Learning to See in Black and White

I’m here to learn.

When I was about 7 I used to read the obituaries out loud to my grandmother. God only knows why she thought that was suitable reading material; maybe she thought I was reading only words, not meaning. In any event, one day I read this sentence: “Sally Mae Wilson, born a slave.” I was stunned. Slavery was something that happened to the Hebrews in Egypt. How could this woman have been that old? Slavery in America? I’d never heard of such a thing.

As I grew up, I pursued science, driven by curiosity and a love of finding out how things work. History, philosophy, sociology, those things bored me. Maybe it was the way it was taught, or maybe it was the way I learned, but I thought those subjects were about things that simply happened, essentially the outside of things, not the inside. Yet now and then I found myself wondering why people put themselves in harm’s way, willing to die for their beliefs. From Dr. King and JFK, to the black panthers, the IRA, the KKK. Worst of all, those caught, literally, in the cross fire of the hate and prejudice: Emmett Till, the Israeli athletes in Munich, James Byrd in Texas, every child ever killed as a casualty of gang warfare, ideology or terrorism.

So I want to learn. It’s not your job to teach me, and you’re probably tired of trying.

But still I’m here to learn.

I’m not the voice of the oppressed – I don’t presume to understand their pain.

I am not a champion for the powerless – I would not want to usurp anyone’s right to their own strength.

I will help when I’m asked, or when the situation is dire, but mostly I’m just here to understand how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes.

And then I write about it. I write what I believe happened, I write what I think is happening now, I write what I hope the future will hold for my children. But mostly I write to come to terms with what I’ve learned.


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