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How a Myth Dies
Sukey Lewis moves to Richmond where reality trumps the myth of the angry black man.
By Sukey Lewis
The story of Trayvon Martin got me thinking about an old myth. Most of us are familiar with this myth: it is the myth of the dangerous black man, the scary black man, the barbaric black man, which has been perpetuated since truly barbarous slave traders first brought African men and women to work in American fields.
Since that time, there have been civil rights advancements not only in the law, but also in the minds and hearts of those of us who struggle with this myth. Still, the myth lives on. Our prisons are stuffed to bursting with this myth, and families are broken under this myth. Big myths are stubborn things, but the small facts of our lives are more stubborn still.
A month ago I moved to Richmond -- perhaps one of the Bay Area's most mythological places of all -- and I was ready to be scared. Although born in San Francisco, at heart I am a red-haired freckle-faced country girl, and I felt guilty and apprehensive dragging my husband and two-year old son down here so that I could pursue a Masters at UC Berkeley.
However, so far Richmond has given me an alternative narrative to tell my friends who don't want to visit, or my parents who are concerned for their grandchild. Instead of fear, all I have to report is gratitude.
Gratitude for rent that I can afford. Gratitude for a yard with lemon trees. Gratitude for public transportation and beautiful parks. And gratitude for the people I've met. Gratitude for the black man in the park who asked his grandson to share toys with my son. Gratitude for the black man who is my neighbor and mows the weeds growing alongside our sidewalk. Gratitude for the black man cooing to his baby girl as he pushes her in a stroller. Gratitude for the black man next to me in line at Safeway who bought my son a balloon, and when I objected told me, "It's not for you; it's for him, because he is just too good."
Gratitude that reality is not mythology.
With a Perspective, I'm Sukey Lewis.
Sukey Lewis is a graduate student at the UC, Berkeley School of Journalism.