A Racist and a Thug

Jarvis. A black man raised in the depths of the inner city projects on the East side of Nashville. His arm is wrapped in a tattered, worn bandage that covers an old bullet wound. The wrap he wears around his arm helps with the pain from nerve damage. He will tell you he is not surprised that he was shot 4 different times during the 15 years he lived life as a gang member in Nashville, TN. He joined the gang when he was just 12 years old, and confesses that the way he grew up was traumatizing, uncertain, and violent, but yet he loved it. Each of the 30+ tattoos that cover his body tell a different story of a significant season from his past.

Question: To my white friends, if you walked past Jarvis on the street downtown would you label him a thug?  Would you be uncomfortable as he approached you? Does it matter what the color of YOUR skin is or where YOUR neighborhood is to answer that question honestly?

Guess what you wouldn’t know just by passing him on the street? You wouldn’t know that he now goes back into the neighborhoods that he helped destroy and tries to rebuild them. You wouldn’t know that he married his wife, Jenene, in a beautiful wedding ceremony at my home 8 years ago. You wouldn’t know he is a faithful husband and a father to four young sons. You wouldn’t know that he and Jenene are also foster parents to two young girls that needed a home to call their own. You wouldn’t know that he has faithfully worked the same job as long as I’ve known him, providing for all 8 members of his household.

Kelly (myself). A white, suburban mom, living in the prominent area of Brentwood, TN, just far enough on the outskirts of Nashville where there is low crime, white collars, and top rated schools for my children to attend. I’ve been married for almost 29 years to the father of all of my children. The closest thing I have experienced to gangs is my children joining sororities and fraternities in college. And if you know me well, then you know I am not a fan of tattoos.

Question: To my black friends, if you walked past me on the streets of Brentwood would you have a certain perception of me as privileged, or perhaps even a possible racist based on that perception? Would you be uncomfortable if I approached you to engage in conversation? Does it matter what the color of YOUR skin is or where YOUR neighborhood is to answer that question honestly?

There are also some things you may not know based on your perception of me. You may not know that I have 9 children, 4 of which are children of color, adopted from Ethiopia. I’ve been married to my love for 29 years because I was married at the age of 17 with a teenage pregnancy underway. I run a nonprofit that allows me to travel to Ethiopia to serve people in need at least 4 times per year. I also have experienced a traumatizing past that is now the driving force for what I do today.

But just from perception, Could I be another white girl walking my dog in the park that decides to call the police on a black man while he is bird watching, only because he makes me feel uncomfortable by the color of his skin and he dared to ask me a question?  I certainly look the part. 

Could Jarvis be another gang member that I see portrayed in the movies or one of the people I see looting the stores and setting fires in Nashville during a protest? Why not? He certainly looks the part.

There are some hard questions we need to ask ourselves.

What do you assume about a person of opposite race and color that could easily fit into a mold of everything you have been trained to think about that person? 

The labels, the perceptions, the stereotypes, THE WORDS behind what this world creates. Words like RACIST. Words like THUG. THE BLACKS. THE WHITES. It’s what we live IN everyday. It’s what we live WITH everyday. It’s what we BECOME in the midst of it. And it’s the very thing that pushes us away from one another and creates a divide that seems impossible to bridge. Why? Could it be, that in our society, to not know and understand those of another culture could easily make them inferior? Or perhaps a racist? Or maybe a thug? What word do you use?

It is proven that our worldview of others determines the value we put on their life, especially those that don’t look like us. Could it even mean the difference between life and death?

How is it that we live in the year 2020 and a man can be strangled to death in broad day light by another human being while he begs for air and others just sit by and watch it happen? And yes, we take notice that it is a black man getting the air choked out of him by a white man in a position of power with his colleagues standing around him allowing it to happen.

