PV Headshot Jean Shriver.JPG

Jean Shriver

This week I was going to write about my dismay when I heard Pier One was going out of business. Where, I wondered, was I going to buy my next back scratcher?

But on reflection, this subject was way too trivial for a week like this—a week where people were still marching 14 days after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis police custody.

People everywhere are marching to demand racial equality. Black people were expressing their profound pain over the way they have been treated by the police.

I started reflecting on how different my interaction with the police has been throughout my life.

Once, coming home from La Jolla with three small children in the car, I got a flat tire while driving on the freeway. I pulled the car onto the central median and before I could call anyone, a policeman on a motorcycle stopped and changed my tire with a smile.

It never occurred to me to wonder what would have happened had I been a brown or a black woman with a car full of noisy children in the back seat. I took it for granted the police were there to help me.

Looking back at my 32 year-old self, I wonder how I could have been so naive.

But all my experience up to then had led to my blindness.

I grew up in a small college town where the policeman — who stopped traffic so children could cross to school — was a friend of my mother's. When he came to our class to talk about safety he was all smiles and sincerity. But my school was segregated at that time, so he was beaming at a room of white faces.

A person who is sitting in the catbird seat lets a lot of things slip by without noticing them.

As a young child, I never took in the fact that black people were not welcome in the coffee shops of our main street. Not until I was grown and meeting a black friend for lunch did I realize I’d never seen a black person in my usual lunch spot.

Afraid somebody might embarrass us, I found a Chinese restaurant off the main street. We ate egg foo young and drank tea, and neither of us mentioned race. This was in the 1950s and I had no notion of how to bring up the subject.

Now of course the subject of race, of racial justice, is on everyone’s lips. 

Many of us wish we could have a do-over for the years when we did nothing about the slings and arrows that black people have endured for decades.

But life is not like your computer. You can’t backspace over the hurtful things and start over with a clean slate. We will always have our history. But the future doesn’t have to repeat the past.

My church had a Zoom meeting this past Sunday, and some of our black members talked of their past and expressed hopes that we could work together for a better future.

May it be so.

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