The trees passed indescernibly. Just brush strokes of deep green shades that melded into one another like a continuous stream of watercolor. I probably didn’t blink. My mind was too busy. Thinking. Figuring.
“Dad, I don’t know any Black people,” I said, turning toward the driver’s seat.
My father stared incredulously for a split-second then cracked up full force. A deep, rolling belly laugh. “What about Billy?”
Billy was his best friend. A Black man I had known for several years who I had apparently ceased to think of or perhaps never thought of as Black. I can’t remember.
“And Jerry? And Pascal? And Merlin? And big Mo?” My dad hammered his point home through his perpetual laughter.
I thought about my mentors, competitors, and coaches and said something like: “Holy s*&$! I know a bunch of Black people!” I was jolted by the electric shock of seeing what had apparently been elusive of focus.
And my dad responded something typical of white, Jewish, upper-middle-class, educated, liberal 1986, situated more toward 1964 than the 21st century, which would have gone something like, “Yeah, you don’t even see them as Black.” At the time, colorblindness was an indubitable compliment, and the proud sensation of that stuck to my skin until recently.
When I conjured Jerry in my mind, it was his strong presence of a gentle giant, his history as champion girls’ basketball coach of Shiprock, NM, in Navajo Nation, and his giant, swollen brand of an omega (for the Black fraternity Omega Psi Phi) on his lean, muscular, perfect Black shoulder. Now I think of him as the victim of a tragic and deadly hit-and-run four years into his coaching career at University of Central Florida. With Pascal, and Merlin, and big Mo, my thoughts centered around the jerk chicken and the battle across the volleyball net that signified my passage to adulthood.