OK, I was trespassing.
I won’t go into why or where, but I was on someone’s property without legitimate reason.
A neighbor appeared and asked what I was up to. He was fine with my explanation for being there, even though I was indeed trespassing.
But it seems the friendly fellow had a different attitude a few weeks earlier when he noticed “a black guy” on the property.
The neighbor, who introduced himself as Duane, said he was going to tell “the black guy” to get lost. But then he learned the man was a real estate agent and had every right to be there.
Duane was very friendly and chatty with me; somehow he got around to the fact that he works with “a black guy” who once asked Duane how he spells his name.
“The white way,” he said, recalling the exchange with a smile.
It was all in good fun, and Duane and I were just a couple of white guys talking over a fence in rural America.
Later, I got the rest of the joke — there’s a white way and a wrong way.
The thing about Duane is that, on the racist continuum, he’s far from the worst. He didn’t drop the ‘N’ word or make disparaging comments about African-Americans.
But subtle racism — the nods, winks and jokes — is no less insidious. It creeps into daily life, becomes part of the cultural fabric.
I should know. That’s how I grew up, in a lily-white neighborhood where racist jokes and comments were standard fare. My friends and I told our share, and I cringe at the memory.
It seemed harmless at the time, but not everyone wakes up and realizes how wrong and hurtful those words can be. Jokes and comments are contagious, and easily become attitudes and actions, often passed on to the next generation.
This is not news to people of color. They deal with racism and discrimination every hour of every day, everywhere they go.
It’s a harsh reality that seems lost on those who choose to live “the white way.”