The Broome County Council of Churches (based in Binghamton, NY) produces a weekly television program, a throw-back to the days when local stations donated “public service” time to non-profits and religious groups. Ordinarily, a volunteer host introduces a guest or two, and while sitting on a section of the news set, they talk about some aspect of the church council’s ministries.

I am the new guy in the host rotation. Today, with the original topic scrubbed due to a scheduling problem, the Executive Director of the Broome Council of Churches joined me to talk about the unrest (the situation? the tragedy? the demonstrations?) in Baltimore. I’m the first to admit that, given the short notice we had, there wasn’t any planning or strategy involved. Essentially, we had two “hosts” and no guest, and opted to simply engage in a conversational approach to the not-quite-defined topic.

Joe and I met in the lobby of the station and talked for ten minutes or so before we moved into the studio. I kidded with Joe when I came through the front door of the station: “You couldn’t find a black friend to join us in this thing?” He may have been taken aback by my frankness, but mentioned a person he might have invited if we’d had more notice. It would have enriched the conversation to be sure, but there was that awkward realization that calling an African-American friend and saying, “Hey, we could use your [black] viewpoint as we discuss the crisis in Baltimore; can you drop everything and come share your thoughts?” — well… see what I mean?

So there we were, one old white guy (me) and one middle-aged white guy (Joe) waiting for the theme music and the camera’s red light to come on. Joe had told me of his dissertation and its exploration of the post-WW2 GI Bill’s promotion of the homogenization of residential communities for returning vets, perhaps the seeds of what would later become called “white flight.” Joe came armed with a sermon by Martin Luther King, and a sizable tome, the title of which I have already forgotten. But it was clear Joe had done his homework, and some serious thinking about the roots of injustice that fed the fear, anger, frustration, and resentment that was exploding now in the city of Baltimore.

I came with far less. All I could bring to the table (or the news desk) was an admission of my having been born in “white privilege,” a local kid with no contact with another race throughout my childhood, thoroughly middle class, but raised with an understanding of the “Beatitudes” of Jesus that proclaimed the blessedness of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (or for right to prevail, God’s justice to triumph), and the blessedness of the poor, the poor in spirit and/or the poor in material things (depending on the gospel one reads).

I confessed that I had never hungered…thirsted…cried out for justice. Never had to. Thus, I could not condemn or walk in the shoes of those who did, who do cry out, in the streets and neighborhoods of Baltimore or anywhere else.  And I have never been anything approaching “poor.” So, I took to heart the blogs and newspaper columns of African-American writers who said something along the lines of, “If you haven’t lived in these neighborhoods, under these conditions, in this kind of poverty, with rampant unemployment and a poverty of education, don’t judge us…don’t try to sympathize, patronize, or baptize us with your wisdom or commentary.” Along those lines…

So there we were, Joe and I, two white guys talking about Baltimore, from quite a distance. And on TV for all to see.

For all the homogeneity of the two hosts, I think we did offer a thoughtful discussion, and hopefully more light than heat, something that not all TV “commentators” can claim. Not that I’m too self-congratulatory here. Because even as we talked on camera, I was wondering, “If I were an African-American, how would I be hearing this conversation?” And that’s not a bad thing to wonder with every comment we make about those in whose shoes we have not walked.

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