Why should we dare bring up race in this scenario? Why shouldn’t we? Story after story of unarmed black men and women getting killed at the hands of white people. We see it over and over. This is a 400 year old story! It began in 1619 when men and women were kidnapped from Africa, brought to America, and forced into slavery to be bought and sold and treated as nothing more than animals traded for agriculture and cargo…all at the hands of white supremacists. That is how Africans were initially brought into this country, AS SLAVES, so how can we just disregard that? Now, for 400 years, African Americans have been trying to declare that their black lives STILL DO MATTER in the midst of these past generations of slavery and human dignity being stripped of them. Who can hear their cries for justice? Did the Civil War bring freedom? The Emancipation Proclamation? Did Martin Luther King Jr and all his efforts? They all have done their part, taken steps forward, and chipped away at the many layers of 400 years of sin that was brought on by my white race that created a world view, placing African Americans below that of a white race.

That is why I am still placed in the category of the racist white girl in the park. That is why Jarvis is still looked at like a black thug. It’s years and years of sin that runs deep with blood on our hands. It’s 400 years of wrong labels and stereotypes of the opposite race that we ALL have to overcome.

So here we are today in the year 2020 continuing to see one senseless death after another of black lives at the hands of white people as if we are still in the 1960’s. My own black sons continue to get pulled over by police in my own community and asked if they have drugs or a gun in their car before they are even asked for their ID. None of them have been given a ticket because there was never a reason to pull them over in the first place. I have three black sons and I have three white sons. This has never happened to my white sons. It has happened repeatedly to my black sons. 

How do we overcome this? How do we even begin to create a better world to live in? 

It’s simply through RELATIONSHIP.

People of color are no longer our slaves. They are no longer our “help” that I saw at my Grandparent’s home when I was a child. We have finally reached a generation where they are our sons and our daughters, our brothers and our sisters, our friends and our neighbors. They don’t just polish the silver for our tables. They must take a seat at our tables and eat with us, and we at theirs. They are our neighbors, our family. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself. It’s time to completely demolish this wall of divide that others have been chipping away at and devoted their lives to for years. It’s time we, as white people, as the ones who started this, be the ones to finish it by shaking off the dust and the divide of our forefathers. It’s time we raise our voices, OUR WHITE VOICES, and stand in the gap for those we love, and declare that black lives matter. If we want change then let’s begin to bridge the gap and be the change.

The reason I cannot be silent, the reason people are rising up, the reason people are angry and all hell is breaking loose now, is because there is a shaking that is happening. It’s a shaking that looses a stronghold of 400 years of wrong world view and segregation. It’s not just the battle of the black people in America anymore. It’s a battle for humanity. It’s ALL our battle that call ourselves Christians and children of God. 

Of course as in any stand for justice, you will see more injustice. You see those who have no control, those who bring vandalism and senseless acts of emotional reaction. But again, we must be careful not to take one group of bad apples and group them into the same category of race. Black or white people that carry out senseless acts don’t represent ALL black people or ALL white people. Cops that carry out senseless acts of injustice don’t represent ALL cops.

I’m speaking up for the freedoms of my 4 black children that have every right to not be judged by the color of their skin but to be seen as the amazing human beings that they are. I’m speaking up for Jarvis who has the right to be heard and understood, even by people who look completely different than him. I’m speaking up for people who look like me that get misjudged and assumed a racist because we are white.

I learned that by taking time to get to know Jarvis, inviting him to my home, hearing his story, his dreams, and his failures, it opened my eyes to him as a person, not just a stereotype. It did the same thing for him. He had no white friends before spending time with my family. It takes time. It takes effort. Shane and I have been friends with Jenene and Jarvis now for 10 years. Our kids play with their kids. They come over and hang out with our whole family on holidays. So now when I run across a man that looks like Jarvis, I don’t see a stereotype that the world has created, I see a person. That’s why I don’t see just another man being murdered at the hands of white power as he goes on a jog, I see my son, I see my friend. When you create relationships it becomes personal. And yet, for people of color, it’s ALWAYS someone’s son or someone’s friend, and yet it happens over and over again and no one listens to their cries for justice. It’s sad to me that it has taken 400 years to truly open our eyes and our hearts to begin to bridge this gap and love other human beings the way God intended for us all to be loved. We are not there yet. I’m sure I will make mistakes along the way, but I am determined to carry this burden that will not be lost on me. If the world hasn’t heard their cries for justice up to this point then let us rise up and add our voices to theirs. It’s time to live the way God intended us to live, as one nation, under God, indivisible, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. May we be judged for our righteousness, not the sins of past generations that we help carry on to the next. 

