I started my Sunday morning reading an insightful piece on Bacon on the Bookshelf, a literary blog run by Jennifer Puryear.
The piece starts out, “We are better than this murder.”
She then included a letter from her friend, Rick Ewing, in response to her reaching out to ask how he was doing and what he thought. His words are ones we all need to read and with their permission, we are reprinting Rick’s letter here.
From Rick Ewing:
My wife came to me the other day, eyes still streaming in tears. It didn’t take long to figure out that her sadness came from the news events of the week where our country suffered another racial wound. But apart from her progressive political anger was a deep fear for the life and safety of myself and other members of my family.
My wife is white and I’m African-American. She watched the video of Christian Cooper, a birder enjoying Central Park being threatened to be pursued by law enforcement for the simple slight of asking a white woman to leash her dog under city laws. I have much in common with Mr. Cooper. We’re both middle-aged African-American men, educated in elite schools (him: Harvard, myself: Yale, Trinity & Vanderbilt). We enjoy white-collar careers. We have hobbies that aren’t associated with black folk. And like him, I’ve also been profiled in a negative way due to race, many times.
This should not surprise you. It’s been a fact of life for African-Americans for generations, and sadly, racism often overrides wealth, class and life standing. A Yale classmate was once frisked by police looking for a suspect, despite the only commonality between the two was being a black male (size, height, facial hair were all wrong). And he was dressed in an expensive suit and leather briefcase waiting for the morning train in a wealthy neighborhood with many others. His father was a famous business executive and the apology came swift once it made the national news. But the incident still stung. Yes, it can happen to that guy. So Christian Cooper’s altercation was not a surprise.
Many people who aren’t black shrug incidents like this off. Maybe it didn’t happen the way it was presented. Maybe it was someone just trying to make a scene. Maybe…well, there’s always a maybe. But our families have “talks” with our teenage kids for a reason and they aren’t the same talks you give your kids. We have to make sure that their encounters with law enforcement or strangers don’t end badly or tragically.
I was fortunate that one of my “talks” at age 16 was given by my uncle who was a Memphis cop. He understood how police think. Those rules he gave me saved me less than a year later when I was staked-out by Nashville Metro Police for two hours thinking I was a thief. When four cops surround you suddenly, the fear lodged in your throat is for your life. And I went back to “the rules”. When I watched the death of George Floyd under the boot of cops in Minneapolis, my mind went back to the night I was suspected of a crime, until a fifth cop showed up and realized they had the wrong guy. I was lucky. But I shouldn’t have had to be lucky. I’ve used those rules my uncle gave me ever since.
We African-Americans are frightened. We are angry. But we are also weary. After decades of progress, we still face things you do not. Our ask of you is to view these events as a daily call to action. Being passive about ending bigotry does nothing but perpetuate it. This transcends whatever political shield you carry. We need each and every one of you to be active in the fight, especially with the next generation. Because if you do not, there will be many more Christian Coopers and even worse, more George Floyds.
In the original post on Bacon on the Bookshelf, there is also a letter from a major in the Union Army to his wife, from 1861. His love for her, and for the ideals of their country, are exquisitely expressed. Read the letter here. It’s positioned directly under Rick Ewing’s letter.