• Nick Henderson

A run - in with racism

Updated: Sep 14

“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” Abraham Heschel


I was 15 years old living in Pensacola, FL when I experienced racism for the first time. The experience was both demoralizing and shocking. To set the plot, I am half – black and half – white. I was raised by a single white mother who worked in the office of a small shipping company. I attended private school until I was 9, spent my free time playing baseball, watching music parody YouTube videos and attending youth group at church. To put in plainly, I am not someone who does or has ever given off the impression of “acting black.” Which, unfortunately, is typically associated with causing trouble, using slang terminology and acting irresponsibly.


Knowing this, the experience began when I went to visit a friend who lived in a more rural part of town. In doing so, we stopped by his school to pick up his schedule for the upcoming school year. As we walked in, all the student’s chatter came to a halt. All eyes were on me. I was uncomfortable but tried not to think about it. We quickly grabbed my friends’ schedule and left.


Later that night, I could see my friends’ phone was blowing up with texts. I asked him what was going on, in which he replied “Nothing, don’t worry about it.” As I persisted, he informed me that the people at his school were “being dumb” and saying negative things about me. I asked for clarification. He then showed me his texts, which were riddled with horrible racial slurs towards me. Dozens of texts. Things so crude that I can’t repeat them on this post. But all I could say was “Those people don’t even know me! Why would they say those things?” It bothered me to my core. In fact, it sticks with me to this day. The pain of being ignorantly judged on the color of my skin rather than the content of my character is something I will never forget.


As I mentioned earlier, my upbringing was not one that I thought would dictate a run in with racism. I didn’t threaten any of those people, I never committed a crime, nor did I even carry myself in a manner that would give off the impression that I’d do anything detrimental. My favorite band at the time was Rascal Flatts. I was far from the “Gangster” or “Thug” they labeled me as.


Ahmaud Arbery

Fast forwarding 10 years, the reality of racism remains. Most recently with the terrible murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud, who was on a run near his home, was shot and killed by two men who felt like it was their duty to 1) Wrongfully identify a burglary suspect and 2) Chase him down to apprehend him – with guns. To no one’s surprise, things went south and now an innocent young man is dead. For no reason besides ignorant action, stupidity and evil intent.


Obviously, these are two horrible situations. Ahmaud’s being far more horrendous. My heart and prayers go out to his family and friends. But that won’t bring him back; Nor will it cure the chaos of this issue.


I am not an expert, nor consider myself a racial justice activist – but I am a human being with compassion and common sense. A human who understands what it’s like to be viewed as a race instead of a real person.


The Cure

Knowing this, it is my firm belief that the cure to this tragedy is the same cure for most things: empathy. The action of empathizing with the fact that not all people in this world are judged consistently on their character. The fact that there is an entire race of people who have drawn the short straw and lack opportunities and fair treatment because of it.


You don’t have to be black or even experience what they go through to empathize with them. In humility, fight to understand. Don’t justify your side or even highlight the fact that you’ve overcome obstacles too. It does nothing to bridge the gap. Just be empathetic and encouraging. Come along side of them as opposed to debating them.

My prayer is that this country truly becomes one unified nation under God. Not a situation where we don’t see color. Color surely exists; But it’s about appreciating the diversity that is present as opposed to condemning it.


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nwhenderson@second.org