Dear Young America:
I’m here to apologize.
I’ve vastly underestimated you. I had thought you were more invested in Snapchat and video games than serious moral and social causes.
And I was wrong.
To those of you who happen to be white:
I had thought that you neither cared nor understood the extent to which racism remains embedded in America’s social, moral, political and economic fabric.
I had feared — and, frankly, still do — that the sad and irrevocable resegregation of our schools had created a disconnect that would be impossible to repair. That, if you’re not exposed to people of other races, you’re more prone to believe ignorant stereotypes and hurtful myths.
Now, here you are on the front lines of Black Lives Matter protests. Boy, have you surprised me.
To be sure, a lot of you still are not so enlightened. Witness the young White woman at the Trump speech in Phoenix, God bless her, who lamented the demise of Aunt Jemima, as if the slave-mammy stereotype on the pancake mix boxes and syrup bottles had been Rosa Parks.
But more and more of you are stepping forward, it appears, for the right reasons.
As for young Black Americans, you make me proud almost beyond words.
I had feared you had not appreciated the path that your parents and your parents’ parents cleared for you, often at great cost.
I’d worried that you took for granted gains that were won with sweat, courage and sometimes blood, and that you didn’t understand how fragile those gains may be, even today. Especially today.
Here’s where both my age and arrogance come in. There’s a tendency for people of my, uh, vintage to reminisce about how we were so much more tuned in to “the struggle” back in the day. (If readers got a dime every time I reminded them that, as a freshman, I took part in the David Duke protest in Chapel Hill in 1974 and, as a graduate student, led the Black Student Movement at UNC, you might all be millionaires by now.)
But I never braved batons or rubber bullets in my youth.
Then there are the rising new icons among you.
There’s Bubba Wallace, 26, the lone Black driver on the NASCAR circuit.
The conventional advice for someone so alone in a sport so hermetically wrapped in the Old South is to keep your head down and drive. So, here Wallace goes, successfully lobbying NASCAR to ban Confederate flags at races.
When a noose was found last week in Wallace’s garage at the track in Talladega, Ala., NASCAR did something else that had seemed unthinkable: It held what, for all intents and purposes, was a Black Lives Matter march at the track, with all drivers and teams following Wallace in a parade of solidarity.
Now that the FBI determined that the noose had been in the garage since last year and didn’t target Wallace, some people are claiming a hoax.
But a noose is a noose, regardless of when it was put there. There was no way for Wallace to have known that it had been placed in the garage a year earlier. Nor was Wallace the one who discovered it. The New York Times reported that he was likely the fifth person to find out.
Those hard facts notwithstanding, a racist backlash that already had begun with the flag ban grew even uglier.
Wallace, who had received added security after the flag ban, has held his ground with uncommon poise and courage.
Then there’s the Kansas City Chiefs’ star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, 24, arguably the best player in the NFL — and clearly its biggest attraction — stepping forward for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Enough is enough,” Mahomes said following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody. “We gotta do something about this. I’m blessed to have this platform. Why not use it?”
In my journalism classes at N.C. A&T, I like to talk about the four A&T freshmen who staged the historic sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter.
I typically ask them if they could picture themselves doing such a thing as freshmen. Usually two or three … or four … might raise their hands.
“Really?” I reply.
I’m sorry. I won’t be so skeptical next time. I sold you short and I shouldn’t have.
Keep the faith. Keep showing us the way. Keep asking hard questions and demanding straight answers.
And in November, please surprise me again. And vote.