An open letter from a white man to a black man in the year 2013

*This is my response to an editorial piece by Questlove, which you can click here to read


If you put the two of us in a room together, we’d make an odd pair.

You, a black man with access to wealth, influence, and places I’ll never go.

I,  a white man with access to goodwill and social capital that no one will ever accord you, regardless of how hard you try.

On the train home from work today, I looked a young black man in the face and we both nodded our heads ever so slightly in the standard greeting of city dwellers. Then I wondered what it would be like to live in his skin, to walk in his shoes.

He was an ordinary looking man, perhaps 25-35 years old, wearing jeans, a shirt, and a sweater. I know nothing about his life, other than that there is a singular characteristic about him that at its core is neither negative nor positive.

On the surface it seems a small difference between he and I, the color of our skin.

But his blood, DNA, and even the very fat and muscle of his body are weighted with history, a history that cannot be forgotten or moved on from.

And my blood, DNA, and even the very fat and muscle of my body are caught in the updraft of history, a history that I, too, cannot forget or move on from.

That is a divide I resent.

Probably he resents it more than I ever could, and probably you do also. After all, the very thing that holds you back, prevents you from being fully recognized as a human above all else, grants me access to things I neither deserve nor want. And there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.

The thing I most want in this world is to be passionate and always put 100% towards anything that I choose to do. At 29 I’ve been divorced, lost my mother to cancer, and went bankrupt. I have a sense of humor to be sure, but I know how short this life is and I am nothing if not grateful for every moment that I get to breath air, connect to people, and learn things.

It doesn’t seem a stretch to think the same of you. Your core mission seems to be a passion for music and changing people’s lives, and it’s clear you believe in leaving the world better than you found it.

I can’t change the woman in the elevator.

I can’t control every misguided thought I have about race and gender, creed and nationality.

I can’t undo my DNA and give back the advantages I’ve been granted without requesting.

But if we’re ever in an elevator I can nod my head at you ever so slightly, a greeting, and if you also nod your head in return that space might allow us for one moment to put aside the color of our skin, put aside our gender, put aside our own individual histories, and say “hey how’s it going, today, in this moment?”

And I can offer that same exchange to anyone, regardless of their self-directed or externally imposed identity. And I can keep offering it over and over.

Maybe in another time well after you and I are gone, Dr. King’s dream will come true. I certainly hope so. Until then I hope you keep sharing, keep pushing, keep the tears flowing.

For now, all I can do is reach across the culture that has divided us and say, not this moment, not this time. I will not let my humanity be stripped from me, nor yours from you.


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