We’re Still Racists

Posted on August 26, 2009


The other day I was running. I hadn’t run that long in quite awhile. I was on the last leg of the run, and headed up hill. I passed a man who was walking the opposite direction, leaning on a cane. I thought, “He’s getting his exercise. Good for him.” I thought, “He’s doing what he can. More power to him.” I moved out of his way, sharing the sidewalk. Didn’t matter to me whether I ran up hill three feet to the right or left, it was still uphill. As I passed him, I said, “Morning.”

He said, “How are you, sir?”

I answered his question, asked him how he was, and responded to his answer over my shoulder. As I kept running, I thought about the conversation. I wondered why he thought it was a good idea to ask an open-ended question of a guy who was running, uphill, sweat pouring off of him, and obviously working very hard. A simple “hello” or “hi” would have been fine.

Then there was the “sir.” It hasn’t been protocol to call me “sir” since I took my uniform off the last time in 1992. I resigned my commission in the US Army around 1999. I prefer to be called “Rich,” but “Rick” is okay with me. One of my favorite bosses in the Army called me “Rick,” so it’s got positive associations for me. I’m getting used to being old enough that people call me “Mr. Redman” when dealing with me in the course of their work, but it’s uncomfortable. I’m still not used to being old enough that people think of me as a “mister.” I don’t mind being called “man” or “dude,” but please don’t call me “friend” or “buddy” unless we actually are friends. There’s no point in calling me “brother” unless we’re in church together, or you’re one of my three sisters.

I actually thought through all of that, while I was running, uphill, before reality kicked me in the backside. The man with the cane was older than me, and African-American. Did he call me “sir” because I’m white? It’s certainly possible. It takes generations for changes to work their way through cultures. We elected a mixed-race man to be President of the United States, but that doesn’t force an immediate change in everyone’s thinking.

Am I a bigot for even thinking about it? Or was he just being polite, and I’m over-thinking things out of white guilt?

The only conclusion I’ve reached is that we’re still, as a culture, divided by skin color, and that’s sad.