I Don’t Like Or Trust Middle Age White Men

I’ve never reposted something on here that I’ve previously written. I never thought it was necessary. Personal preference. I like to keep moving forward. But my feelings the last few days  have been all over the place. I can’t get the image of a police officer kneeling on the neck of someone who is cuffed and restrained while he begs to breathe and not understanding that he was killing him in broad daylight in front of those who were there. I hear George Floyd’s words and I honest to God don’t know how to reconcile or understand what happened. I hope I never do. 

So that I’m clear, this is not an indictment of all police officers. The vast majority try their very best. They have seen things and have the type of job I don’t want and can’t imagine. This is about all of us. This is about racism.   

 I wrote this in December of 2014. 

Several years ago I went back to college when I was approaching fifty in order to finish what I had started decades before. It’s a long story that’s not relevant to this post but I was taking evening courses while continuing to work during the day. Needless to say, I was usually the oldest student in class. The university I attended was a state school about twenty minutes outside of New York City so the enrollment population was very diversified. When I took a course on Religions of the World, it was enlightening to hear from so many people speaking first hand about their beliefs and experiences. It made the course come to life for me.

I had been attending classes about three years when I took a course on Conflicts and Resolutions.   Not exactly part of the English/Creative Writing curriculum, but an elective requirement. About three weeks into the fall semester, the professor had us turn our chairs into a circle so that we all faced each other. Then she asked each one of us to tell the rest of the class about someone in their lives they had an issue with and how, or if, they resolved the problem. About half way through the exercise we came to a young African-American woman who didn’t hesitate to share her feelings. With a pronounced edge to her voice she spoke nine words I’ll never forget , “I don’t like or trust middle age white men.” She didn’t look at me when she spoke and she didn’t have to. Everyone else did. I was the only one there who fit her description.

I can tell you it was an uncomfortable moment but I’m guessing you already figured that out. There were six or seven seconds that felt like several minutes where it seemed as if everyone stopped breathing. Or maybe it was just me.  The professor, to her credit, didn’t ask the young woman to explain herself. She simply announced that we should take a break.

As everyone filed out of the classroom, I followed the young woman. I didn’t know what I was going to say as I approached her but I don’t like pink elephants so I knew I couldn’t go through the rest of the semester like that. When I caught up to her I asked if we could speak  for a few minutes. She didn’t answer, she just tilted her head a bit and seemed to looked through me. Waiting. I didn’t ask her to explain why she said what she did or why she felt that way.  I would never presume to understand her past and the discriminations I’m sure she witnessed first hand, but I had an idea. I asked her where she was from and when she didn’t answer, I told her the name of the city where I grew up. She didn’t say anything but her head straightened up and I could see in her eyes she was surprised. Maybe in her mind middle age white men in a dress shirt and pants don’t come from those type of places. I told her I was never a victim of racism or discrimination but that on several occasions I’d seen my mother and father held at gunpoint by black men who were robbing the small grocery store they owned, how I was threatened with a meat cleaver over a baseball field and pulled out of bed at night because of gunshots outside our first floor apartment window that had bars on them to keep people from trying to break in.  Most times I was the only white kid at the playground basketball court but it never seemed to matter to me or the kids I was playing with at the time. We were all just looking for the same game. And I told her all of that meant nothing because I could still walk down the street that night and no one would cross to the other side of the road because they were afraid of me or be suspicious of me because of the color of my skin. I tried to explain that not every middle age white man is the same and that neither of us should assume to know each other without knowing each other. After a few moments she nodded, said “fair enough,” and walked back to class without another word. We had two or three very brief conversations the rest of that semester that didn’t last more than a minute or two. And when the final class ended we nodded to each other before walking out. I never ran into her again.

Racism is a difficult topic to discuss and I don’t pretend to have the answers or understand the complexities of this issue.  History and emotions are not easily dismissed and discrimination is ever-present.  I’ve always believed fear and ignorance play a large part in people’s perceptions of others. I’ve heard people say they’re not racist because they don’t see color. Of course they see color. We all do regardless of our race or ethnicity. We also see height and weight, hair style, glasses, looks, clothing, wealth, color and nationality in the moment someone walks in the door. If anyone tells you differently they’re not being honest. It’s human nature. We make initial evaluations based on what we see, to believe otherwise would be naive. However it’s the decisions we make following those evaluations that decide who we are and what we believe.

