Here’s a story I’ve not told before.
Eight years ago, the day after Election Day, I walked alone down the stairs to the train platform at my local MARTA station. As I reached the bottom and walked toward the far end, I passed an older African-American man, maybe mid-60s.
Just the night before, our country had, by a respectable margin, elected Barack Obama president. As I passed this man, I could see aspects of wonder, disbelief, and joy mixed upon his face. I passed right by him, but I don’t think he noticed me.
He was in another world, a dream world that had just become his reality, and while I was certainly happy with the election outcome, I knew in that moment I could never appreciate it even remotely the same way this man could. As a young, white man I could certainly be happy for the outcome, for having done my small part to elect President Obama. I could rejoice that we shared policy priorities and visions for our nation’s future, yet I knew the election outcome could not come close to having the same significance for me that it had for this man, or millions like him, and tens of millions before, who fought, bled, and died, for just the right to vote, let alone see one of their own elected into our nation’s highest political office.
As I said, I haven’t told this story before.
I’ve thought about it a lot, though. At every election, certainly. And often at random, at that MARTA station, or elsewhere when my mind turned to thoughts of — paraphrasing Dr. King — the long arc of the moral universe and its journey toward justice.
It was a private moment, something I was not party of, but rather witness to.
As a middle class, hetero white male I can only begin to empathize. I can only try to understand. I can only be an ally, strive for change, hope for better, ply the few words left to me in service to progress for all.
I tell this story now so you will understand when I say I do not look forward to the expressions I expect to see upon any non-hetero, non-white, non-male faces I encounter at that same train station a few hours from now.
But I will look.
And if any of them can see through their pain, anguish, uncertainty, and fear to register my pale countenance, I hope they find there only a reflection of those same emotions.
The next four years do not bode well, and I don’t for a moment pretend they will be as hard on hetero white male me as they are on my allies.
They stand to lose so much, and I can only offer empathy, understanding, hope.
I can only promise to never look away, nor run.