Psalm 72:2 May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.

How did a suburban mom like me get to know an inner city guy like Jarvis? We both broke through the comfort zone of believing that everyone had to be from our own neighborhood, look just like us, and talk just like us. It’s an interesting story that changed us, otherwise we would still just be a racist and a thug in each other’s eyes.

God help us love like you love. Let us come together in unity. Let us pray for our nation until we see the dust of the old finally settle into new growth. Abraham Lincoln had an opportunity in his generation to chip away at the wall of segregation. Martin Luther King Jr was given an opportunity in his generation to knock down another layer of racism and grant new liberties.

What will this generation accomplish? Who is sitting at your table? For the sake of our children and their children, it is our turn to end this ongoing battle of racist divide once and for all. Let us start by listening. God help us if we are ever confronted by a man that says “I can’t breathe” and we don’t even take time to hear his voice. 

 

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Photo Credits: danielcwhite.com

 

 

48 thoughts on “A Racist and a Thug

  1. Well said and something we all need to Really think about. It is time we all stand together and find a way for all of us to come together. Thank you for having the courage to write this. “Believe there is good in everyone, Be The Good”. It has to start with each of us and it has to start now.

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  2. As a former Brentwood resident (who also looks like a Karen from the outside), I appreciate your determination to break stereotypes and actually walk your talk. It’s impossible to have any meaningful discussion about racism without acknowledging the 400 years of slavery and oppression that have, consciously and/or unconsciously, shaped all of our attitudes and beliefs about each other. It is inherent in us all. But it CAN change, and I believe your incredibly well written, and enlightening post can help further that conversation. Thank you.

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  3. Once again you have inspired and moved me, what a great story. You continue to change the world, one person at a time. I am happy to be a small part of that change!

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      1. I agree NO one should be judged by color. Served my time in the military, never saw color only friends and soldiers, and your right, we can make a change, even if its one person at a time. It can and will happen.
        With that said….. come on… A sox hat GO CUBS LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Favorite writing on this so far! We have to ask ourselves these hard questions and overcome them with relationships! Racism is not just an American problem, it is a world problem. Found in every country. In Albania where we work, it’s the Roma Gypsy that the Albanians are racist against. We are now working in those communities. I think that I am not racist, but asking those hard questions, and what all is going on, I don’t know if I would be fearful. The enemy wants to create fear. It’s his best weapon! Well done. Well said. I will share and hope to make a difference. Praying for good change in our country through this.

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  5. Great article and I loved reading your perspective. Might I make one suggestion for you as you continue to write in the future? It’s a subtle change but super important. Stop using the word “race”. Race is not even a scientific word. I would encourage you to look up its history as you did African slaves. The word “race” comes from evolutionary thinking which classifies people into categories of people, thus segregating them. This term is ingrained in American culture but by using the word race you’re trying to say things are equal when evolution says they aren’t.
    There is only one race, the human race. People groups, ethnicities and culture is what makes the differences in people. Our skin is all made up of the same thing, melanin, we just have different amounts of it which accounts for the shades of skin color. Research eugenics and miscegenation and you’ll see why you’ll stop using the word race. The word race, was created by those who elevated the white race already. The terminology is derogatory, demeans our African American friends but have been ingrained into our society because of our schools. We’ve got to unlearn it, it’s been disproven countless times, and we’ve got to change the way we say things.
    Again, great article. You’re not the only one who uses the word race, but I’m doing my part to help show people a better way.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with the message I, in good faith, think you are trying to spread here … but now doesn’t seem like the right time to be talking about how white people get racism too. It was really cringe to read you trying to say as an affluent white person you’re somehow also a victim. Completely unnecessary to this story.

