Sitting in the recliner early this morning, with coffee and a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”, I got to thinking about the people in my life, and more specifically, the color of the people in my life. It’s a current topic for thought, what with the incredibly sad events of this last week, and further back in time. Where there has been much discussion and suggestion and confrontation regarding the idea of walking a mile in my shoes. Regarding that just maybe you, whoever you are, haven’t got a clue what it’s like to live and shop and sell and drive and gather and sing and worship, for that matter, in my shoes.
So I got to thinking about my life, and the people in it, mostly the people currently in it, but back all along the way too. And I thought that I would try to get a little analytical about it, though me and analysis are usually like the Hatfields and McCoys. Anyway, what better place to begin my search for the reality of my people milieu than in that friendliest of friend places of all — Facebook.
As of this morning I have 408 “Friends” on my Facebook page. I italicize the word because, I’m imagining like most people on FB, some of my friends are more like friends I haven’t met yet, in my case other artists and writers, the occasional friend of a friend, people from various locations along the way, etc, etc. I came down into the basement, here, to the computer, found a blank sheet of scrap paper, and began tallying up the exact specifics of just who make up my friends today.
Of my 408 Facebook friends, 20 are black. That works out to just under 5%. If I add in friends of Hispanic heritage, and the artists I’ve befriended along the internet way from Iraq, India, Portugal, and Japan, the total of my so-called non-white friends, I find that a little less than 9% are non-Caucasian — not Honkeys, if that resonates more.
Within the current population of the United States, the number of African-Americans totals 13.2% So I’m nowhere near representative of who my neighbors in the Country are. And speaking of neighbors, if I were to take a walk out my front door the chances are that I am not going to come along and wish a good morning hello to anyone with any color other than white for a face. Or when I sit in my favorite coffee shop. Or at the local Trader Joe’s. In fact, I’d have to drive way up to NE Portland and North Portland to have a good chance of meeting a person of another race. Specifically, black people make up 6.3% of the Portland, OR population. And most live together.
There’s more. The black population percentage in the entire state of Oregon is 2% — TWO. In my home state of Massachusetts, black people make up 8.1% of the Commonwealth’s population, and in my adopted, wannabe home state of California, the number is 6.2%. By the way, it just might be so low in my current home state of Oregon because Oregon, in its statehood inception, not once but twice passed laws barring any people of a darker color from even moving into the state.
Then I went through my high school yearbook this morning. There were 119 of us in it graduating as the class of 1967 at Wareham High School, and of those 119, 20 — that’s 17% — were children of color. Better — and that’s the right word, the expansive, illuminating word — than any place I’ve noted above. That was us, the Class of ’67, WHS, all God’s children. And I am ever grateful that’s where I grew up, or at least started getting older.
I lived in Oakland, CA for a while, and visited there a couple of months ago. Black lives make up 28% of the current population of Oakland, and all I had to do was walk out my friend Gavin’s front apartment building door to begin my immersion into a world of color, on the sidewalks, at the Whole Foods, around Lake Merritt. Everywhere. And the fact of the matter is I felt energized and stimulated and bigger, even. And grateful.
The title of this blog post, and I wasn’t really writing it about me, is “Who Are Your Friends?” So I’ll ask my white Facebook friends to, right now, take a couple of minutes and tally up your percentages. My guess is that most of you won’t even come up with my sorry percent of 5% of black friends. I’d like to be wrong, but I bet I’m not. I don’t say that as a Yay for me or a Boo for you. I say it because it’s something to think about the next time we, any of us, think we know how it is for someone else, someone who looks different from us, and that you can at least consider that, well, maybe you don’t. Because how much practice are you getting?
Driving while black? – there’s a new phrase appearing in my world. I don’t know what that’s like. Maybe some of my friends can help me understand it a little better. Maybe some of your friends can help you.
If we bother to just talk with each other some more. And listen.