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Way back in grade school, in a galaxy far, far away, I encountered a strange situation. It was during recess as I, my brother and some friends wandered the school playground. A ball, similar to what was used to play dodge ball, came rolling up to us. Instinctively, my brother picked it up. Moments later, a little black girl came running up to him. She yelled, "You ain't nothin' special, white boy; give me that ball!" She snatched it out of his hands and ran off.

Now, at the time, we all laughed, finding it amusing that the spunky little girl had the nerve to tell older white boys that they weren't special. Easy enough to brush aside, because of the source, and we knew the statement to be untrue. Our mothers told us repeatedly that we were indeed special. To this day, my brother and I will humorously spout that phrase to another sibling attempting to show signs of being superior.

But I sometimes look back and wonder as to the real motives of the child's outburst. It occurred during the '60s, a time when racial tensions were high. Perhaps the girl's mother told her every day that she was more special than the white kids at her school. Perhaps she told her daughter she was special because no one else would tell her so. Maybe the girl was teased by white kids because of her race. Maybe she came home crying because of the bullying. Perhaps even worse things had occurred to her. Her comment was most likely meant to stave off any threat from me before I could even consider bullying her or taking the ball from her.

Can the races, and genders, ever really get along? Those of us who grew up in the '60s experienced it, read about it and saw it on television almost every day. A black kid grabbed me by the shirt and slapped me several times in junior high for nothing other than being a short white kid unlikely to retaliate. It affected my view of black people for a long time. Later, living in the Deep South for many years actually helped me see that not all black people wanted to slap the crap out of me. Probably more white people wanted to do such to me than than those who were black.

Fifty years later and I believe we haven't learned much on either side. There seems to be a defensiveness among white people. Whites often empathize with the plights and experiences of those of color, who, in turn, are dismissed because they are white and can never understand the experiences of being of color. Sometimes we go too far, though, in trying to show how tolerant we are of others. We become patronizing, as in, "some of my best friends are black/Asian/female/other" and end up demonstrating the same quality we deny to possess. But when we make those distinctions and statements, we implicitly affirm the accusation. The accusations of "white privilege" can be hurtful, but we dare not express that sentiment for fear of appearing to be insensitive to those who had no such "privilege."

True equality is not equality of outcome; it is equality of access. Granting special privilege to any group simply because they are a minority, only affirms that the minority is not equal. True equality will come only when we can describe a person by their character, attitude and actions; and not by their skin color or ethnicity. Or perhaps when none of us is "special."

I want to be hopeful, but I feel these issues may still persist for another 50 years.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 03/27/2019

Print Headline: You ain't nothing special

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