Opinion | Can My Children Be Friends With White People? New York Times

By Mel Harkrader Pine

“…I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible,” writes law professor Ekow N. Yankah in today’s New York Times Sunday Review.

To which I say, to borrow a phrase, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. That goes for the Times as well as you, Dr. Yankah.

Despite having grown up in a “diverse and happy-childhood kind of place,” Dr. Yankah uses all the arguments that would be considered racist if used by a white person.

Stressed man sitting at his desk in front of computer

He thinks “the rise of this president has broken bonds on all sides,” so, apparently, all whites are to be mistrusted unless they “have marched in protests, rushed to airports to protest the president’s travel ban [and] shared the risks required by strength and decency.” And Dr. Yankah holds to the penultimate paragraph even that small exception to the all-whites-are-untrustworthy rule.

I doubt that African-American jazz singer Billie Holiday asked white Jewish teacher Abel Meeropol how many protests he had marched in before she read the poem he offered her, the poem that became her haunting anti-lynching song Strange Fruit.

For that matter, I doubt that black pianist and singer Nina Simone, who later recorded the song, asked her white benefactors about their political bona fides before she accepted their contributions to her musical education.

I don’t believe that person-to-person relations between the races, as bad as they are, rate worse marks now than they did in the 1940’s and 1950’s, when a white man handed Billie Holiday a poem and a couple of white women helped a piano prodigy improve her skills.

No, Dr. Yankah, the election of Donald Trump didn’t make all white people bigots any more than the election of Barack Obama made all people of color constitutional scholars. What was it somebody said about the color of one’s skin versus the content of one’s character?

It is more important than ever to see each other as individuals, with some more trustworthy than others, a judgment to be made independent of skin tone.

Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine


  1. Sigh. Is this a new thing? Have activist parents always boasted (in effect) about their bad parenting? Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World And Me could be read as a textbook for parents who seek to diminish resiliency in their children, and increase their chances of developing depression and anxiety disorders.

    In an age when at least 10% of marriages are interracial; when three of the last four presidents had relatives of a different race, when many and perhaps most of us have dear friends and close family who are white,black, brown…does this make any sense at all? How faithless we have become. How lacking in gratitude and courage, and how astonishing that a father would actively seek to diminish his child’s trust in the power of love to overcome even such puny obstacles.

    In real life, I strongly suspect that children are being used as intensifiers in the “see how unhappy and victimized I am” stakes. I had friends earnestly writing to me after Trump was elected that Trump “terrified” their pre-schoolers. Trump did no such thing: the parents had terrified their children, and for no good reason. “What do I tell my kids?” should be answered with “tell them everything is going to be fine. Because it is.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Incidentally, one tip an experienced parent might want to give to that Professor: Dude, it won’t actually be up to you to decide whom your children choose to love and to befriend. Human beings do tend to have minds and hearts of their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. By the way: what astonishing power people have given Trump over their lives, their thoughts, their well-being, their intimate relationships…He’s just the president. For four years. Or eight, if his most impassioned opponents keep up the melodrama.

    Liked by 1 person

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