• Jeffrey Zalles

A Long Time Ago on a Manhattan Sidewalk

A sheltered existence is a good way to describe my upbringing in a white suburb in upstate New York. Although I was aware that racism existed, I never observed it or gave it much thought. That all changed during a visit to New York City in the mid 1970’s.

As I approached a busy Manhattan intersection on foot, I looked ahead to see a young Black man, about my age, walk toward a taxicab stopped at a red light, its dome indicating it was available for hire. He bent over slightly to wave at the driver and as he clutched the door handle, the light changed, and the cab sped off across the intersection to pick up a white person on the opposite corner. As it pulled away, the man took his fist and hit the side of the cab hard enough to dent it. For an instant, I became that man and the rage and disgust I experienced was so intense that my fists clenched and every muscle in my body stiffened. Had a brick been in my hand, I surely would have thrown it through the cab’s back window.

As a society, we should never condone the acts of violence or property damage that have been occurring during some Black Lives Matter protests. They only harm the innocent and are mostly counter-productive. But they are not actions of selfishness or criminality. Rather, they are the consequence of lifetimes of hurt, anger and frustration. Now, with the omnipresence of cellphone cameras and social media, we have all borne witness to the discrimination and brutality regularly inflicted on Black Americans. Only when each of us experiences the visceral rage and disgust that I felt that day on a Manhattan sidewalk will we finally be on the path to end racial injustice, once and for all.