Back before the days of social media, I was living in Japan preparing to go to my next base in Belgium. I was given a sponsor named Cameron, we went back and forth via email several times in preparation of my arrival and everything. This went on for a few months and 2 days before my arrival, I let him know the date and time my plane would get to Brussels, while also courtesy copying his supervisor Roger just in case he was out of town as he stated he might be. When I arrived, I walked around looking for my sponsor, assuming he’d be holding a sign or something. Thirty minutes go by, and I see a guy that I’ve walked past at least 4 times finally ask if I were Doug. Me being me I said yeah, I’m Doug are you Cameron or Roger? He looked surprised to say the least but followed that look up with “Roger, I didn’t know if that was you or not, he didn’t give me a description”. I didn’t care, I recognize that my name doesn’t fit my race to most people I encounter.
We loaded my luggage into his SUV and headed towards the base. As we were driving, he switched the Dave Matthews band CD that he was playing out for Nelly, an act that happened a few more times that week actually. Outside of clubs, I never listened to Nelly honestly, but this was his car. As we got closer to my hotel he said, “I think I’m going to change your sponsor to Sergeant Watkins” and I said cool, fully understanding what was taking place. This was a Friday morning, he dropped me off at my hotel and I didn’t hear from anyone until Sunday evening letting me know who my ride would be for work the next day. They also forgot to give him the memo of what I looked like, so when I got in the car, he threw his Nelly CD in and it was once again getting “Hot in Here”. They showed me around and around 9:30 I see sergeant Watkins…he was in civilian clothes, but I immediately knew because he was the only other Black guy there. He didn’t even know I was coming until he saw me that day.
The next new guy showed up and they treated him totally different. He arrived, they took him out the same day, he went to a party that weekend, and his sponsor offered to let him stay at his house until he found his own place because he knew being at the hotel sucked. In a few other scenarios I’ve been the only Black person and my results didn’t vary much at all. Instead of Nelly, I’d also get Eminem or awkward small talk. In all of these situations I knew the other guy was far more uncomfortable with trying to make me comfortable, than it being the other way around. For me, when this happens it is usually 1 awkward racial moment out of dozens at least, for them it’s usually the first time or first time in a long while. I’m a very mild-mannered sort of guy so I rarely did anything to make it more awkward, but on one occasion I had to just to help everyone get comfortable with being around me.
This guy invited me to a get together to watch “sports” with a couple guys. He had recently acquired a big TV and he wanted to show it off. I agreed to go because I didn’t have anything else to do, and they knew that so I couldn’t lie about it. I arrived and they’re blasting George Strait, the guy offers me a choice of beer or Kool-Aid, he has bacon wrapped hotdogs and bratwursts available plus hamburgers. I don’t eat pork so it was flavorless hamburger meat with no damn cheese and only ketchup and mayo available. As I began pouring my glass of Kool Aid, someone turned the hip hop playlist on. Back to back to back to back Nelly and Eminem songs and NASCAR on the screen I told them “fellas, I’m a different type of Black guy relax! I’ll listen to the shit you like until it gets weird”. I finished 25% of that burger and maybe 5 more songs before I abruptly said “aight fellas, it’s been real” and then went to the Kebap spot to get some real food before returning home.
That was 19 years ago, but I still encounter these types of moments today. In each neighborhood I’ve lived as an adult, one or more of my neighbors wants me to meet with the other Black person or family nearby whether they truly know them or not. That’s not weird to me, but I have noticed it’s rarely ever White people that they want me to meet. Again, I don’t mind this because my assumption is that they believe it’ll make me more comfortable in my environment, especially when I’m one of very few Black people, which is fairly often for me. I have never had this happen with bad intentions, it’s just something I’ve noticed in my time as an adult in predominantly White environments. Unfortunately, I’ve never quite been able to return the favor…I introduce everyone to the people I know personally and like.
I remember this guy I was cool with at work in Japan told me his family was pretty racist. He said he’s not, but based on what he heard growing up he does believe a lot of Black people complain too much, and that his uncle loss jobs to less qualified Black people. You know, stuff people hear through the grapevine, or claim when they don’t get hired. They’re from this suburb called Cicero, and at the time his sister was dating a Mexican, which neither he nor his dad approved of. Chicagoans reading this will probably say “that tracks about right”. Not that he never met minorities before, but I exclusively introduced him to Black and Hispanic people I was cool with to show him we’re alright. He gave it a shot, but they clowned him daily until he eventually stopped talking to all of us. I may have made that worse.
I think what both sides seem to ignore is that just about all minorities born in the U.S. will interact with a White person by the time they’re five. I would say minorities that are ten and up, it’s 100% guaranteed. The same doesn’t work in reverse. Sure, the population centers are diverse but the rest of America, for a plethora of reasons, may as well be segregated like the 1950’s. Even now the diversity plummets when you get 20 miles outside of the inner city in most states. All that said, Black and Hispanic people have significantly more experience interacting with White people on average compared to the average minority interaction of White people in the country. Minorities take this diversity for granted when dealing with all White people. White people that grow up in homogenous environments aren’t typically well versed or even versed at all in dealing with others until high school or college outside of vacations maybe.
I had a conversation about this topic with a friend of mine who happens to be White. I told her that minorities live around and interact with White people all the time, it is unavoidable for us. People in rural environments don’t have the same luxury of diversity, as a result, they imagine what our comfort zone is and try to facilitate. Minorities always make fun of White people that say “my (insert ethnicity) friend”, because it sounds weird, and that one person is typically used as justification for some crazy stance that is not typically popular among (insert ethnicity). We don’t often consider that they may only have one friend of another race, because there may only be a handful if that where they’re from. I believe Billy Preston sang “nothing from nothing leaves nothing, you gotta have something if you wanna be with me”. No minorities around means you can’t make friends with them, and in the event there’s only one in town, it’s commendable to have that 1 Black person as a friend. We gotta start somewhere right?