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    1. Lester, I think you missed the point. Any comment about racism geared toward me was from the perspective of what Jarvis initially thought about me before he knew me. It is the outside perception of each other’s different races before we actually know each other as a person. I do not feel like a victim. Could I be misjudged sometimes by my appearance? Sure. We all are. That is more of the point here.

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      1. I wonder if Lester means, though I certainly do not mean to put words in his mouth, is sharing your story can come across as centering on you, as opposed to centering on Jarvis. It can also come across as patting oneself on the back. It is totally understandable you are concerned for your children, but maybe they could share their experience. (Though I’m not sure this is necessarily the problematic part of the story.) Or Jarvis could be interviewed about his experience and/or his perception of his relationship with you, as a few examples.

        The concern is white people are inserting themselves into the narrative, when really what people need to understand is the experience of black people (and in other cases, other cultures as well). Your story is definitely an interesting one, but during this time people are trying to put the focus on black voices and black peoples’ experiences of racism. I hope that makes sense, and by no means am I the expert on this topic.

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      2. Erin thank you for your comment. This makes for good conversation. I do, however, believe that white people need to be inserted into the narrative because we are where the problem began. Our ancestors started this by horribly mistreating the black culture hundreds of years ago. So if we (the white people)can insert ourselves into the narrative to now own the responsibility and use our voices to repent of the acts of our forefathers, speak up to actually advocate, and help make things right by not just talking about it but by living an example of it then that is where healing begins. This is not just the fight of black people, it’s all our fight to make things right. Feel free to join us on Facebook live tomorrow night at 8 central where Jarvis and I together will address all of this. 😊 Thanks again for your insight.

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      3. Hi Kelly, I definitely believe white people need to take ownership, but after reading the article and your comments a few times, I still see how Lester could think what he commented (based only on his words of course since I don’t know him). He shared that it made him feel cringy and that was not addressed or acknowledged. I don’t think he was trying to be unkind, though I can’t speak to his intentions. But instead of telling someone they missed the point, it may be good to look at (by asking directly or being curious) why someone couldn’t see your point. Could your story have been mentioned less? Could Jarvis have been mentioned more? Could the wording have been different? Could it have been made more clear that these are the things Jarvis thought of me and were not my thoughts only?

        White people have frequently been listened to – black people have not. That’s what I meant by white people inserting themselves into the narrative – white people may make it about their emotions and their experience. White people say how racism should be fixed, when black people have their own ideas taken over. I definitely did not mean that white people have nothing to do with what is going on.

        I have heard from more black people than not (though each person may of course feel differently) that they want to hear from black voices. That white people should speak up by sharing resources, or the stories and experiences of black people instead of talking about themselves, their experiences, and how they feel. That they are tired of the white person being the savior, although white people are going to have to play role. If Jarvis loves this story, far be it from me or anyone else to take that away from him. I’m glad you all have a good relationship and I will be interested to hear his thoughts as they may offer another perspective and differ from what I’ve been hearing.

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      4. Again, thanks for your thoughts, Erin. I am always open to hearing other’s thoughts on this subject. It is always difficult to capture the full essence of a story through words. Words will always fail and fall short as we express ourselves. I certainly could have fallen short in my writing which could be the reason Lester perceived it as he did. Experience is all I know to speak from. Jarvis and I both would love to have you listen in tomorrow night and share your thoughts after hearing his perspective. I will never claim to speak for him. He has plenty to say on this himself. I’m happy to give him the platform. ❤️

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  7. Hello Kelly
    Thanks for the article. First perceptions come from a place deep inside all of us and very often lead us to wrong conclusions and can have very negative consequences on people. One thing to note is that you say his “white colleagues “ but his colleagues were Latino, Asian, and African American. Abuse of power is not owned by any particular race. In this case even the African American police officer fell into the narrative that African American men are a threat to society and can be stopped via any means necessary.

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  8. “Story after story of unarmed black men and women getting killed at the hands of white people”

    There are also stories after stories of unarmed white men and women getting killed at the hands of black people. Do you need to see the FBI’s crime statistics? It’s far more likely for a white person to be raped or killed by a black person that the other way around. Why don’t you discuss that?

