It’s 2016, and I’m thinking about race. A lot of people are, this week. For those of you who aren’t in the United States, and who, for some inexplicable reason, don’t find us fascinating,
On Tuesday, this happened:
And then, on Wednesday, this happened:
And on Thursday… this happened.
I don’t know how to talk about race, and I’m not qualified to talk about race, and I’m going to admit up front that nothing I could possibly say–in and of itself–will add to the conversation. There’s nothing new here. Nothing special. Nothing particularly well informed or clever. I’m talking to say that I’m willing to talk.
So, the first time I thought about race in terms of police, and criminal justice, and criminal injustice, I was a senior in High School.
I was taking a zero-hour physics class, which means, more or less, that you get up at the crack of dawn and then go to school an hour early in hopes of smaller class sizes in an overcrowded school system. As you can imagine, the class contained the most dedicated students in the school.
As it happens, both of my lab partners that year were black guys.
And I’m not exaggerating when I say that they were geniuses. They were. No question about it. Nose to the grindstone, dedicated, and brilliant.
The story begins with the school’s (insert adjective) idea that class by class, everyone should take turns cleaning the grounds. Yes, everyone. Yes, even zer0-hour physics students who really are there to study. And no, it doesn’t matter that until that moment, you had no idea your school even had a track. Or that it’s barely in usable condition. You’re cleaning it. And why on earth would you need forewarning?
I don’t remember the details of how the three of us wound up separated from the rest of the class.
Maybe we kept working, and everybody else got up and left, or maybe we had permission to stay, and finish one more thing.
At any rate, James and Miles and I got left behind, and wound up having to catch up, later.
James played football, so he did know where this “track” was. (Didn’t use it, but knew it existed.)
You just go out the front door, turn left, and walk down to the gate. That’s the quickest and most direct route, and that’s what we wound up doing.
What James did not know is that the gate isn’t unlocked at zero hour.
So, we’re staring at a ten-foot tubular steel gate, which is well and truly locked, with the rest of our physics class just out of sight. And of course, the front door locked behind us, because… zero hour in a big city. You’d have to ring the doorbell and then explain why you weren’t with your class.
We decided to climb over the fence.
And I only remember doing it, because the guys made a joke:
We’d better watch out. If the police catch two black guys climbing over a fence with a white girl to get into school to pick up garbage for free–we’re in trouble.
Yeah. It’s obvious we’re raping her.
And until that moment, I was just worried about not getting my picked-up-garbage class participation points.