Can a white man talk about the Black experience?

Shedrick Thompson and Arthur Jordan are remembered at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala.

During a talk at Germanna Community College in February, a student asked me a question I have long considered.

She wanted to know if I as a white man had the standing to talk about the prejudice experienced by Black people. I answered, yes, I believe I do.

I realize that as a white man in our world, my life has been one of privilege rather than prejudice. I grew up in suburbia, went to private schools, attended two state universities, lived in any neighborhood I could afford, had meaningful work at a living wage, and now enjoy a comfortable retirement. My path was usually clear, not blocked.

Even so, I feel I can talk with authority on one aspect of the Black experience, the lynching era. This belief is based on 20-plus years of study, much of it focused on the deaths of two Black men in Fauquier County, Va., Shedrick Thompson and Arthur Jordan. Thompson and Jordan were innocent victims in the sense that they never saw the inside of a courtroom and never had a chance to explain themselves or challenge their accusers. And the men who lynched them never saw the inside of a courtroom either. They murdered with impunity, the ultimate privilege.

I know it’s a fanciful notion, but while I worked on what became two books, I imagined being able to talk to Thompson and Jordan. I saw myself telling them what I had learned and asking a thousand questions. I imagined that both men would recognize my interest and experience and encourage me. Tell people what happened, they would say. Tell them our stories.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: