Imagine if you were black

June 14, 2020

Dell Franklin


We, as white citizens of this country, owe it to ourselves to try as hard as we can to imagine what it is like being black in America, and, more urgent, what it’s like growing up black in America. We need to try and place ourselves in the shoes of a black person in the town or city we grew up in, and wonder how different our lives would have turned out.

If I had been born black I doubt very much I’d be where I am today. I think I would probably have done some jail time and maybe be dead. As a person who has always been rebellious and defiant and at times confrontational with irrational and unfair authority, I don’t see how I would have survived as a black man.

I don’t see how, as a free spirit who wanted nothing to do with the grown-up world, I would have been able to hitch-hike to Mardi Gras in New Orleans from Los Angeles as a 25 year old and, after spending every cent in a week of partying, landed a job as storekeeper on the riverboat Delta Queen.

I was the only white employee among deck hands, porters, cooks, waiters, maids, etc, and somehow I secured the best job on the ship, hired by the captain (a white man) without even offering a resume, but just on my word as a stock-boy and order writer in LA.

You think there wasn’t resentment, even hatred of this lucky white guy? You better believe it. I understood it, and deserved it, despite the fact I was a liberal who attended an integrated high school. I had close black friends there and while serving in the army.

The black men on the Delta Queen knew they could not hitch-hike across America without getting killed, much less roll onto a ship as a complete stranger and cop the best job with the most responsibility.

They were instead to be thankful to have dead-end jobs that paid diddly squat, put a roof over their heads, and fed them. It was the best shot they had as young men with no future and older men who’d paid their dues to Jim Crow America.

That’s the way it was in the south, where I did not grow up in the 1950s as a black man, and was forced to to sit at the back of a bus, to drink out of my own fountain, to never dare use a white man’s bathroom no matter how desperately I needed to urinate or move my bowels, to lower my gaze and shuffle like a beaten down lowlife whenever I approached a white woman on the sidewalk; or was forbidden to enter a public swimming pool, because, evidently, I was dirty, scary, amoral, and, yes, a monstrous potential rapist and murderer.

How would I feel about myself walking in those shoes as a white boy? I’d probably be pretty pissed off. I’d probably have a pretty big boulder on my shoulder. I’d probably want to fight and kick someone’s ass. I’d probably want to show any image of authority, if the occasion presented itself, a riotous rage, a fury at the bastards who had reduced my life to an existence one step above slavery.

I grew up in the 1950’s in Compton, California, where our cops were an even more brutal extension of the LAPD. If you were white and talked back you got smacked around and sent home with a warning. If you were black, you got smacked around and went straight to jail.

Once you were in jail you got booked. Once you got booked you had a record. Once you had a record you had an even harder time finding a good job or even getting into the army. This wasn’t the south. This wasn’t Jim Crow. This was paradise Southern California.

Thing is, blacks in Compton kept their mouths shut. They trod lightly. They did not dare come to our white part of town, because they knew it wasn’t only the cops who would pull them over and take them straight to jail, but the white thugs who used the N word constantly would jump and beat them half to death like a frothing dog-pack

In those days, I never considered what it was like to be considered a nigger, or called a nigger. I was too young and arrogant to try and place myself in the shoes of a black kid. What I did realize was that as an athlete they were hungrier and more punishing when I competed against them, and that in high school many of them (not all) exuded an anger that was palpable, and aimed at white kids.

Was it because they could not go to places we could, nor do things we did? Was it because all movies and TV shows were about white people, and if a black person showed up in a film he or she was usually an obsequious servant? Was it because they were completely left out of anything seen as worthy and important in our country, outside of sports and entertainment?

Today, many white people, mostly young, are united with their angry black brothers and sisters after the hideous murder of George Floyd, and they are protesting, not rioting. They seem as angry as their black friends. But they are not. They cannot feel what a black person feels. They did not grow up knowing that wherever they go they are marked as dangerous and largely of no account and potentially, if they are not very, very careful,, candidates for the prison industry of America, where hopelessness and misery exists and has existed for centuries.

Yet white people are trying. They observe white vigilante types belonging to nationalist militias storming the capitols of a state like Michigan, dressed like commandos and holding automatic weapons, and nothing happens.

