I have a young friend who is also named Ray Clifton. We have never met. He is a virtual friend, a connection made through social media. Seems to me that most people today have more of these friendships than real ones. Less messy. More work when it’s flesh and bone. Tolerance. Forgiveness. Things like that.
Our online friendship suggests that Ray and I have some things in common. Sports. Muscle cars (restored in his case, a childhood memory of them rolling off the showroom floor in mine). Opinions on pop culture. We are both Alabamians, separated east and west by a couple of hours on the asphalt ribbon.
We call each other “Big Ray,” “Little Ray,” or “Other Ray.” “Young Ray” and “Old Ray” is closer to the truth. He is young and handsome. I am old enough to be his father.
And then we have our differences. Young Ray is Black. I am White.
When he invited me to be his virtual friend several years ago, he told me there were four other Ray Cliftons on the social media site, and I was the only one who accepted his friend request.
I suppose this means we aren’t racists. He for asking. Me for accepting.
I have the benefit of reflection on the subject of racism. I was a gleam in my father’s eye when Rosa Parks made her stand. A toddler when the 16th Street Bombing happened in Birmingham. A first-grader when Dr. King was shot. I have vague memories of George Wallace. Too young to understand the things that I saw on that twelve-inch black and white television.
My generation. School connected us. We studied and played together. We were the foundation of what was supposed to be the beginning of the end of racism. Oblivious that the country considered Alabama to be ground zero.
My two son’s generation saw more progress. Some blending and acceptance of two distinct cultures. Social segregation by choice, not by law.
Years later the television is much bigger and the images are in high-definition, and I am perplexed by what I see on the news. Cops being shot. Riots and looting. Monuments pulled down. Cars driven into protests. Every word spoken or unspoken analyzed, fomented by politicians and a news media which now seems to create rather than report.
I am not naive. All kinds of racism still exists. But the thing is, I just don’t see that much racism here at ground zero. In Alabama we earn our wages together. Live in the same neighborhoods. We wave. Hold the door. Say things like “please” and “thank you” and “have a blessed day.”
Maybe the common folk have just decided to let it all go. Live and let live. Live together.
My grandchildren and young Ray’s future children. Living side-by-side in peace.
Is it too much to ask?