“America’s a big place. It’s an incredibly dynamic place. Should we ignore the collateral damage so that some people can be happy?”
After a second, he asked, “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m asking if black and brown folks should just deal with the injustices because pointing them out hurts white people’s feelings?”
Did that actually come out of my mouth? The degree of honesty I evoke in racial conversations with white people varies. At an early age I caught on to the angry black man stereotype, the white equivalent of the race card. I watched as television and film transformed any outspoken black male or female into a walking caricature. At best they served as vehicle to demonstrate how much the white male protagonist gets it; at worst they were completely invalidated; they were always one-dimensional. This stereotype was actually a defense for white people against uncomfortable conversations; a quick exit for when things got too real.
“That’s unfair,” Aaron shook his head. “Maybe we should take a step back, this is getting too emotional.”
“I’m serious, though,” I insisted. “Should I forget about Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and all the others that died in the last year?”
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air and like an odor it enveloped us. Aaron shuffled his feet in the grass while I unscrewed the cap to my canteen and took a drink.
“Look man, I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m not a racist,” he said.
This was odd, but telling, as I hadn’t leveled the accusation against him.
“I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from,” I said. “Maybe I can shed a little light. You feel like people nowadays are generally offended at most things, right?”
“Yes. Every time I go online I see someone taking offense to some statement or book or article.”
“I have a theory,” I offered.