I’ve never been screamed at because of the color of my skin. I’ve never had anybody swerve their car at me and then spit on me because of my race. Sure, I’m aware that racism is alive and well in this country today — and not just racism as an idea, as an attitude, as a way of life, but also racism in the form of vicious personal attacks that are inflicted on people every day of the week, through no fault of their own. But since it’s never directed at me, and since I rarely see it (in large part, I think, because I don’t have to be aware of it for self-protection), it’s just not part of my frame of reference.
I never go out the door even slightly on guard because of what might happen to me because I’m white. That would be a different world.
And I don’t know why it has taken me so long to understand that Black people live in a different world from me, but Brandon Brackins has helped me understand, at least a little, and feel what it’s like, at least a little.
Brackins is a young (23), healthy-looking and physically fit (he plays both rugby and football), gainfully employed (he works for FedEx) man. A likable guy, as you can see from the now-famous video he posted on Facebook on June 10. But add just one more descriptor — “Black” — to that list of positive traits and he instantly becomes an enemy to some people; he becomes an object of hatred.
Brackins was minding his own business that day, he tells us in the video, making a delivery in Lisbon, Ohio, when “some (expletive) hick” drove around him at a high rate of speed, nearly hitting him, and a passenger in the vehicle yelled a racial slur (yes, that one) and spat on him.
“Why so much hate?” he says in the video, fighting back tears in the cab of his truck. “Why? Why? … I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.”
And if Brandon Brackins doesn’t get it, after 23 years of being a Black person in this country, then I sure don’t. But maybe seeing his pain, and his confusion, and his anger (“I want to bury somebody right now,” he says in the video, which by now has been seen by millions) brings me a little closer to getting it.
We’ve seen a lot in the past few weeks: Black people killed by cops on the street, or in a Wendy’s parking lot, or shot by pickup-truck-driving self-styled vigilantes. We saw that woman in New York’s Central Park try to weaponize her white privilege to get a Black man arrested when it was she, not he, who was doing wrong.
But we only see this stuff nowadays because of technology; because so many people have smartphones. If nothing else, we can no longer brush this stuff off as if it’s something that used to happen in the bad old days.
Things like what happened to Brandon Brackins (and worse, much worse) have been happening for decades, generations, centuries; since the first kidnapped Africans were sold on the dock in Virginia, 401 years ago next month.
I used to think we were making slow progress in this country, but now I see that we’re still in the bad old days.
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com.