There definitely is a kind of conditioning problem here, though I’m not so sure it all lies at the feet of leaders.

I rarely write about the years I spent living in Detroit where almost all of my neighbors were Black. I don’t like to sound like I’m boasting about how woke I am. Mostly I did it because of how inexpensive housing is in ordinary Detroit neighborhoods.

(Which is its own systemic racism problem but a subject for another day.)

In any case, I have to admit I was nervous the first few months I lived there. I have consciously strived, all my life, to see racism within myself and to work to get rid of it. Even so, when I would be out riding my bike or walking and see groups of young Black men sitting on a porch, I would often feel fear whether I wanted to or not.

And to be fair, a lot of those guys would give me the stink eye, wondering what I was doing in the neighborhood. I was certainly out of place.

But you know what? After a year or two had passed and we had all gotten used to each other, I’d often end up on one of those porches drinking beer or just swapping tall tales and funny insults.

I realized the young men who looked dangerous to me because of my conditioning were no more or less dangerous than any young men. Some of them I didn’t care for, some of them I liked a lot, and some of them I came to respect and even love as close friends.

We fear what we don’t understand. Understanding comes with familiarity. And that’s hard to achieve with the practical segregation we still deal with because of systemic racism.

My personal solution was moving to Detroit. I don’t know how to translate that to society at large.

Written by

Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot.

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