and now as an adult, being guided by those deep forces that were nurtured in me as an innocent child in a racist land.

Bigotry is born out of ignorance and fear. You come to fear and misunderstand that which is unknown and you come to try to build walls to protect and dominate that which you fear. We are separated largely into two camps, whites and people of color. Crossing over the lines is very difficult because of mistrust and inexperience on all sides.

The bigotry that many white people have is based on the few people of color they have met and come to know. That is the stuff of stereotypes.

Intellectually, I understand that the color of a person’s skin has nothing to do with intellect or character. I understand my white privilege and how people of color face terrible consequences just for being people of color.

There is no doubt that I am effected by the experience of having essentially no African Americans in my life, since I was a boy. There has to be a message, subtle and not so subtle, that the reason my life has been dominated by white people is that white people are superior.

The only way out of this morass of racism is for white people to acknowledge that their prejudice is coming from a place that has been growing and festering for many, many years.

White people must reach out to people of color, extend a hand, a voice, words of compassion and support and work to understand the insidious power of white privilege and how it is perpetrated and to realize that while individuals may not be to blame they still bear the responsibility of repairing a culture that has forced people of color into a subservient role.



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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer