No choice but to struggle with

From “Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship At A Time” by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick

Once we found some surfable waves, we would park, suit up, and walk into the water until it got deep enough to paddle out. Because there are a lot of surfers in Southern California, the places we went were always pretty crowded. In the two years we surfed together, Bobby was always the only black guy in the water. Always. Guys would give him the side-eye glance. They weren’t hostile. They were just curious. When I caught a wave, nobody cared. I was just another white, blond surfer dude. But when Bobby caught a wave, everybody was watching to see if this black guy knew what he was doing. As a result, Bobby always felt like he was on display. He pointed out that it’s hard to enjoy yourself when you’re being stared at like some sort of carnival sideshow. And this was Bobby’s life – a black man in a white man’s world, in the water and on campus. 

Had this been a story I’d read about in a novel, I doubt I would have cared very much. After all, I was not aware of any sensational examples of hate-filled bigotry at Pepperdine. No exclusions. No insults to speak of. But it was the first time I realized that someone I cared about had no choice but to struggle with – and against – racism. A struggle with race was happening to somebody I cared about. It was the first time I saw things from a black man’s point of view – and gradually, I began to understand that outside of Pepperdine, things happened to Bobby that made surfing with white guys seem like a walk in the park. And for the first time, it bothered me. But it was no longer just about an individual. Because I cared about Bobby, I began to care about the struggles virtually all black people routinely endured.