Racism and discrimination are a toxic complexity.  We need to have a serious discussion about race in this country and we need to do it honestly, directly and with respect for everyone’s position and opinion. I realize that human nature may never allow us to eliminate racism, but we can make it better. The truth is, there are too many people on both sides of the issue who will not forget, refuse to forgive and only see what they choose.  Complicated issues don’t have simple solutions and there is never one reason or one answer. But we have to start somewhere. We have to believe that even the most wounded will meet us halfway. Sometimes a simple conversation is a beginning. Sometimes that’s all you need.

 

55 thoughts on “I Don’t Like Or Trust Middle Age White Men

    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Colin. That was well written, timely and from the heart. I will include it in one of my next posts. Thank you for letting me use it.

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  1. thekingdom2014

    I think this is a well thought out piece and I enjoyed reading it as a “person of color”. I think that once people can honestly acknowledge that racism exists, we will be able to move forward with civil and respectful conversations. It is pretty much like sin. You can never move forward until you acknowledge your need for a Savior and forgiveness. One step is all it takes to make the journey onto the right path of healing and reconciliation.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you for your comment. Your analogy is pretty interesting and I can see how that would relate here. I pray that one day the civil and respectful conversation you mention become part of the fabric of our country/world. Lord knows this has gone on much too long. Stay well.

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  2. John W. Howell

    Super post, George. Sadly, today discussion doesn’t take place. People either are afraid of appearing to be insensitive or simply don’t want their made up minds to change. We are at a low for human communication right now. I wonder if we can find someone who can open the dialog.

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    1. George Post author

      Amen to that, John. You’re so right about us being at a low for human communication. Preconceived opinions are hard to change, as is the hurt and anger that goes along with it. I don’t know if the person we’re looking for is out there. I just know he or she is no where to be seen right now.

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  3. Sorryless

    Powerful piece, George.

    Racism is still so prominent, all this time later. And maybe that never changes, but you’re right about needing to break things down to their simplest equation right now. Conversation equals communication equals understanding, hopefully. We move from one bad thing to the next without really trying to get to the core of these bad things.

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    1. George Post author

      It’s really disheartening. You know, from the time I was a young man, I never believed I would see an end to racism or war in the Middle East in my lifetime. Unfortunately, I have since included children being shot in schools.
      The hatred, mistrust and anger go back so many years through generations of people. So much ignorance. There is no middle ground for people. I hope we can at least make it better, change some minds communicate. Maybe one day.

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      1. Sorryless

        The sixties were such a troubled decade, and yet, the carryover is remarkably sinister. Its capacity to evolve (or devolve) makes it that much more daunting. From racism to wars with no end, we repeat our history, sadly.
        Communication matters. Now, going forward. Every day. Involving Every One.

        Thanks George

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Helen Devries

    What a very bad mannered, confrontational young woman…with no follow up as requested by the leader as to how she could resolve the issue. Clearly you had to speak to her, to try to make her aware that blanket condemnations are erroneous, but I just wonder if listening to your experience made any difference to her strongly held views.
    That, to me, is a big part of the problem…people identify with their view – so strongly that they are unwilling to part from it. We need a process of education which is not based on politiclly correct instruction but which shows pupils how to see if a view is supported by the evidence, and to be able to accept that in any position, not all the elements are simple of explanation, or even palatable.
    We need calm, not hysteria.

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    1. George Post author

      I agree that we all need education, Helen. I just don’t know if there is a willingness to accept different perspectives and move forward. It’s certainly not a simple fix, but we have to try.

