Remember all that talk a few days ago about how I try not to judge others? Well, I thought about it some more, and I realized I most decidedly do judge some people without even knowing I’m doing it. Let me tell you a story…
When I first moved to Newport a little over 12 years ago I was very aware that I was the only black person living in the village, and that was okay with me. I made my decision to be with the woman I love and I wasn’t looking back, but it was hard not to notice that I was the only black person who lived here. Just walking down the street became an experience, and it didn’t hit me until later that I enjoyed the attention.
But, as time went by the area became slightly more diversified, and I found myself one of three black people living in the village, one of whom married a woman across the street. So, instead of being uniquely different I became just another someone who has lived here for 12 years, and I guess I blamed this other guy for that. Of course it wasn’t his fault that I had internalized being the only one as part of my identity, but trying to reason it away was to no avail.
He took to me right away, too. It was almost like he was a drowning man clutching on to a lifeline when we first met. In fact, I had been walking down the street at the time, and he had driven by in his SUV. Suddenly he stopped and waited for me to reach his car, rolled own his window, and this was our first conversation.
“How’s it going, brother?” he asked me in a loud voice.
“I’m okay,” I answered warily.
“You know, we brothers gotta stick together,” he said, undeterred.
“That sounds about right,” I said, taken aback.
“So when are we gonna do something?” he asked.
“We’ll figure it out,” I answered. And I walked away.
I had no plans whatsoever to do anything with this man. In fact, I made up my mind that day that I was going to avoid him at all costs. What? He felt a kinship with me just because we happened to both be black? Or was it that we both have children of mixed race? Whatever it was, I felt like he wouldn’t have been making the overture, or he wouldn’t have been overly familiar, had I been just another guy walking down the street and didn’t look the way I look. And I took offense. I judged him for it.
That’s where I went wrong, because of course he shouldn’t assume something about me because of how I look, but I also shouldn’t assume that’s the only reason he stopped me that day. And many times since. Maybe he felt that instant connection because we are still odd fish in a rectangular pond, but perhaps if I got to know him I would see something else that we have in common. I need there to be something else in common because his gregarious personality is not one that I normally mesh well with, and being a black man in a white world gets old fast if that’s all we talk about.
So he said we should play golf. It’s a game I enjoy, but I put him off time and again. He brought it up again the other day when we were standing at the corner waiting for our children to get off the bus int he afternoon. I tell him I want to, but I can’t find the time. And I do want to play golf, just not with him because I think I know how the conversation will go, how the outing will go. But I don’t, and I don’t have the right to judge him based on my idea of him that is such a small sample size. How fitting that I keep saying don’t judge others, but I’ve been judging him the entire time he’s lived here.
That’s on me. But upon further reflection, I’m going to accept his friend-vitation. It’s hard enough to make friends after 30 without alienating those who seek my friendship.