A Man

Several decades ago, my employer moved us and several other families from Memphis to Phoenix.

Arizona was, and still is, a very different place. It’s been a state since only 1912, just barely a hundred years, and while you won’t see cowboys riding horses in the downtown area anymore, you will find most of the California fast food restaurants in great abundance, none from the mid-south, and only a couple from the upper mid-west. And people still prospect for gold here, have gigantic Saguaro cactus plants in their yards, and pay as much for water as they do for electricity when the temperature exceeds 115 degrees. More to the point, Arizona has a much richer, much wider ethnic diversity; there are people here from all over the world.

Within a year of the move, in our small work group of about eight families, a couple of them announced they were moving back to Memphis. One of them, a man with whom I’d worked closely and had grown to respect his technical prowess on complex computer issues, had a large number of relatives back in Memphis. Fearing he too would be leaving, I asked what he planned to do.

“Back in Memphis,” he said after a pause, “I was a black man. Here in Phoenix, I’m a man.”

Thirty years later, our lives have diverged many times over. My home is a different house at a different address but still in Phoenix. And, with extreme rarity, I still run into him at the local electronics store. He stayed, too.

Today, as I listen to the news of riots taking place around the country, I am saddened we still have black men and white men, red men, yellow, brown, and all the other hues of men instead of just plain old, two-legged creatures hobbling along as best as we can through the briar patch of life.

“That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. God made us both.”

Ponca Chief Standing Bear, 1879.

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