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      1. Helen Devries

        What worries me is that the course leader did not intervene. This was an academic situation…one in which free speech is valued…but one in which free speech is not devalued by ad hominem attacks.
        I learned a great deal from the pupils I had while in practice, coming from varied cultures – thus the legacy of the British empire! – but the children of my colleagues in the same line of work find that they are supposed to adopt the views of their pupils without argument or be ostracised. for racism.This is not healthy for society.
        It is much more complex than black or white..for me it is a class issue which is being deliberately obfuscated and fissured by the rise of ‘tribal’ groupings…sex, gender, colour….when it comes to it we are all people and if those who are opressed do not make common cause they are on the path to slavery for all but the big wheels and their families.

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    1. George Post author

      I’ve often wondered if our conversation made any difference. I’m not sure it did. I could tell there was a lot going on with her that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. But she listened. That’s a start.

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  5. Al

    Great post, George. I think many of us are being very introspective right now about how we really perceive racism. The old chestnut “I’m not racist, I have a lot of black friends” just won’t cut it anymore. The younger generations now, and the ones to come, will have it on their shoulders to bring about the end to racism. You can see already that they are by far less conscious of race than our generations. We are barely 150 years from the end of slavery. I told my wife that I expect that within the next 150 years there will be no predominant race in the U.S. just several mixed races. But for now, we must do our part to communicate with each other, just like you are advocating with your enlightening post.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Al. Those are good points and I agree that the younger generation doesn’t view race as we do. They will have to carry the banner for change here because the older people get the harder it seems to be to change opinions or begin dialogue.

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  6. Lynn

    George, this post is as relevant today as it was in 2014. For some time, I have felt that we seem to be taking giant leaps back in time when it comes to our tolerance of others, our capacity to be compassionate and to treat each other with respect, regardless of colour or culture.

    We must all look within ourselves to acknowledge our part as well as how we can help to alleviate racism. As a white woman, I cannot pretend to know how it feels to be black, to walk down the street & be suspect of something, just because of the colour of my skin. This has to change.

    As far as the young woman in your class, I can’t imagine what must have happened to her to cast a net so broad over men who may look like you. I commend you for taking the time to attempt to have a conversation with her. I hope in some small way, it may have been the beginning of her trying to open her mind, to give thought that there are good white, middle age men out there. There are good & bad in all races.

    Such a powerful piece George. Thank you for sharing 💕

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Lynn. When these types of senseless acts take place, I often think about her and how her life is. I could tell she had some things happen to her in her life that shaped her world, feelings and thoughts. I can’t fault her for that. I just don’t like generalizations so I thought a discussion might help.
      We can’t seem to have a respectful conversation these days about anything, and without that communication, we are in trouble.

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  7. murisopsis

    In light of all the current turmoil it does not surprise me that this happened before 2014 and is still happening. We have come just so far and now must take additional steps to create a just and equal society. I applaud your courage in attempting to start a dialogue. It does take two to have a conversation and it does require the willingness to honestly communicate…

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    1. George Post author

      Respectful and honest communication is so important.We may not like what we hear, because the truth is sometimes painful. But we have to try.

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  8. Kim Gorman

    This account highlights the point that we should never make assumptions about anyone. We have zero idea what people’s lives and experiences have been or are like, all of which lead them to the place, the frame of mind, they are in on any given day. It’s hurtful when we reach out in good faith and with positive intentions and are rejected, but again, we just don’t know. This is why it’s important to be fully invested in the process, but not the outcome, because we have no control over that. I appreciate the honesty of this post.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Kim. You’re so right about making assumptions about others without understanding their lives or how they got to that place. I wasn’t upset with what she had to say as much as wanting to hear her story Unfortunately, that never happened, but I can imagine.

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  9. Ann Coleman

    I always knew you were a person of integrity, but this post really drove that point home. And I completely agree, it takes honest conversations to confront and end racism, and I wish more people were brave enough to have them. I think part of the problem is that many assume that a “conversation” means someone else telling them how awful they are, and so of course people avoid that. And in these days of social media, we are either afraid to say anything that can give offense, or spoiling for a fight. So that makes the conversations that need to happen even more difficult and rare. I love that you at least reached out and tried to talk to this young woman with honesty and civility, and were prepared to really listen to what she had to say. That’s the start. And sometimes it does more good than you’ll ever know.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Ann. You’re right about how people sometimes view conversations. There has to be a give and take, a respect for different points of view and a willingness to accept your own failures or responsibilities in whatever is discussed. But there are so many generations of racism and in some cases, real hate, that it’s hard to get past that and to the point of understanding. I pray one day, we find a way to at east make it better. Stay well!

