While driving last week Jeannine and I saw a black woman walking down a street in Goshen. We both whipped our heads around. A new neighbor? When did she move in? Is she just visiting?
Goshen’s population is 98.8% white people. A couple of years ago it was 99.02% white, so someone must have moved out. Ashfield is 96.2% white. As only 1068 people of any kind live in Goshen, our population is easily deduced with one drive around town. When we first moved up here in 2004, we overheard someone at the local restaurant (we have one) say, “Yeah, you know, the Jewish guy.” So we must have been somewhat culturally diverse back then.
My Mom told me the story of my first seeing a black person. We were on the subway going somewhere, circa 1952. I was a toddler and she had me on her lap. A black woman sat across the aisle from us. I stared intensely at her for a long time. The poor woman was getting annoyed. Mom kept trying to distract me. Finally Mom turned me around on her lap. I just turned my head and stared at the woman over my shoulder, which made things worse. “I was so embarrassed,” my mother said each time she told the story. “That poor woman.”
Now that I am tottering because I am old, I am still whipping my head around. Then, I was raised in a mostly Irish enclave, now we live in a mostly Yankee WASP enclave. I bring all this up because, once again, blacks and allies in the U.S. are fighting for civil rights in the streets. As always, they are fighting for all our humanity. After all my travel and moves, and people I’ve met, friends I’ve made, here I am up in the hills, feeling apart from the continuing Civil Rights Movement.
In 2013 I wrote a column called, “I Hope They Think I was Racist.” As time progressed, I thought, our understanding of race and justice would have evolved to the point that offenses invisible to me, would be clear and unavoidable by the time my niece was an adult. She is an adult now. I have learned a lot; our nation as a whole, apparently, has not learned much. Even equal access to voting seems to be as hairpulling-ly frustrating as it was in 1952. Despite the Voting Rights Act, because of the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, because we haven’t learned a damned thing.
In Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation, Latasha Morrison writes from her experience being the only black person working in her white church in Texas. She realized she was probably the first black person her coworkers had worked with. She began working with them to understand the racism they were blind to. They formed “Be the Bridge” groups, now meeting across the country. In September I read the first section: “The Bridge to Lament.” Already she’s illuminated my views on how I snap judge people, specifically black people. And my views on the necessity to lament. My next charge at racism will be to read this book and take it to heart.
We were having a nice Thanksgiving dinner in 1967 at my parents’ place in Connecticut. Unfortunately, the conversation went askew and politics arose. Almost 200 race riots had erupted in cities during that very hot summer. My relatives did not take kindly to black riots and said so. Suddenly, my usually soft-spoken mother stood up, furious, raised her hand and said, “If I was black, I’d be at the front of the crowd with a brick!” and went to get more mashed potatoes.
Saturdays, I’m holding my Black Lives Matter sign on Rte. 5.