Breaking down barriers

Dear Broderick,

I read your column a couple weeks ago. I have to say, man, it cut me to the quick. I know I treat people of different races differently. I’ve known that for quite some time. And I hate it, but I don’t really know what to do about it.

I’d like to explain myself, and in doing so, maybe shed some light on the way other white people treat you and other black people. I’m not saying that I’m right, or that my point of view is typical. I just want you to know, all right?

I really would like to get to know you. I think you’re cool and smart, and I think it’s totally awesome that you want to be a counselor. I’ve gotten the chance to learn this about you through the speech and debate team, and that’s good, because I’m not sure I would have otherwise. But it’s not because you’re black, dude, it’s because I’m white.

I’m absolutely terrified of being a racist. I’m afraid that if I say the wrong thing around you or act the wrong way or make a wrong assumption, you’ll think less of me, and I’ll be labeled a bigoted jerk in your mind and in the minds of everyone in the black community for all eternity. I don’t want to hurt you, and I don’t want you to think less of me. So I kind of keep my distance. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is that I pride myself in treating everyone differently, because everyone is different. One of my strengths from StrengthsQuest is Individualization. I recognize people’s uniqueness, and I love it. I want to pick out your individual story from everyone else’s. Of course, you are very obviously different from almost all the people on this campus simply by virtue of your complexion. I think that’s cool. Talking to you is like talking to a redhead—it doesn’t happen very often, at least not on this campus.

However, it’s one thing to go up to someone and say, “Gosh, you’re a redhead! You’re cool!” and it’s entirely another to say, “Gosh, you’re black! You’re cool!” Here comes that fear again: If I imply that you’re in any way different than anyone else just because you’re black, that makes me racist.

I know there’s more to you than your race, just like there’s more to a ginger than her hair. I want to find out what it is. I want to hear your story.

So I’m sorry for my fear, Broderick. I’m going to make a concerted effort to get to know you better, not because you’re black, or because of some weirdo white guilt or something, but because you’re cool and different and interesting. I hope you’ll forgive me when I say stupid things, because I’m going to try to be a little less careful around you.

That’s right. I’ve exposed my vulnerabilities of character to you, Broderick, and it scares me, but it’s a start. I hope we can be friends.