I had a recent experience to take out a nice man who is interested in becoming better at fishing. It was a very interesting day.
Right to the point, this man is black. About two hours into the trip he caught me by surprise “Neil, I like the way you think. I’ve read a lot of your stuff. I’ve talked to people about you. What do you think about the black/white thing in America?” I wasn’t all that eager to get involved in this one. But not afraid to. I can tell you one thing for sure in life: I am not afraid of anything.
Now, I could have ducked it. I am very good at choosing which route I go in life. I was curious enough to engage on this one. Again, he was a nice guy and I did want to know what was on HIS mind. So we went forward with it. He’s the client. The last thing I want to do is say the wrong thing to a client. But, I am Neil Taylor, I am probably going to say what I think…. It is a gift. It is a curse. The guy was so nonchalant, I thought this may go alright. But I thought about backing completely out. I did not.
I went the route of turning it back on him first. He didn’t want to give his side up but I knew he would tell me after he heard what I have to say. I started out by telling him that I had not witnessed a great deal of bigotry in my life and what I had wasn’t directed at the people who were the target. He listened. I continued “I was an umpire.” I paused. He took the chance to say something.
He said “Yeah, I know, and that’s one of the greatest things I have ever heard.” Not a huge baseball fan he was interested to talk to an umpire.
I said “As an umpire I would say I was treated as bad or worse than people of any color. I can’t say what it is to be black. But I can tell you what it is to be an umpire. It was dehumanizing. Black, white, yellow, purple no one of any of those colors was ever treated like an umpire.” He laughed. I said “Certain things in life do give you perspective.” I never treated people the way I was treated. Exactly the opposite. I have been a loyal friend, overly generous and so many times got abused for it. So is life. My father told me a long time ago “You might reconsider doing some of those things.” He was right. I have reached that point. Lousy people will do that for you. But I told him “No one on Earth has it worse than the baseball umpire.” Live and learn.
I asked him “What do you think?” He said, very plainly “I don’t see a black/white problem. Like you: I haven’t seen this bigotry everyone talks about. I hear all this stuff but it is just talk. My job, I wouldn’t have gotten it if I wasn’t black. That’s a fact. I’m not sure how I feel about that entirely but I am happy to have this job. Instead of straight bigotry I see people tiptoeing around me because of my color.” That was interesting.
The black/white thing is an agenda. People trying to push their politics. Jesse Jackson? Al Sharpton? These athletes who talk like they know what they are talking about: They’re just making stuff up. I’m not going to get into that. It does remind me of Bill Clinton’s painful memories of church burnings as a child. He brought up the National Anthem. Players who don’t want to stand for it. He said “This is partially a black thing. Almost fascinating. The one guy, parents are white. Just what is it he is protesting? Being a millionaire.” I told him I hadn’t thought about the race element and that ultimately if someone wants to embarrass themselves: Feel free (I also told him I thought the league failed. You don’t want to stand for the anthem? There a place called the lockerroom. You’re welcome to stay there until the game starts. If you want to protest, pretty easy to call a press conference. Those media idiots will listen).
About his job I said “That was your opportunity. There is nothing to think about. Think about this: If I was black instead of white: I would have been a Major League umpire.” He laughed. He apologized for laughing. I didn’t skip a beat. I didn’t say anything about any other umpire. The fact of it is, with my talent, if I was black instead of white I would be approaching crew chief in the major leagues now. I didn’t tell him the other stories I have but they are very much race related. “I tried to be a major league umpire. It didn’t happen. That is the end of that story.”
We went back to fishing and it dropped for a while. He came back with “How many flat out racist people do you know?” I said “Well, let me think for a minute.” And I took about 15 seconds and said “I can probably count them on the two hands I have.” He said “And you probably know 100,000 people?” I said “Approximately.” He said “Maybe it isn’t as bad as it is made out to be.”
He then asked “Have you ever been called racist?” Me, “twice.” He nodded and asked what the situations were. “One, a guy in college who was too stupid to be talking made that remark. Before I could get to him my friend belted him. The second, from my childhood, a guy who called me that on the internet. I haven’t seen him yet but when I do, it’s on.” He said “I might be racist. I am not very fond of Muslims.” I said to him “That’s probably not so abnormal. I really haven’t known any. It might make us both racist? From what I’ve seen I’m somewhat skeptical of them myself.”
I told him: The world is full of interesting things. One is the blame game. To me, a lot of racism is a joke, part of the blame game. I related a story. The Pub: A great place with a lot of really good people. I told him “We all sit outside. I named our group The Porch Monkeys.” He nodded. I continued “Now, what followed was both interesting and stupid at the same time. Just a couple of people said something about it. Their contention was that the phrases were bad.” I told him that I contacted a college friend who works on Capitol hill. I told him about it and it was brought up at a meeting of “what’s wrong with America.” The client, a sharp guy said “But you were calling yourselves that not directed at anyone else?” I said “That’s correct.” He said “That’s too bad.” I said “This is where we are. We want to be offended when there isn’t anything offensive.” My dagger: My friend in Washington, DC is black.
We had covered it pretty well. I didn’t convey the whole conversation. He ended with “I would rather be around people like you than other kinds of people. You are not the only white person I feel that way about. I wish more people felt the same way.” I told him “you can’t even try to evaluate how other people act. It is a waste of your time. Live your own life. It sounds like you want to do it the way I do. You should be just fine.” He said “I’m glad I asked,”
Oh yeah, he caught 23 pompano.
I may not be in charge of race relations in America. But we will be catching fish.
Neil Taylor is an outdoor writer, speaker, owner of capmel.com and Strike Three Kayak Fishing.
Strike Three Kayak Fishing