It was the last day of school; we raced home, picked up our bags and off to Kennedy for our overnight flight to Paris. Months earlier my wife was invited to an International Conference on Gifted Education in Hamburg; the planning expanded. We arranged to exchange our apartment with a French family for the month of July, a trip across Europe by train including the conference; from Paris to Brussels, to Amsterdam, the conference in Hamburg, to Berlin, behind the Iron Curtain to Prague, on to Vienna and Munich for the return flight.
We registered our son in a city-run sports program (isn’t Socialism wonderful) and we wandered the City of Lights. Up early, our son picks up a demi-baguette or croissants at the local patisserie, shop in the bouchere, by the second day we were regulars, Madame, monsieur, asseyez –vous, si’l vous plait, recommendations from the butcher along with recipes, ever try lapin (taste’s like chicken). Do you have a cremerie in your neighborhood? A different cheese every day …. and the French love huitres. Our son was selected to play on the rec center team in the city-wide soccer tournament, (l’American, his nickname, probably helped USA – French relations more than the Embassy).
Eating mussels in the Grand Place in Brussels, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the conference in Hamburg and on to Berlin, crossing over into East Berlin (searched by very serious Vopos, East German border guards) to Rosa Luxemburg Station and off to Prague, the glorious Wenceslas Square, the only Americans in the hotel (Cubans and other East Europeans), an occasional smile or thumbs up, no one willing to engage in conversation in a repressive Communist state, The final miles, back across the Iron Curtain, a few days in Vienna (yummy Viennese pastries, with the waiters asking mit schlag?) and catching a flight from Munich in time for the beginning of school.
Our son’s first assignment in English class: “What did you do over the summer?” Drew wrote about being searched by the Vopos, playing in the city-wide soccer tournament and other trip highlights. His teacher accused him of copying the report, he insisted he wrote the report, the teacher inferred he had “problems’ and called my wife. For those of you who knew Joan you know she “didn’t suffer fools gladly” suffice it to say, the teacher was chastened.
An example of implied bias or worse: how could an Afro-American student spend a summer touring Europe? He must be hallucinating.
Joan was shopping in Lord and Taylor; the security guard followed her around the store; when she confronted him he told her he was following orders, when she insisted she speak with his boss he told her the guard “misunderstood” his orders.
If you’re a person of color the indignities, the humiliations, the bias, the outright racism are commonplace. You’re anger is always seething beneath the surface.
I noticed that when Joan and I were walking down a Manhattan street other persons of color would nod a greeting; I asked Joan, “Do all Afro-Americans know each other?” She smiled and replied, “In a manner of speaking: yes.”
The anger built up over centuries exploded with the murder of George Floyd. The demonstrations, the protests, young and older, all colors, all ethnicities took to the streets, it was a volcanic explosion.
The New York State legislature in a matter a days passed legislation that had languished for years. The New York City budget began address overly harsh policing.
Hall of Famer Rod Carew: 3,000 plus hits, .328 lifetime batting average, five-time battling title, stopped jogging in the streets of Minneapolis, he feared cops thinking he was fleeing from a crime, presaging the murder of George Floyd.
Upon reflection, it is not surprising that Black athletes are at the forefront of Black Lives Matter.
College and professional athletes seized the moment, and threatened the untold millions squeezed out of their bodies, college sports, after all, are a type of chattel slavery.
They knelt on campuses and outside courthouses and a capitol. They filmed videos and challenged coaches and gripped megaphones to call out racism they knew from their classrooms and stadiums. They led protest chants, registered voters and started to strategize for Nov. 3, Election Day.
In some instances, the nation’s college athletes even pledged not to play.
Maybe the explosion has turned around 400 years of somnambulance, of sleepwalking, of ignoring attempts to keep children of enslaved people in chains. Perhaps, just perhaps we are finally beginning to right the wrongs that have plagued our society.
You cannot snap your fingers and change deep prejudice, you can continue moving forward and continue to embed feelings of justice and fairness.
We may be experiencing the tanning of America: are we becoming more multi-hued and tolerant? Are the protesters in the streets the voters of the future? Has the murder of George Floyd forced us to confront our past and move towards a new tomorrow?
Listen to Judy Collins and the Harlem Boys’ Choir: “Amazing Grace”