I don’t remember how old I was; maybe 10 or 11. And I don’t remember what occasioned the discussion; possibly because my social circle was a rainbow coalition of different races, ethnicities, genders. But I remember what my mother told me one day: Yes, you have to fear all black people, because when we had just moved to this country, your father was mugged by a black man. And maybe I’m just imagining my response to her, all these years later, but to my recollection I didn’t let her say that without push-back. I questioned why I should fear an entire group because of the actions of one person. Although now I’m of the opinion that I am my brother’s keeper, I’m also of the opinion that at some point my brother must answer for his own actions. I don’t own them, only what I do and say. Likewise, the African Americans who come into my library shouldn’t have to answer for the bad decisions of another African American. At some point, we all have to stand alone before the world and justify our actions. The hundred are not responsible for the criminality of the one.
My mother has mellowed as she’s grown older. I’d like to think that my brothers and me have helped her see the ludicrousness of her fears. It also helped that her mother, my grandmother, shuffled off her mortal coil two decades ago; her skin was translucent, her eyes blue, and she made it clear that she was superior to anyone whose skin was even a shade darker than hers. She was the motive force of the racism in my family. But something happened at my library which brought that childhood incident back fresh into my mind.