I was going to post on a different topic, but in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, let me mention a book I read yesterday, Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. One of my colleagues read this and recommended it, and my local library had a copy, so I picked it up. It's the true story of the unlikely friendship between a homeless African American man and a wealthy white art dealer, told in both of their first-person voices. While the book is a little uneven and random at times, there are a few interesting nuggets worth lifting out.
Denver, during his youth in the mid-20th century South, stops to help a white woman who has a flat tire, and three white guys come and beat him up and nearly kill him, Emmett Till-style, because of it. Even though we've heard many of these stories at this point in history, each new story is a sobering reminder of how many untold incidents like this were never reported.
Ron the art dealer meets Denver while volunteering at a local urban mission, and eventually they come to a point where Denver asks Ron what he wants from him, and Ron says, "I just want to be your friend." Denver responds by saying that when white folks go fishing, they usually catch the fish and then throw it back, while black folks catch the fish, take it home, show all their friends, and eat it and are sustained by it. Denver tells Ron that he's not interested in a "catch-and-release" friendship. But if he wants a real friendship, he'll be friends forever.
Ron has an affair with an artist during business trips. He eventually confesses to his wife, Debbie, who after much anger and tears, tells Ron, "I want to call her." She calls the other woman, tells her that she forgives her, and that she hopes she (the artist) finds someone who will honor her and have a good life with her. And Debbie says something to the effect that she's recommitting herself to Ron and their marriage so that he will have no reason to go back to the artist. Ron is so chastened by all this that he never strays again.
During a meal, Ron tosses his keychain on the table between him and Denver, and Denver asks what the keys are for. Ron owns multiple houses, luxury cars, etc. And Denver asks, "So do you own them or do they own you?" (That made me think through the keys on my keychain and the various commitments each represents.)
At any rate, this isn't the most significant book ever written on racial reconciliation (in my way of thinking about books, it's a skimmer and a check-out-from-the-library book, not a purchase-at-full-price, read-every-word-and-keep-forever kind of book). And many folks could criticize the book as being too simplistic - it's mostly about personal relationship in racial rec, and not as much about systemic issues (why doesn't the art dealer convince all his multibillionaire clients to use their wealth more justly?). But it's still a good narrative reminder of the racial history and challenges in the United States, and the long-term commitments needed to make progress, whether in systemic justice or personal friendships. (And let me plug another book, featured as a book of the day at Urbana - The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change, by Urbana speaker Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson.)