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  10. Margy

    We seem to live in an age where the worst of humanity gets the spotlight while the best gets ignored. I suppose it has always been that way, except now we have both mass and social media to help turn outrage into destruction. If only they could figure out a ‘vehicle’ to facilitate the conversations and understanding that are the stepping stones to understanding… essentially your conversation but on a much bigger scale.
    Actually, there are a few ‘communicators’ out there who are trying to do exactly that – but we need a lot more of them and a lot less ‘political bias’ thinking getting in the way.

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    1. George Post author

      I couldn’t agree more, Margy. If we only had a handful of people who have universal trust and respect to guide us through these waters. But unfortunately, he or she is not out there right now. We need respectful conversation. That vehicle you mentioned. I pray we find it soon.

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      1. Margy

        Détente at the community level. No partisan political and mass media interference. More than just conversations. An actual plan, developed in the communities, by the people who live and work there. It has been happening in many places in your country, but who talks about that?

        Liked by 3 people

    1. George Post author

      Unfortunately, that’s true. I never viewed her comments to me as racist as much as I did her life experiences. We are all a product of our environments. I can only imagine what hers were like.

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  11. Book Club Mom

    George – this is beautifully written and I’m so glad you reposted it. I agree with everything you say. It’s such a complex issue, but it shouldn’t be. If only we could start fresh. Well, maybe we can. There is always hope.

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  12. Charles R. Reina, M.D.

    “George” your blog was forwarded to me by a mutual friend. I wasn’t going to leave a comment, but my response to her forwarded email prompted me to copy and paste my response to her, with a personalized modification.
    “An epiphany for your friend (George), and a beginning for those who inspect his experience and apply it in their own lives. A difficult situation. Many of us grew up in the 60’s through 70’s and had a panoply of conflicting and challenging experiences. Most often they were registered and we moved on, until they percolate into our “epiphany of middle age or longer?” Thank you for forwarding these thoughts. Healing isn’t just a natural phenomenon. It takes input of energy and is maintained through a much longer process of “remodeling.” That’s when the epiphany occurs – like a flash and unexpected, or it may be extinguished and leave an annoying subliminal scar. We do have a choice, and Nature, our Creator reminds us every few time periods with another chance.Thanks. CVRR

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  13. George Post author

    Thank you for forwarding your comments, Charles. I appreciate your thoughts and based on your words, I believe you can speak to this issue better than I can. Epiphany is an interesting word to use as it relates to my interaction with this young lady and my experiences in general. I had to sit on that for a bit but I suppose there is some truth to my experiences during the decades you mention snd how those experiences shaped and continue to shape my life as I aged. As a generalization, there is an evolution to all lives, though in different ways based on a variety of factors. Healing certainly takes energy, more than most are willing to expend on certain issues. But, as you mention, we do have a choice. My choice, in that moment, was to begin a conversation.Quite honestly, I was more curious than anything. I wanted to know why she felt that way and hoped that by telling her about my experiences she would open up a bit about her own. What I came to understand is that there was no purpose in her providing an explanation for her words. It certainly wouldn’t change anything in her life and she knew, based on where I came from, that details weren’t important.
    Hopefully the reminder you suggest is not ignored. Lord knows we need less scars in this world and more understanding.
    Say hello to our mutual friend. She’s a terrific lady. Stay well.

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  14. thechickengrandma

    This is so timely George and so well written. I sometimes wonder if perhaps we celebrate diversity a bit too much and we should instead celebrate what makes us the same. I know that is really simplifying it but I cannot see that all the diversity celebrations are making much difference. I think the Bible nails it when it says Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. It is long past time that we look at the heart of people and not the color of their skin. It is not an easy thing to look past our own experiences and try understand someone else’s. Not totally sure my rambling makes much sense….

