I’ve pondered one of Gloria Minott’s questions from our 2-24-11 interview on her Metro Watch program on WPFW, 89.3 FM, the Pacifica “Jazz and Justice” radio station in Washington, D.C. where Gloria is Public Affairs Director. The interview was about Well Considered, my thriller set in Maryland. The question is about bridging the color line—the racial divide—in our country.
She asked, “How did you manage to talk about the relationship between the white friend of the [black] man who was almost lynched himself or almost killed when he was trapped in that well: Talk to us about the relationship between those two men in the context of relationships in areas where people live in particular enclaves but don’t come together socially. How did these two manage to forge a friendship?…I’m talking about relationships that don’t take normally take place even though people are neighbors.”
My response was, “I think they were both open to it. The white neighbor had friends in college of other races. And so he was very open to it. And he wasn’t really from this area [former tobacco lands near Washington]; he was from northern Maryland, Baltimore area, and he was open to it…and so they met as neighbors on the street, doing yard work, playing basketball…” My answer sounded like people from near Baltimore would be more open to interracial friendship than people from near Washington, which is probably not true.
Looking back, in addition to having the flaw described above, my answer was not adequate. First, the men’s children began playing together. They brought their mothers together, and soon the mothers began sharing babysitting duties. The men met, as I said, doing yard work and playing basketball. But after they met, they both made an effort to try to understand the cultural differences between them. This was partly out of curiosity. They explored commonalities, finding they shared interests in their families, sports, and in local history. They also had the courage to have real conversations about race. The white neighbor, Mike, made an effort to try to understand the history of blacks and whites—the slavery, white supremacy, Jim Crow, segregation, economic subjugation and discrimination, and “American Apartheid” including residential segregation. The black neighbor, Ron, opened himself up—describing his past and learning from Mike that some white people are trying to eliminate their own racism. The families met socially at neighborhood parties in each other’s homes and found that they enjoyed each other’s company.
I think that the men managed to forge a friendship because living in this particular enclave gave them opportunity afforded to very few in this country—we still live in a residentially segregated country. I think that coming together in this way is much more likely in a racially integrated neighborhood than one having a single race, and that bridging the color line has to start with pairs of individuals of different races each reaching out.
Thanks again, Gloria, for your questions.