Thursday, January 26, 2017

A guest in our home . . . and I am deeply troubled.

A student from my first semester of full-time teaching is staying in our home tonight.

What a joy to welcome him into our home!

He was raised in Tulsa, the son of a preacher.  He trained for ministry and for most of the past 18 years he's been a pastor in Texas.  The past several years he has pastored a large, historic Baptist church in Dallas.

In the past year, I have seen him almost every week. He has started a new church in Oklahoma City that worships on Saturday and our family has worshipped with this new church nearly every weekend.  

He's a trusted friend. I love him.  

Since it was the first time he had any reason to stay overnight in our home, in the last minutes before he went off to the bedroom, we had to configure some plans for the morning on who is going where, when and how at what time - with our family routines and when we drive off to work and school.

Our guest will be leaving our home earlier than us in the morning to go to the gym, and then, will need to come back into our home after we depart, to gather his belongings and carry-on with his day.

He said to me, "Dr. Michelson, how am I going to get back in?" 

I was standing in the room of our house with the back-sliding glass door and I immediately walked to the door and said:  "I'll just leave this unlocked and you can come back in right here" as I unlocked the door to insure I did not forget in the morning.

Without a single break in the conversation - not even for a second - he said directly and without joking, in a declarative way: "Dr. Michelson!!!  A Black man walking around the back of your property and coming in your back door . . . and you don't think one of your neighbors will shoot me?" 

For a second it caught me off guard, but I quickly realized he was correct.

After a moment's hesitation, I planned for him to use my garage door opener, and pull his car in garage when he returned. I assured him he'd be fine on his return as  the garage door would shut behind his car and no one would see him enter our home.

Minutes later I headed off to bed myself.

I lay in bed for several minutes - and have arisen to type these words.  I just can't get this problem out of my head.

It troubles me deeply.

My friend . . .  a person I trust, care about, and love - and a person I know loves me - was not just aware that he had to be mindful (and afraid!) to visit my home "unattended" - he was INSTANTLY aware of it.

He didn't take a minute to say:  "You know, Dr. Michelson, I was thinking . . . "  

He didn't take even ten seconds to question my back-sliding-glass-door plan.  

He INSTANTLY "knew" it was a bad idea for a black man to be coming around the back of a house, in my neighborhood, entering through the back door.

It troubles me.

We've had numerous college students and high-school teens - largely friends of our own children - come in the back door of our home on many occasions!  We've come home on many occasions to one-or-another set of friends waiting on our porch, walking in-or-out of our home, lugging furniture or music equipment in and out for various "parties" or "gigs."  

We've had several former students "live with us" for a week or two, or for weeks of the summer.  

On no single occasion did any of them question their safety or fear being seen as a trespasser as they entered the front door, back door, or garage door of our property.

And yet a friend I care about as deeply as any of these others, who is Black, processed in milliseconds the "threat" that he might pose to some person's perception that he did not belong in my home . . . and he instantly knew to be wary of the threat.  

The fact that he has to live processing this as a threat, and that is runs so deeply in his thinking that it was an instant awareness for him . . .  makes me deeply, deeply, sad.

And I can't sleep as I think about it.

It troubles me deeply in many ways.

I don't want my friend, nor his wife, nor his children to feel unsafe because of the color of their skin.

I don't want anyone to feel unsafe because of the color of their skin.

Toward eupan ~

~ marty alan michelson, ph.d.

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