They get away with it. If you are white, put yourselves in some black shoes when you see this in America, and try and imagine how you would feel. If you see no problem with this, then we are in bigger trouble as a country than it appears we are.

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Thank you Dell for telling your real life experience and for being able to recognize your advantage as it happened. I read a book when very young called {Black like Me} I am white, I think it helped me understand some of these problems….yes I have run into a few times in my life where maybe I did not get promoted because the large company I worked for wanted to give others a chance, or a run in with people of color a time or two in my life. That is nothing compared to what my black friends have had to endure. The fake argument that this is America and you can make anything of yourself if you just work hard….I wish that were true for all of our people. Many times examples of black men and women working hard and getting a degree or rising up in society is shown as proof that it’s easy if you apply yourself. If you are white it’s much easier…. to make something of your self while black requires tons more effort than if you were born white, and lots of luck and like Dell said hopefully you don’t get a record to hold you down…..much more likely to happen if you are a black person….. I know as a kid I got pulled over often because I had old cars or trucks as I had long hair and a beard….I wasn’t doing anything wrong but I still got pulled over and my car gone over then was let go ….now as a older white man and a nice car I get waved through DUI checkpoints…. IF I were a black person I am sure the results would not be the same. They should be the same. This is America after all! Sadly we have work to do. America belongs to all of it’s citizens and it’s long past time to show it.

Dell, your very wide of the mark on this one.

I work with several African-Americans who were able to attain college educations and became upstanding, productive citizens in our community. This was due to a combination of their own hard work and the Civil Rights Bills of 1964, 1965 and 1968 which addressed many of the inequities that denied people of color their right to accommodations, education, employment, voting and housing.

While there is always room for dialogue and room for improvement in race relations, the United States is a far different, a far better place than it was in 1964, before President Johnson signed three civil rights bills in a row.

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that Seattle has created a police free zone. This free zone is patrolled by people wearing balaclavas, body armor and toting AR-15 rifles. If these were Seattle police officers the media would lose their shit and decry the “militarization” of the police, but no one says a word about it. Why? Because these people are members of the Socialist Rifle Association. Apparently armed militias are okay, if they are socialist militias.

I think that speaks volumes about who and what is behind today’s protest movements.

While I always appreciate anecdotal evidence on any issue, both yours and Mr. Franklin’s, I’m an old farmer who spent his life examining data—optimum plant dates, crop yields, etc.—so I tend to look at facts and the sad news is that, despite heroic efforts by President Johnson in the 1960’s to level the playing field, racial minorities are actually worse off when it comes to wealth than they were in that decade.

And, I could probably post 10-20 more citations of stories that basically blow up your argument. Unfortunately, facts are stubborn things. I learned this lesson quite early in my life when crops I planted failed because I listened to my grandfather’s anecdotal evidence that a crop would prosper in a certain place at a certain time—his information was limited, as is yours.

I agree with mercut1469. Anyone who says our country has made things great for blacks in 2020 and implies that improvement is not needed is not paying attention. Yes, it’s better now than during segregation. And segregation was better than slavery. So what? This imbedded racism, which does not refer to “oh, I’m not racist, I have black friends” but to less funding in minority neighborhoods for schools, hospitals, playgrounds. Deep down racism. And it’s not as simple to cure as pulling down a statue.

The author makes it sound as though it’s easy to go to prison. It’s not — unless you commit a crime. It is true that anti-black racism has harmed the black people in this country. But it is also true that black men are far more likely to commit violent crime than other groups — roughly 6% of the US population commits roughly 50% of the murders. The statistics are similar for other crimes, and explain much of the black over representation in prison.

If we are ever going to heal the divides in this country, it must begin with a full and honest accounting of the facts. The dominant narrative right now places all blame on a single group. This is unfair, untrue, unnecessarily divisive, and will only engender further hatred and bitterness. Racial grievances and emotionally charged language are being used as a wedge to weaken civil society and our nation, and we must stand firm with truth, courage, and compassion.

Imagine if you were a cop and 4 out of 10 contacts resisted arrest….

“…and they are protesting, not rioting….”

Keep denying reality dell since its been working out for you so far.

I’ve never bought in to the pandering nor kowtowing angle.