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    1. Andre, of course there are countless stories of any color of people killing another. Do I need to see the FBI’s crime statistics? Sir, I AM one of those statistics. Simply google my name and see what pops up. Why don’t I discuss it? I have discussed it. It is my story. I’ve lived it. Only my assault was not committed by a black person. Both men were white. Two of them. Where does that fall in the statistics? But regardless, that is not the point here. Our focus today on the black community is a result of 400 years of oppression and a complete culture of people not even being regarded as humans but as trade and slaves from the moment they entered this country. White people did not come here in chains as slaves. Black people did. Think about trying to overcome that stigma that was implanted into the minds of Americans from the moment they arrived. Well, it’s been 400 years and that mindset still exists in some people today. That is what the narrative is about here. Not simply crime statistics. To regard black people equal to white people as they are in the eyes of God…That is the goal. These actions that result in crime are simply one of the results of a much deeper problem that lies in our hearts. Thank you for your comment.

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  9. Beautifully written, powerful, and inspirational…A good friend of mine shared this with me and we are both curious about how you and Jarvis met. Is this something you addressed in a different blog post?
    Thank you!

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    1. Thank you for your support. We actually just did a Facebook live video last night on my page where we told our story. I will link it in a follow up blog post soon. 😊 You can still see it on my page. It is public.

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  10. His colleagues weren’t white. Can you please fix that? I just feel if you’re going to write about an event you should state the correct facts.
    One was Asian. One was black. And only one was white.

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    1. I can change it if it bothers you that much but this also makes for great conversation. What makes a person white or black? Is Asian a color? From perception in the video they all look white. So my description is based off of actual color. So in actuality what you are describing is race, not color. So then what color is the Asian? What color is the black man if he is the same shade as the Asian? If we are talking color then he is definitely not black in color. There are “white” people that get darker tans than him. And then if we are talking race then someone else corrected me and said we shouldn’t say race because there is only one human race. So then if it’s not race then it’s back to color. Then that goes back to my questions. What actual color are they then if I am describing them all as a color from what I am perceiving? I get your point. But grouping one color/race together and labeling them all the same seems similar to what black people face. My son is Ethiopian. So should he be grouped as African or black? His skin color is brown. Gets kind of confusing doesn’t it? But again, I’m glad you raised the point because it makes for great conversation. We are all learning how to talk about these things. 😊 Thank you for your comment.

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      1. One Christmas, our church ran a program to purchase Christmas presents for children of prisoners in Camden, NJ (a very urban city). A white male member of our church volunteered to drive the gifts to the homes of the various prisoners’ children (a predominantly black neighborhood). While he did not experience any problems, a Camden cop stopped him within minutes of entering the neighborhood. The officer just wanted to know what he was doing there. After our volunteer explained, the cop escorted him to each address. Our volunteer was not offended by the cop who had legitimate reason for asking why he was there.

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      1. Yes, I was trying to keep the focus on the cop helping your friend rather than the point that he stopped the man and asked questions based on the fact that he was white. My remark about this scenario in my blog post is in reference to my son being stopped within his own neighborhood, not an outside neighborhood and immediately being asked if he had drugs and a gun. He was being profiled in that instance and then there is the fact it was his own neighborhood. Our neighborhood is predominately white but that should not give a police officer reason to stop him and ask him questions based on his color and the fact that he didn’t “look” like he fit in. When actually he lived there. It’s just all profiling in the name of protection. I am glad your friend had a good experience and was not asked if he had drugs or a gun in his car. I know there are a lot of helpful and nice cops out there that do their best to help in all situations.

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  11. Hi Kelly,
    I am curious because I didn’t see it mentioned in your post, but what have you done to specifically address your outrage over your black sons being pulled over and getting asked if they have drugs or guns in the car with your local police department? I could also speak to many other parts of your post that I would like to discuss further, but I will just start with that question.

