Last night I worked out in a local park. Chin ups, dips, and body weight squats in the DC heat. Not long into my workout little black children gathered around me. One boy wanted to do chin ups too, so I lifted him up and down while his hands gripped the bar. Then his sister wanted in on the action. She was older and heavier.
Then we had piggyback races. The black boy’s younger sister joined us. I put one of the negro children on my shoulders and raced the other two over a hill. I was getting tired, but I didn’t want to disappoint the little ones. They cheered me on and called for more races.
We played tag on the playground. Soon all the children in the park were involved. They would come up to me and ask if they could play too. Parents were either absent or lackadaisical, sitting on benches or talking amongst themselves. No one seemed to mind. No black parents thought that the white man was appropriating their children.
Let me tell you how exhausting it is to play tag with black kids. It’s a kind of workout I haven’t had in a while. For years my exercise has taken the form of sets and reps, structured time in gyms with dumbbells and barbells. Last night was a welcome change. I rediscovered the freedom of unstructured play and the innocence of childhood.
Those kids didn’t care that I was white. They weren’t nursing resentment or harboring fears. There was no tension. No Facebook arguments about which lives matter. It was just people in a park enjoying themselves.
For a moment I understood how people buy into the idea of cultural conditioning. People aren’t born bad, they’re corrupted by their environment. You take a decent person, expose them to violence and cruelty, force them to fight for scraps and then wait for them to fuck up. You see, they can’t control themselves. They are savage and ignorant.
I saw goodness in those black children. They wanted to have fun. But then again, maybe I just happened to get a good crop. Some people are born malicious and stupid. It’s not as simple as we want it to be. If we all lived in a just society, if we all cared for others as much as we cared for ourselves, if it weren’t for the military industrial complex, white supremacy, etc
Everyone has a bumper sticker resolution for the strife that plagues the human race. Children seem innocent and good to us, but we also project our own longing for peace and innocence onto them. They too hold hatred and selfishness within them. They are egoistic and violent as well as imaginative and giving. Environments shape who they are, but they too shape their environments.
I played tag until my muscles were tight and my lungs were close to bursting. They wanted to keep playing. I compromised by hanging out a while longer and talking with them. We sat on a hill and talked about school and having girlfriends. Dante, the five year old, said he had a girlfriend. They hadn’t kissed yet. I told him not to rush into things. Plenty of time ahead of him for crushing ass.
Difficult as it was, I tore myself away from my new crew and told them that I’d be back. They said they would miss me. My heart, hardened by years of selfish, cold rationalism, melted into a puddle. I saw visions of racial harmony, of a better, more peaceful society. It was a touching moment that brought some much needed levity to my leaden soul. But now it’s time to get back to reading bitter people condemning each other.