Smashing Cheesecake Dreams; A Dark Soul Speaks

In 2020, it can be tough being an old white guy.  Fair or not, most people have had enough of us.  Even if you’re an old white guy that has tried mostly to be aware of my privilege before that word was even a thing.  Even if you’re an old white guy who has stood strongly against most of the stuff old white guys are supposed to cherish.  I’m not asking for your pity, because every once in a while being an old white guy lets you into the souls of people who would never let a woman or a person of color anywhere near.

I was in a store today trying to get my wife a treat.  We’ve both been working hard (as many of you have been) and trying simultaneously to be healthy.  So there’s been no treats in the house since May. Nothing.  No cookies, no cupcakes, no pies, no bread, no candy, almost no booze. Pretty much nothing. Yet three or four times in the last week one of us has brought up in conversation that a piece of cheesecake would be great about now.  So tonight was the night.

But I digress.

I am in line at the store and a guy about my complexion and age looks at me and says “Did you hear Colin Kaepernick was writing some essays?”  Admittedly this was about as random a question one could expect in a bakery waiting line, but there it was.  “Oh?” I asked.  “Yeah, the sonofabitch wants all prisons abolished because the prison system is racist.  What the fuck, eh?”

Ok…not the take I was ready for.

I was stammering, stumbling, trying to figure out where this came from.  I finally said “Well, he’s right.  I doubt he really wants all prisons abolished, but they sure do need a looking at because the data shows our system of incarceration has all the signs of systemic racism.  He’s right.”

Without a blink he adds “He’s writing a bunch of essays.  Abolish the police.  Abolish the military. Everything is racist because he can’t play football.”

I follow with “Look, no one I know on that side of the issue wants police abolished or the military abolished.  They want some fairness.”

Granted, I am still befuddled as to why this conversation even started.  Truly befuddled.  Just because I’m an old white guy he’s free to let me peek into his soul?

He points at my sweatshirt and says “Well, I thought because of your sweatshirt you’d know what I was talking about.”  I panicked.  Did I mistakenly put on my “KKK is Great!” sweatshirt?  I glanced down quickly and realized I was wearing a sweatshirt that had the Michigan Association of Justice logo and name on it.  My son works there and runs the organization on a day-to-day basis.  The MAJ is the professional association of trial lawyers.  You know the guys who protect us from careless  corporations,  greedy insurance companies, incompetent doctors, and other folks who should know better?

Clearly the guy thought I was a policeman or something once he saw the word “Justice.”  At least things started to make sense.  It wasn’t because I was an old white guy that he thought I was a fellow racist; it was because I was a policeman.

I quickly ended the conversation with “Hey, look, there’s a lot of injustice in the system and I think anything we can do to make it better we should do.”  Then I left the store.

But all the way home I sat there just as sad as a privileged old white guy can be.  We see overt signs of racism in America without having to look very hard.  Police shooting unarmed black men.  Wildly skewed  arrest, conviction, sentencing, incarceration, and death penalty statistics can only come from a system in which people of color are either targeted or whose innocence is ignored.  And all these things should make us uneasy about whom we are as a country.

But it’s this one little incident that drove home to me how decidedly inherent racism is embedded in the system.  That this man…or any man…would feel comfortable letting me see the ugliness of his soul and expecting me to sympathize with him makes the problem seem unfixable.  It doesn’t matter that he said it because he felt safe talking to an old white guy or to a policeman.  It matters that he seemed confused when I challenged him.  It matters that he doubled down on the argument.  It all matters.

P.S. In case you’re worried about the treat for Lisa, I stopped at Kroger and bought what I’m sure will be a much more shitty piece of cheese cake than was sitting in that bakery display.  But tonight, it’s comfort food in a very uncomfortable country.

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