I have been asked if I can relate to, and what are my contacts with, the black community?
Let me first call to mind that there is no monolithic black community. That community, like others, is tremendously varied, with many perspectives and subsets.
On relating to …. Being white, I have never had to worry about “driving while black”, never had to prove my identity before using a credit card issued in my name, never been frightened by the presence of a police officer, never been conscious of white people fearing my presence, never had to add an additional and unnecessary layer of respect when talking with white people, never tasted the bitterness of being insulted by intentional or unintentional bigotry, never feared that bullets would penetrate the walls of my home or hit my children as they played outdoors, never been hungry, never been at risk of loosing housing, never been exposed to much much more that much of the black community has had to endure. Can I relate? Existentially, not really. Having lived overseas as a child, I was a minority on the outside of the mainstream. But that alien mainstream I was exposed to was not one that had enslaved my ancestors for hundreds of years, lynched them upon freeing them from slavery, greeted them with dogs, billy clubs and water cannons as they marched for equal rights, red lined them out of the housing market, and destroyed their neighborhoods with polluting industries and interstate highways. Can I relate? Not really.
What are my contacts with the black community? For the past fifteen years I have been working, six days per week, at our bicycle shop. Our front door is always unlocked, and often wide open, during business hours. As a downtown bike shop, our customers reflect every walk of life and every culture. Half our customers are black, many of whom I count as friends. Most are not riding bicycles as a hobby, but as transportation, just like me. I do not hang out with the leadership of the black community, though I do count as friends some black elected leadership and black activists. Knowing how important an institution the church is for many blacks, I must admit that I attend church very infrequently, and then it is within walking distance of home. I’d guess most of my contacts with the black community are an outgrowth of my work in the bike shop. There, and on TARC buses. My transportation is primarily TARC, cycling and walking (when I moved back to Louisville in 1999 I made a conscious decision to live car-free). A very high percentage of TARC ridership is black. Riding TARC opens many opportunities, at bus stops and on the bus, to talk with people outside my other circles. TARC is part of ‘the commons’, like sidewalks, streets, parks, libraries, etc., but TARC is the component of ‘the commons’ that puts us closest, physically, to others. I treasure those day to day, unplanned encounters (and subject my family members to more dinner table stories than they would like). Managing property downtown and near Churchill also give me opportunity to work with the black community, some of whom are new immigrants to the U.S..