I remember the first day of school after moving and being told to get in a line based on who our homeroom teacher was. I honestly can’t tell you anything about my teacher, their face, age, name, or whether they went by Mr., Mrs., or Miss. I was standing on the blacktop, unsure of what this new experience would be when a boy in front of me introduced himself. I don’t remember the conversation or anything really tangible, but I do remember my feelings.
I went from being anxious and nervous to elation. I had someone talk to me. I don’t remember much before I started using my football helmet as a spearing device, but I recall that one moment of beautiful humanity. This little kid was brave enough to introduce himself and create a friendship that lasted many years. It’s something that I still struggle to do as a grown man today.
I am an introvert, shy, and have low self-esteem. But thankfully, this young man continued interacting with me and inviting me to his house. He introduced me to my still favorite video game, Madden, and we played Nerf basketball in his basement for hours. We would have sleepovers and shoot hoops in his backyard. I learned about spicy food and became a Buffalo Bills fan to cheer against his Cowboys. We were on the football team together but slowly grew apart in high school. I haven’t talked to him in years, but as I’ve gotten older, I realized how important his friendship was to me developing as a person.
My childhood friend is a black man.
Naperville is not a very diverse town, and it was extremely white when I went to school. I believe he was the only black student in our first grade, but I literally never thought about it. Not once did my parents mention anything about him being a different skin color. When he started hanging out with the only other black kids in high school, I started to understand how different his life must have been.
I never thought I would have to be writing something like this at age 39. I learned about black history in school and assumed everyone was treated the same now. Obviously, everyone’s family raised them never to discriminate.
Why did I have to be wrong?
I joined a Boulder company as a project manager. I thought the company had a great mission, and I was tired of dealing with HR issues as a Director. It was a relatively small company, and after the more senior project manager left, I realized I had the opportunity to really make an impact. I started building a friendship with my peer who was more junior in the position but truly cared about other people and doing her job well. I took pride in sharing my knowledge with her and helping improve our department. She set up game nights and introduced me to Settlers of Catan and Dominion. When I learned that she had a wife, I didn’t give her the cold shoulder. We cried for each other when half the company was let go, and we realized we wouldn’t see each other every day.
Why would I treat anyone differently?
I loved Metallica in high school. This love helped me connect with another kid who introduced me to bands I had never heard of before. He talked about going to see In Flames in high school gyms, and I would join him at music venues to have them rock my mind. He played guitar and was nice enough even to allow me to sing in a short-lived band with him. My friend and another band member have Asian heritage. It didn’t even cross my mind when we played video games instead of strategizing the business we wanted to create together. But seeing him post about the increased Anti-Asian hatred on social media inspired this writing.
Every person on this earth is a human and deserves to be treated equally.
I’m a well-off middle-aged straight white male. I truly don’t understand many others’ life experiences. I saw things in media making fun of people who say they have one black friend but are secretly racist. I was afraid to tell these stories because I am no longer very close to these important people of my life and didn’t want to be seen as a fraud. However, friendship and humanity take many different forms, and your life has different seasons.
We’re in a strange time where treating everyone equally isn’t seen as brave or courageous, but we aren’t willing to condemn those who discriminate. Maybe being isolated has caused a lot of people to forget that the world is a melting pot. We move forward by sharing knowledge and experiences.
I simply ask everyone to insert a step between your thoughts and your actions and always challenge yourself.
Be humane. Stop the hate.