What he was correct about was this : “You will never understand what it’s like to be Black in a White World. It is unfair, it won’t ever be fair, and you probably won’t have to care.”
Hal Espy was my boss at Cal State Long Beach when I worked in the Kitchen for 49er Shops. He was (may still be) a tall man who repeated the name of the person he just met seven times in their first introduction and then he never forgot the name. He was an Olympic Hopeful boxer of some repute before running the dining halls at a state university.
Hal used to walk up to me and take my hands, hold them close to his eyes and say “Yep, never known a day of hard work. You will never have to know a day of hard work.”. How I wish that were true, but he was wrong on both counts.
In all fairness, I grew up in Arcadia California where I only saw two black students the entire time I was in school from Kinder through High School graduation. I thought I was doing my part to set the world to rights when I boycotted Carl’s Jr. for having an owner who supported Apartheid. Walking into the dining hall at CSULB was like walking into a different world. I honestly had never seen people of color en mass before. Hal gave me one of my first jobs and educated me in more than food preparation and service. I used to sleep and have dreams about serving food and my whole body ached from standing and stretching and crawling under equipment to clean it, lifting up heavy pans of water from the food warmers, and my brain hurt from converting recipes for larger or smaller batches. The most important lesson came from watching “Cops”, the television show, in his office. HE told me to count the number of black folk being arrested and compare it to how every other nationality was presented.
When people would visit me at LAMP on Skid Row, I usually fielded questions and comments about the number of people of color living in the streets and shelters. True enough, there are more black folk in poverty than white., There are also more black folks incarcerated, and fewer positive representations of them in the popular arts.
I think the United states operates on the Brown Bag beauty test – and if you are darker than the bag you will get short changed.
I have never been able to change the way people are perceived and treated, but I have cared.
For the record, I am the only Caucasian worker in my office and have been the only generic white person on my employment level here for over seven years. Actually, I don’t think I have ever worked anywhere when I was in the majority. While you may say I am misusing my white privileged by not using it, I will tell you that it gets plenty of use without my trying.