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Faye and they make perfect sense. It’s an interesting point about celebrating what brings us together as apposes to what makes us different. I never thought of it in that way but it does make me think about how our society might come together if that were the case. the Bible always makes the most sense, doesn’t it..:)

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  15. Dale

    Definitely worth a re-post, George. I’m thinking it’s human nature to make judgments based on our upbringing, education, experiences. Not seeing colour is not true nor fair. Like you said, we see skin, hair, eyes, build… it’s part of it. How we see colour is another story.
    The discussions have to open up. With sincerity and openness.

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    1. George Post author

      Thanks Dale. You’re right, it is human nature to observe and identify. It’s what we do after that matters most. Sorry for the late response. Hope you’re doing well.

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  16. Tony Kovatch

    Hi George–your story has inspired me to repost a blog I wrote 2 1/2 years ago after an experience I had after running a race in Detroit. The blog was titled “Strange Magic in Motown” and it related how a threatening misadventure on the streets of Passaic where I was nearly beat up in late adolescence produced a half century of subconscious bias and suppressed fear. “Still waters run deep.” I came to the realization that I for much of my lifetime I had camouflaged by silent racism in religiosity.
    Fifty years later the bias and fear was brought to the surface and removed (the surgical term I used in the essay was “extirpated”) by the random act of profound kindness by an African American cab driver on the dangerous streets of the Motor City. It would be an exaggeration to say that he saved my life, but that was my perception at the time. His name was Mister Thomas and we became temporary soulmates in the cab reminiscing the glory days of Isaiah Thomas and the Pistons. I mailed him a copy of the story I wrote praising him, but never got a response. I didn’t really expect one. But I would like to think that the episode helped to resolve my conflict—I think his was long resolved.
    I think in a way you jumpstarted the lady’s resolution of her individual deep-seated fears and resentment. Not only did you both pass the course, but you likely brought about the change of heart the whole world is currently struggling to achieve.
    If you wish to read the 3 chapter blog, here is the link to the first chapter—-simply press “Next” to navigate to chapters 2 and 3:
    http://www.thepediablog.com/2017/11/08/mind-on-the-run-38/
    Thank you for the inspiration to repost a story far more relevant today than it was several years ago!

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    1. George Post author

      Hi Tony. Sorry for the late response but yes, we are all a product of our environments and experiences. They shape us without us realizing it. We’re not slapped in the face and told THIS reaction is because of THAT experience because it may not manifest itself until years later. But like so any people, we cover things up or make excuses for the obvious or subtle ways we act toward others. It’s a topic we can dissect and discuss forever and maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s time for honest and open discussion. Lord knows the opposite hasn’t been very effective so far. Hope all is well.

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  17. K.L. Hale

    Great post! We are such complex creatures. And to boot, we don’t look alike, act alike, and everything else you described that we indeed do “judge” when we take a first glance. And sadly, most won’t look past that to truly see beneath the surface. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you for reading and your kind words. You’re right, we are complex creatures who rarely take the time to understand before we react or judge. Maybe this time will be different🤞

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  18. Christi

    This was a well-written and thought-provoking article, generating a lot of thought-provoking comments. I’ve been reading Ibram Kendi’s book, “How to be an Anti-Racist.” He unpacks all the various ways racism exists in our society and how it affects us, no matter what color we are. It can seem overwhelming and yet as you say, we have to start somewhere.
    Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. George Post author

      Thanks for reading, Christi and for the suggestion on that book. I’ve been looking for suggestions on those type of topics. I think we all need to understand a little more.

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  19. cupcakecache

    Only because sometimes people don’t always react well to being approached. That takes some trust. I am curious now as to where you grew up. Interesting enough my parents were both from New York City and when we moved to the Catskills the inter-cultural couple visited, wife was a beautiful lady from the islands and the husband was Jewish. It was an odd mixture and I played with their children. Years later, in the last decade I noticed how much they had changed, the daughters. I think it was the times but back then we were all good friends. Her beliefs were somewhat radical to me. I felt confused and recognized not the girl I played with. Thanks for listening.

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    1. George Post author

      I grew up in Passaic NJ about fifteen minutes outside NYC.
      No, some people don’t take well to being approached but to her credit she heard me out. That’s all one can ask for.

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