I’ve been told, “It’s a visual reference. That’s why people say this black guy.” I answer, “Then why don’t we ever say this white guy?” Pause for reflection. These broad sweeping descriptors have irritated me all my life. Well, maybe not all my life but certainly the whole of my adult life (when I realized that terms like Black and White often mean exactly nothing). If someone describes me as white I have no idea what that means. Likewise when I hear someone described as black I wonder exactly what picture the speaker is attempting to paint. One might describe me as “mother” though the term is still impossibly broad. What kind of mother? A work-out mom? An NPR mom? A sling-wearing, fuzzy-armpit mom? A guitar-playing, chocolate-craving mom? Perhaps my father being a police detective has more than a little to do with it. I grew up knowing that witnesses while crucial to any trial are notoriously unreliable. Five witnesses produce five different accounts. As a child I made mental notes of everything around me. I learned to observe that the clerk, 5’10” brown hair, fair skin, younger than my dad, was wearing a red shirt with a black baseball cap. He had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve.
This excerpt from a book I’m reading by Tom Perrotta struck me as odd:
“I just ran into him,” Larry explained. “Outside the library.”
“I hope he’s not as good as you said,” said a lanky guy with an orthopedic brace on one knee.
“He played in college,” said Larry. “How bad could he be?”
Todd didn’t think this was the right time to explain that he hadn’t been a starter and that it was a very small college. He already felt like enough of a civilian in his cargo shorts and polo shirt.
“I’m a little behind the curve here,” he said. “Who are you guys?”
“We’re the Guardians,” said the drill sergeant.
“We’re cops,” said the black guy.