I've been forced to think about race lately. (Because who would think about it voluntarily?)
I was in Houston last month, and in Houston the airports are so far away from town you need a plane to get to them. Or one long-ass cab ride, anyway. The driver was a black guy about my age, and he wanted to talk about race. I ascertained this, because within 40 seconds of me sitting in the cab, he was telling me how much he'd learned about people in a year of driving one.
Like, he learned to his surprise that well-dressed white guys like me didn't all have it made. That a lot of us hated our jobs, but did them to pay the mortgage. That we don't feel our real skills are being used by our employers and our work lives are meaningless or worse.
Before I could tell him how flattered I was to be included in this group of miserable white guys, he was asking me:
Do I feel in my heart the oppression of my people—white males—by the people who blame us for all the ills in the world? (I do not.) And do the black people I know seem to have empathy for my plight as a picked-on white man? (I doubt it.)
After staggering blindly around the ring in my street clothes, I righted myself and we talked about what we teach our kids about race. We acknowledged that every American adult we know is schizophrenic and generally nuts on the subject of race. And we talked about whether we think race relations are improving in the U.S. and whether our race problem will someday fade away.
He was more optimistic than me. I tend to think hundreds of years of slavery maybe screws up race relations in a society for good—the way a good dose of incest or domestic violence can cascade down generations of a family. I tend to think we're always gonna have some trust issues, shall we say.
But he made a case that things are getting better, that kids of different races are growing up with each other much more than they used to, that we've come a long way since the early 1960s (when my mother wrote this ad …
… and when every single person in a big-city civic dedication was white).
(Imagine being a black person in that power arrangement!)
Meanwhile, this cabbie played in a rock band with white guys in the 1980s, he married a white woman in the deep south, and his own white step kids don't even seem to notice he is black!
If things have changed this much in 50 years—what might be achieved in the next 50?
It almost makes a poor put-upon white guy, embarrassed by the pace of change in my own adult lifetime—from Rodney King to Ferguson, Missouri—want to stick around and find out.
Anyway, it was a good conversation, the straight-up likes of which I haven't had in too damned long.