In the past few months I have had conversations with three dear friends which have frightened me. Each conversation was independent of the other, without reference to the other. These three people I know, and trust, and we have the kind of relationships that allow us to speak from the heart with each other. None of my friends know each other. My three friends are black, and I am white.
The first friend and I have been great friends for over 25 years. He is a veteran, a husband of 30 years, and the father of two. We have gone into business together, watched our families grow, and shared the kind of connection that requires absolute trust from one another. In other words, a rare friendship. He is a great father, a good man, a devout husband, and a great friend. He volunteers countless hours coaching and working in the AAU system. Over the years, we have leaned on each other more times than I can count.
My second friend is a woman whom I have known for only 7 years now (though it feels like 20) and we have one of those friendships that is automatic. The moment I met her and spoke with her about teaching with me at a HBCU law school, I knew immediately that she was a special person. Our connection was instantaneous. She came to teach with me at the law school and in short order, along with many others, helped build an unbelievably successful trial program in a law school that had never seen success in that area. Our students have a 93% bar passage rate and have generated great success for themselves in the legal community. She is an incredibly talented and successful lawyer in Houston. She is the mother of two fantastic daughters, one at USC and the other about to graduate high school as an honors student. She is the very essence of a successful person, woman, mother and teacher.
The third friend I will admit is more like a daughter to me. She came to me as a student in 2002. Her talents were obvious. She was and is one of the most gifted advocates I have ever trained. She came with an extraordinary group of students that made my life as a teacher and coach easy. She and her partner took UT law to the national finals of the most prestigious national trial competition two years in a row. She has gone on to have a stellar career serving our country in the JAG, achieving the highest assignments in her branch of the military at the youngest age in its entire history. And she did it as an African-American woman. She is a wife, a mom, and an officer.
Each of these friends are the rare type that you know you could call them at 2 a.m. and say; “I need you, now”, and they would come. They know I would too. That’s how much I think of them.
Recently, each of these friends has shared things with me that make me hurt for them, and, frankly, for our country. They weren’t saying these things to make a point or drive a conversation. They were just hurting and talking to a friend. These are three great people. Any American would be proud to call them friend. But the color of their skin has recently become a bigger issue than their character, integrity and heart.
It started with my oldest friend of 25 + years. About 6 months ago he told me something that struck me as very odd, and extremely troubling. Without any fanfare or hysteria, he simply noted that over the past year, other white friends he had known since junior high had begun making comments and expressing views that shocked him. They began saying things about black people, immigrants, and made other racially charged comments that he had never heard from them before. For the first time he felt that, as to them, he was the exception that proved the rule. Again, he was not on a rant, or trying to tell a story. He just stated facts to a friend and I could hear the sadness in his voice.
My friend in Houston and I were talking the other day and she expressed to me that when she retires, by fifty no less, she would likely move to another country where the heartache of the constant barrage of unfairness and attacks on African- Americans would basically be in her rearview mirror. She was worn out fighting it, and it had gotten so much worse recently. I pushed her just a little on it and it was clear she was just worn down by the constant battle of defending herself and others for being black.
Completely independent of those two conversations, I had a conversation with my “daughter”. I have watched this young woman grow up. I have watched her career blossom, her family grow, and saw her reach the pinnacle of her profession. The pride I have in her and her achievements is complete. She is why I teach. When she told me she and her husband had to have “the talk” with their son about being black in America, my heart broke. I met her son as a precocious two-year-old doting on his new baby brother. Now at 5 he was angry and needed “the talk”. While we were talking she also mentioned that “he was dark”. My heart broke again.
My “daughter” is dark, and beautiful and perfect. Anyone judging her on complexion is an idiot. But the reality is, too many people do. While we discussed this issue, this amazing woman told me that the recent change in our country’s attitude makes her feel “small”, “beat up”, and that the effect has been a “real shift” in her thinking, that she “hates” to feel. This is a woman who interned at the cabinet of our President. Can you imagine?
The long and short of this is that for one Austin white man, he has witnessed three of his dearest friends feel cheapened. Three people anyone would be proud to call a friend, feel less. It is a pity, a wrong and a crime.
I always taught my law students that “us and them” was the fundamental human emotion. My point was to teach them that they needed the jury to empathize with their client. It doesn’t matter whether its black vs. white, capitalism vs. communism; Christian vs. Muslim; boy vs. girl; Nazi vs. Jew; UT vs. A&M, the emotion is deep seated and fundamental to humanity. Even Buddhists are murdering Hindus in Myanmar. I didn’t even know Buddhists could countenance murder, but they do of the “them”.
I don’t know the cause or the cure. All I know is that good people are not the exception, they are the rule. The problem is only the bad people make the news, and the news drives the perception. Something has changed in our country, and it has to stop.