Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Thursday, January 15, 2004

You want to know about racism? I mean real racism, not ABC after-school-special racism where the solution is "education" and "understanding" and other wishy-washy blather?

Last night I was walking home from the Metro station, walking up this big hill that leads to my house, and wondering idly whether I'd ever done anything that resulted in anyone's death. I've never killed anyone outright, as far as I know, so I was thinking mostly of indirect means.

The best I could come up with as I was walking up this hill was that I'm not in touch with all my old girlfriends from high school, and a lot of them were real head cases, and a lot of them I treated pretty badly. So if any of them ever washed down a bottle of Percoset with a handle of Jim Beam, I could probably take some small responsibility for her death.

Meanwhile, I'm walking past this thin black guy sitting on a bench with his head in his hands, not moving. I walk past him and start to turn the corner when I hear someone up ahead yell sharply "Johnny!"

I was startled by the noise. I looked up and saw another black man walking toward me. I hurried my pace and turned onto a side street. He yelled again, with more urgency this time, not panicking, but clearly concerned.

"Johnny!!!"

I looked back.

"Johnny," he said as he approached the bench I had passed moments before. "You can't go to sleep on this bench. It's cold. You're gonna die."

I heard these words and felt a shame as deep as I have ever felt. I wanted to turn back, to help in some way, but I knew I had already flunked the day's humanity test.

How much longer did Johnny have when I walked past him, never even considering stopping to help or even to see if he was alive? One hour? Three? I can't be certain.

But one thing is certain. Johnny is still "Johnny" today - and not John Doe - because I was not the last person to walk past him in his hour of desperate need.

And that, friends and neighbors, is just about all there is to be said about that.

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