Whites might see racism, but we don’t feel it

Whites might see racism, but don't necessarily feel it.
Whites might see racism, but don’t necessarily feel it. Photo Credit: Macy’s

I wrote a column on Friday about the riots in Ferguson. It basically said what others have: High crime rates in African-American communities are the problem, so leave the cops alone — a sentiment I mostly believe.

But a story my father told his children when we were little kept me from pressing “send.”

It happened at a men’s store on Madison Avenue in the 1950s. My father was eyeing jackets on the racks when a black gentleman walked in to do the same. Within seconds, the manager was tailing the man conspicuously.

My father’s a good person. And he has sharp antenna for the feelings of his fellow man. So he stayed close to the other shopper in the unlikely hope that he might believe the manager was tailing both of them.

When the manager was called to the register, my father tugged on the man’s sleeve and whispered conspiratorially: “I’ve had it with these jerks” — as if white people are followed all the time, too. “Tell ya what we do. You put your hands in your pockets like it’s a stickup and we rush the register together. Just before we get there, I hit the ground and shout, ‘Waste ’em Eddie! Just for laughs. Whaddya say?”

“What did he say, Daddy? What did he say?!” we children asked. But, alas, we were disappointed. The man thought my father was nuts, justifiably perhaps, and hurriedly left the store.

Thinking of that reminded me of failing to catch a cab near City Hall in the 1980s. I was with black friends, and vacant cab after cab ignored my outstretched hand. I was obtuse to the reason why — for about the first dozen cabs.

Then I thought of the British Virgin Islands, where I worked as a reporter in my 20s. The islands were predominantly black, and I recall feeling a few glaring eyes myself. But I also remember sneaking into a fancy resort to swim on Sundays, and only once being ejected — the time I brought a black friend. None of the all-black staff dared throw me out when I was solo, even though I’m pretty sure they all suspected me of trespassing.

I think they thought I might be somebody, or related to a somebody, and they didn’t want to risk of offending me. They didn’t fear that of my friend.

That’s gotta hurt.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant who worked on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.