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    1. Hi Jess, Over the course of the past few years my black sons would get stopped for what I considered “courtesy checks” to really just get their info and see what they were doing. All the police officers have given reasons in the past. Once was for window tint they said was too dark but when my white sons drive the same car that does not happen to them. Another was checking for expired tags, etc. They have all given excuses that I have just let go and unfortunately just wrote off as another profile situation, never really feeling I could do anything about it. It wasn’t until this last, most recent incident have one of them ever been asked if they had drugs or a gun and not given any reason at all for being pulled over. So I currently have my son’s information turned in with a detective on the force and he is pulling the records to see who it was that ran a report on my son and if there is any video of the stop. Since he was not given any documentation and he does not remember the policeman’s name I must wait to try to figure out who it was and then I will be looking to get more clear facts about what happened. Our police department has a general order already put into place for Bias Based Profiling to prevent and prohibit the practice of bias based profiling. Unfortunately the order starts with this sentence. “It is the policy of this Dept to investigate suspicious persons, incidents, and other activities that officers encounter on patrol.” So I guess what do they consider a “suspicious person” is the question. Thanks for your comment. Feel free to ask me anything else.

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  12. I’m assuming your police department is the Brentwood Police Department, which is also mine. I think if you go and file a complaint each time you may get further. Your son should not have to remember his name and no one should ever ask your child that question for any simple stop. You can help make a change! This is not ok.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’d like you to clarify this statement and explain why you blame White people for this, “ This is a 400 year old story! It began in 1619 when men and women were kidnapped from Africa, brought to America, and forced into slavery to be bought and sold and treated as nothing more than animals traded for agriculture and cargo…all at the hands of white supremacists. That is how Africans were initially brought into this country,”. I feel as though you created this one line to defend your narrative. Can you provide sources as to how you developed the theory white supremacists stoke blacks out of Africa…and you do realize Africans were sold to countries all over the world. Correct?

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    1. Hello. I’m happy to clarify. My theory is known history. Feel free to google the history of black Americans and read through wickipedia, National Geographic, History Channel…it’s simple history and it would enlighten you to research. You will see the words “captured” and “forced” into slavery many times. And it’s interesting you acknowledge that Africans were sold to countries all over the world. Of course they were. They were “captured” and “sold” to all white countries for slavery. How do you think they were captured if you question my theory? There are plenty of horrific things that have happened to people in all countries of the world. But if we claim to be American we have the obligation to speak up for the rights and freedoms of other Americans, especially those with a history of persecution by our ancestors.

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  14. I appreciated your article and the spirit in which it was written. I take it to heart, but I also take a larger view of the problem. Yes, we are all part of the Human Race, but this is a problem within the whole Human Race as well. Ethnic, linguistic, political, and religious differences have plagued us since the curse of the Tower Babble [if one wants to simplify it all to one story or event] and are not confined to the USA. We, as the human race, are constantly pushing the narrative of “either you are blood or you are bleed”, privileged or not privileged, not feared or feared, in or out, and the financial/wellbeing consequences of being in one group or the other. I do not really understand how to strive against such a herculean task as changing such a pervasive heart-set and mind-set that has plagued humankind since prehistoric times. At times the enormity of it all seems Quixotic to me. But to do what we can in our own neighborhood is, I think, unquestionably our duty to attempt. Thank you again for your post.

    Speaking of Wikipedia history… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_the_Muslim_world

    I was born in Cairo, Egypt, to American Expats in 1953. We lived in the “Arab Quarter”. I saw this first hand, in the middle/late 20th century, the subjugation of “darker-skinned” and rural peoples of Egypt. Police and society at large were brutal to them. I knew friends of my parents and friends of our servent who were essentially slaves, those who’s official papers were in the possession of the “owners” and not paid but had food and shelter of some type. If one was of Arab descent, one had no problems like this. Also, Coptic Christians, though not slaves, were only allowed the trash collector, street sweeper, janitorial, doorkeeper, low-end menial jobs, and no job of any political or ruling status. Only Arab Muslims, as differentiated “The Muslim Brotherhood” and as differentiated from the ex-pat community, were the preferred class and the darker-skinned Muslims were the next down on the opportunity rung of the societal ladder. Many of this last group would be harassed as you describe your “black” sons if they did not take special care to be extra clean, very well dressed, and deferential to all.

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