BY ROBERT WHITE
I grew up in New Jersey. My mother was from Asheville. In my teens, many of my friends converted to Islam. Racism was often given as the reason.
My friends questioned where this white man with long, flowing hair who spoke of love and peace was. Where was he in all the documented cases of deliberate action to deny us the basic human rights? Where was he in the lives of the white people who were doing some horrendous things to so many of us?
Islam does not allow any pictures of the creator or the Prophet Muhammad. The lack of focus on race, as it pertains to God, in Islam was very attractive. My friends felt they had a chance with a God who embraced all and favored no race or a particular people.
I am not Muslim but cringe to call myself Christian. But I read the words of this man Jesus, and they are good and right. I live them by deed, not in public conversations on street corners.
Last year, my wife and I closed on a small farm in Leicester. My neighbors are all white; I hear gunfire all the time. Big guns, huge guns, semi-automatic guns — and, now and then, fully automatic guns.
Several neighbors have stopped and introduced themselves; they seem to be very decent folks. Yet there is a certain apprehension in my soul. I wonder what would happen if something came up missing around here. The very bucolic country road running past our property is so inviting, yet I have never walked to the end of it out of fear. Fear someone may see my black skin and believe I’m after something that doesn’t belong to me. I’ve been stopped so many times, in so many cities, just for being in the wrong place while sightseeing.
So I stay on my land and plant my fruit trees and berries. I tend to my raised beds and hunt mushrooms on our land. I wave as folks jog or walk by, hoping the fact I am working the land just like them will keep me and my family safe. Afraid for my dog as she wanders (like the other dogs out here), because she belongs to some black people.
Why should I live in such fear in the land of my birth? This land where the bones of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents rest. I am American, but this land of my birth seems to reject us even after all the years we’ve been here. We have died in every war this country has fought; a highly biased criminal justice system is our reward. Deliberate undereducation and underemployment are the thanks we get.
I know I believe all lives matter. I also believe most black people feel the same way. But white kids are not being gunned down eating Skittles and drinking soda. White men aren’t being stopped and ending up dead for a traffic violation.
Refusing to lie down in the street because a cop is yelling at you is no reason to die. There is a thing called dignity that we all have, and sometimes people just get tired of bowing down to injustice. Sometimes enough is just that: enough.
The recent hue and cry is “Make America great again.” Most black folks feel America has never been great. Don’t get mad: Just look at what has been done to us for centuries. If we don’t take a knee in protest or stand up and fight, history has shown us what could happen. The prisons are full of black folks, and it seems there’s a concerted effort to fill the cemeteries with our bodies long before they can succumb to a natural death.
I crave tranquility and abhor chaos. My biggest fear for my country is that the racist attitudes of so many whites will cause disaffected black youths to start embracing radical Islam as their way to seek recompense for the palpable hatred toward them that’s permeating America right now. I fear that Middle Eastern countries flush with oil money may start funneling cash to our low-income neighborhoods the same way the drug cartels have done, encouraging misdirected black youths with that false hope based on some lie disguised as truth.
Yes, my friends, all lives do matter. But until white America realizes that black children are loved by their parents the same way you love yours, we are all in trouble. There’s a gaping hole in this country created by racism, and it’s waiting to be filled by something. It is we Americans, black and white, who will decide what fills this hole.
When the World Trade Center fell, blacks, whites, Christians and Muslims died in the rubble. We all felt violated and vulnerable. Death, disease and the sun do not discriminate: I will spend the rest of my life remembering that. I will extend nothing but love to my white brothers and sisters. I will also love and respect my gay, lesbian, bisexual brothers and sisters, and those who are gender-fluid.
I did not create you and will not force upon you my opinions about how you love or whom you love. But I promise I will respect you and honor your being. As a black man, this is all I ask of you all. Is that too much to ask?
My life matters!
Now retired, Robert White has been a framing carpenter, radio announcer and small-business owner in New Jersey and Asheville. He founded the Pisgah View Peace Garden.