This past week I did the unthinkable. I ran out of gas. I knew I could make right up to the point the tachometer slipped to zero as we raced down highway 75. With my wife in the car we coasted onto an off ramp that curled up and over the highway. The car slowed to a stop at an isolated intersection in north downtown. This is an area with NO gas stations anywhere near our location. We were stranded.
The very next car that pulled up stopped. The driver rolled down his window and asked if we needed help. Cheryl explained our dilemma to the young man in the car. He said, “I have a gas can at home. I’ll run home to get it and be back shortly,” YES! We’re saved! Did I mention the young man was African-American? Did I mention this was only a few days after the unarmed African-American man was shot and killed by a white police officer here in Tulsa? Did I mention this was at the same time they were rioting in Charlotte after another African-American man was shot and killed by the police? Did I mention this was at the same time that many African-Americans hated white people? Did I mention the driver was an African-American and I am Caucasian?
We waited for a while and he had not returned. Did he have second thoughts helping white people? NO! He soon pulled up and apologized for taking so long. He didn’t have a gas can at home, so he went to QT, purchased a can, paid for gas and came to our rescue. Cheryl and I did not have cash on us, so we had already written a check to give the young man. As I poured the fuel in the car Cheryl handed the check to the young man and thanked him. He would not accept the check. He paid for the gas can and the gas out of him own pocket and would not accept the check for his good deed. We both insisted. If he did not want the money, take it and pay it forward to someone else. We discovered he had a young daughter and insisted he use it for her. Cheryl, with tears in her eyes thanked the man and told him with the current events he could not be blamed for not wanting the help a stranded white couple yet he did. She told him that his act of kindness gave her hope that we could someday get beyond the divide we faced and gave him a hug. He then followed us two miles to make sure we made it to the gas station. He took his time and his money to help us out. He did not see an older white couple. He saw people in need and responded.
I want to make it very clear that I have the greatest respect for law enforcement. I think most would lay down their lives to save anyone of any color. They are my heroes. But I also know there is a problem. African-American citizens are truly afraid of the police and with reason. To not admit there is a problem would require you to ignore the facts. Years back I had a close friend who happened to be African-American. He was graduating from Tulsa University with a degree in accounting, was a management member with the Walgreen company, married and had two kids. He was pulled over with his wife and kids in the car. The police took him out of the car and had him lie face down on the street. After checking his identity he was released and told he looked like a suspect they were looking for. Laid on the street in front of his kids and wife. Looked like a suspect they were hunting? I’m sure he did if they didn’t look past his color.
We see what we want to see. The eyes see everything but the brain is more selective. Our brain allows us to see only what we want to see. When the young man stopped to help me, did I see a “Black” man or did I simply see a young man? Would I recognize him if I spotted him on the street. Did I see his eyes and his face or did I just see BLACK. I hope I saw more than his color. He didn’t see a white couple. He saw people who were in need. It’s okay to see skin color as a trait no different from eyes or hair but to only see skin color and nothing more is the problem we currently face.
In a conversation since this police shooting, someone said “well if they weren’t in those type of situations in the first place this wouldn’t happen.” “THEY”? Who is “THEY”. I knew exactly what he meant. He saw only color. I was so proud of my wife. She spoke up immediately. She re-framed the issue not as a matter of color but as a matter of reactions. She made it about individual actions and not about the color of people’s skin. She spoke of a friend at the table who had a mixed race son and the fears he must have. She stood up for what was right. She saw past color.
I’m afraid that if I were a young African-American I would not have been able to look past the skin color of the stranded motorist the other day. I would be angry and want to lash out. I would want people to know that as proud as I was about my race it did not define me but was a part of who I am. I would not have been able to be as color blind as the young man who rescued us. Prejudice is a horrible thing. We group individuals and then minimize them to make ourselves feel stronger. We mask our personal short comings by devaluing others.
I hope I’m a little better person because of the young man who saved us, who happened to be African-American. I hope the love he had in his heart for his fellow-man is contagious to all of us. I have hope that things will get better because of him. I have hope that we will all be a little more color blind and see people for who they are and not what color they are.