A few weeks ago, a friend and I were having dinner at a laid-back southern BBQ restaurant in Miami. This Saturday night, a large group was seated in the center of the place at a long wooden picnic table, laughing and boisterous under the dim lights. At the end of the table sat a young black man with an afro and a young white man with unruly curly hair just as big as his friends. They were absorbed in conversation, laughing and talking, joining the group conversation now and again.
My friend is 24 years older than me and was telling me stories about his life. He raised his chin pointing to the two boys and smiled.
"I love it," he said. "When I was growing up, that couldn't happen."
He meant back in the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation, when black people had to use separate entrances, weren't allowed to attend the same schools as white kids and the Freedom Riders challenged the status quo. Growing up, he never would have witnessed the same casual scene unfolding before our eyes.
"I just can't imagine that," I said, shaking my head. He smiled.
He loved the fact that that I couldn't comprehend the world he was referring to. That so much had changed in a few short decades to make what he was describing unfathomable to me.
I guess I was lucky. I grew up in a diverse town New York. My mom loves telling the story about how I came home from preschool begging her to braid my hair the same as my friend, with tons of tiny little braids with beads on the end that made music when she danced.
I dated a Haitian friend for a few weeks in high school and remember one night on the way to the movies, when our friends began teasing from the back seat that he had jungle fever, they had to explain to me what it meant.
I am glad my son is too young to notice racially charged stories like the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. It is a reminder that while we have come a long way when it comes to equality, we have not come far enough. Race is still a bitterly divisive issue segregating people along racial lines, united only by the fact that they are not willing to put themselves in the shoes of those on the other side. I wonder when people will realize the lines are imaginary, and to cross them they only need to make up their minds to.
Maybe one night 20 years from now, if my son and I are discussing nation-changing cases such as this one, he will respond by saying, "I just can't imagine that."
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