Saturday, June 05, 2010
Hey...I'm the Only White Guy...
My father was in the military for about 30 years. Although we lived in almost-100%-white St. George, Utah, he still had several black friends--mostly from his military experiences. My father was always comfortable around everyone, even if they were different than him. I don't know if he was ever in the distinct minority, though.
I remember the first time being the minority happened to me.
I went to Army Basic Training in 1986. During the Advanced Individual Training (AIT) phase we had a fair amount more free time, so I played a lot of basketball. Although I hadn't made my high school varsity team, I was a reasonably good player, having averaged about 32 points per game in LDS "Wardball" and helping my team to win something like the Southern Utah regionals.
In Basic Training I had several black friends, including my battle buddy, named Darnell Hardwick. Darnell was one of the funniest people I ever met, and we got to know each other very well. Another friend was Private Benjamin (he always went by his last name, so I can't remember his first name).
One evening Benjamin approached me on the outdoor basketball court. "Hey, we need one more player. Wanna come?" "Sure," I said, accompanying him to another cement court on the opposite side of the parade field.
As I approached the other basketball court, it became quickly evident that the game would be played by nine blacks and one white guy--me. I was intimidated. Not because I was afraid of them by any means, but because not only did I know that they would all be great basketball players, I knew that I was in the distinct minority.
They were excellent ball players. But they also made me feel comfortable around them. Which made me sad that the United States has a "legacy" of white people making people of color--particularly blacks--feel inferior.
Should I have felt out of place in a group where every other person's skin color was darker than mine? No. Nonetheless, I admit I was. But that experience taught me that I didn't need to feel out of place.
One thing it did teach me though, was to put myself in the other guy's shoes. I'm grateful for my dad's experiences and example around people who were different than him. It's made it much easier for me over the years to look beyond the color of the skin and into the eyes of another friend.