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This is us. We know how to be a family | Column

by | September 1, 2018 5:00 pm

Last Updated: August 28, 2018 at 3:32 pm

My brother, T-Bob, and I used to make a few bucks running a lemonade stand in front of our childhood home. The lemonade wasn’t great (Minute Maid from a can), but we made about five bucks a week. And—this is important—no-one called the cops on us.

We’ve all seen the stories lately: People of Color (POC) being harassed for “barbecuing while black,” “driving while black,” “waiting in a coffee shop while black,” “swimming while black,” “selling lemonade while black,” not to mention “eating in a university breakroom while black.” Basically, breathing while black is enough for some people to call the law.

The people who made those calls have earned nicknames like Permit Patty, BBQ Becky and ID Adam. Several were fired and/or had to move after inculpatory videos went viral.

Jim Crow laws vanished like the dodo bird 50 years ago, but apparently prejudice is still alive and well in these United States.

I’ve lived in the Deep South for 57 years, and have traveled all over the country. I know that Baltimore traffic is terrifying; panhandlers are protected by city ordinance in Seattle; and the best-looking women in America live in Utah. (No kidding; they’re all tall and slim with big white teeth. How is this not a tourism selling point?)

I also know that racism can be found everywhere, and isn’t limited to African-Americans. Visit Alaska or Arizona to see how some indigenous people still struggle to create lives of dignity and purpose.

One other thing I know, after a lifetime of living below the Mason-Dixon line, is that white people and POC can and do get along. I’ve seen examples of racism. You have too. It needs to be eradicated with love, education and social initiatives. But I’ve also seen our better side. If you believe the south is rife with racism and bitterness, maybe you should look a little harder.

I’ve seen two ancient farmers, one black and one white, discussing the price of tobacco, chuckling with their heads together while gripping each other’s forearms.

While talking to one of their daughters, I glanced up and said, “Gosh, that’s sweet.”

She laughed and said, “They’ve been friends for 70 years. They’re actually propping each other up.” I looked again and sure enough, they were.

This is us. We support each other.

I’ve seen a young black man tickling a fussy white baby’s chin while an exhausted white mom loaded her groceries in the car. When she finished, he handed the baby back to her and she said, “Thank you so much. What’s your name?”

This is us. We look out for each other.

I’ve seen two white men tatted from head to toe approach a stranded Hispanic motorist and ask, “Hey, brother. Do you need a ride? A jump? A phone?”

This is us. We help each other.

I’ve seen a white woman, whose son was running through a farmer’s market grabbing fruits and vegetables, holler at a woman of color, “Ma’am? Ma’am! Pop his hand. Smack his hand!”

Immediately, the other woman leaned over and popped his hand, saying, “Don’t touch!”

“Thank you,” the first woman said. “Want to take him home?”

“Nope, I’ve got three just like him,” the other replied, and those two strangers rolled their eyes and snickered.

This is us. We laugh together.

I’ve seen a multiracial couple offering their adopted Ethiopian child up for baptism in a denomination that is largely white and upper-class. The godparents were Indian and Vietnamese.

This is us. We know how to be a family.

This is us.

(Julie R. Smith, who thinks we can all do better, can be reached at

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