Black Unlike Me

Black Unlike Me

Some Uncomfortable Reflections on Growing Up White

By Fred Wistow

November/December 2015

Someone ought to stand with a hammer at the door of every happy contented man continually banging on it to remind him that there are unhappy people around and that however happy he may be at the time, sooner or later life will show him its claws and disaster will overtake him in the form of illness, poverty, bereavement and there will be no one to hear or see him. But there isn’t anyone holding a hammer, so our happy man goes his own sweet way and is only gently ruffled by life’s trivial cares, as an aspen is ruffled by the breeze. All’s well as far as he’s concerned.

- Anton Chekhov, “Gooseberries”

Whenever a public outcry or riot’s been triggered by yet another racially motivated assault on a black man or woman, politicians inevitably utter (and commentators then endlessly and faux-earnestly repeat), “We need to have a national conversation about race.”

It’s a phrase I’ve heard many times in 66 years, but I, for one, have never actually been a party to any such conversation. Not with a black person, anyway—basically because I hardly know any.

When I do talk about race with the people I do know—white people—it’s to point out what’s staring us right in the face but what we somehow never quite see. Look at how racially segmented everything is, I’ll say. Walk into any Starbucks or Staples or McDonald’s in Manhattan where I live and anybody you see working there will almost certainly be—as if they were servants—black. And, next time…

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