This Saturday, the National Museum for African American History and Culture will open on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For some, the long-awaited moment will serve as an invitation to think about how far our nation has come in terms of color divides and race relations.
Sadly, I was reminded a couple of weeks ago that some people are not interested in such thoughts and conversations. Worse, they seem to be headed back the other way.
As a white person, I’ve never worried about hailing a cab, never been concerned when pulled over by a police officer, never gave a second thought about what people will think of me walking somewhere at night, never been denied something because the color of my skin, never wondered why grocery stores have stayed away from where I lived and other than overseas assignments, have never lived as a minority.
I also speak with a Southern accent. Being white and speaking that way has combined to produce some shocking results.
About fifteen years ago, I was in an office with two co-workers, both also white. One of them used the “n” word to describe a potential client. I didn’t say anything to them about being uncomfortable about such language.
Although I got out of that situation rather quickly, I was furious at myself for not saying anything.
Then, about ten years ago, it happened again. On a spring training trip to Florida, a friend of mine and I were talking with two older white men. One of them used the “n” word.
I interrupted him and said something like – excuse me, what makes you think I will tolerate you saying that?
We stormed off.
In the following years, no more incidences like that occurred. I took it as a good sign of progress.
Then two weeks ago Roberta and I were visiting Chapman’s Mill near Manassas. On our walk back to the car, we crossed paths with a small group of white men. Smiles were exchanged. We told them about Chapman’s Mill. They told us they were there for a Civil War event commemorating the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap.
My curiosity kicked in.
“Who won?” I said.
“The good guys. And it ain’t over.”
Look it. I’m no angel and wrestle with my own prejudices. But I am determined to work on them, and determined to stand with the crowds that insist we do a better job with race and racism.
So, yes, the opening of the National Museum for African American History and Culture marks a bright day for our country. When visitors step back outside the museum, perhaps they will feel good that many of the things the exhibits show us are buried in the past.
But there is also still much work to do.
In other words, it ain’t over…