Yesterday, I reflected on the state of our country in a July 4th special on this blog. About 18 hours later, I got the best example of the state of our country’s views about each other with a couple of waves of the finger. We watched the fireworks explode from Weehawken, NJ, sitting together watching as many colors in the sky as there were watching amongst us. After the half-hour spectacle, we drove home very late at night (why they would close any roads near any of Manhattan’s bridges is beyond me). I asked our friends to leave us close to our houses since they had a much longer trip home than I did.
Soon after our friends dropped us off on the Upper West Side, I waved for a taxi to take me home. My index finger waved high enough that any of the empty taxis could have picked me up. I blinked when the first one passed me, I giggled when the second one did, and by the fourth, I let out a full-out belly laugh. The discrimination was so absurd that I’ve learned to expect it. This was only accented by the third taxi in this caravan, who looked at this smiling Black man in the corner and waved me a middle finger before speeding down the street. I was in shock, but stood there undeterred.
The sixth taxi pulled up to the corner, and the driver was a Haitian man who humored my tale about his pseudo-compatriots. So much of what we understand about race breaks down after seeing an example where a man who is similarly colored as all those drivers couldn’t get a taxi until it was a man with other similar features. It’s easy for me to categorize all of those men AND all the previous men who happened to have similar cultures into one category and call them all prejudiced. But that would discount all the friends I’ve made who also share those features and that skin color.
Race is so much more complex than the physical. It’s a set of experiences and notions we start developing about each others’ lifestyles and cultures. Who knows what would have happened if I was wearing a polo shirt instead of a jersey and a red shirt? Would I have been given the cursory finger salute? Who knows?
What I do know is that the jersey I was wearing had the letters USA emblazoned on a red, white, and blue shirt. I wonder if Patrick Ewing would have caught a cab or would he have to wait for the same one I did after representing this America.
Jose, who has a virtual keynote he would like you to attend tomorrow morning.