Gerald Kaufman’s great-grandfather was a slave. His oldest brother, Leonardo, served in the Navy protecting America’s freedom, though he had none back home.
“He had to wait in the colored waiting section to go to Navy boot camp,” said Kaufman, an elder at Southeast Christian Church. “He later became a Louisville divisional police officer. He fought in the Sudan crisis in the Middle East, but did not have rights to sit down in a restaurant. You might wonder what kind of motivation a person has? It’s just a strong belief that God is going to make a thing work out. You know what we can do right now? We can get back to that kind of attitude.”
A Louisville native, Kaufman remembers things getting pretty ugly on the basketball court as a student-athlete at Fern Creek High School in the 1960s.
“Things were somewhat segregated when I first got there,” added Kaufman, 74. “Somebody called me the n-word. One of my brothers on the basketball team floored the dude. He said that to me, and my teammate felt like he said that to him. Different sections of this city were like that. Somebody once yelled out, ‘Hey, brother, you’re black as an inner tube.’ My teammates were looking around to see who they could hurt.”
Though Kaufman deals with racism on a regular basis, he isn’t bitter toward white people.
“Because somebody yelled that out of the stands, I didn’t hate white people,” he said. “You can’t attribute something that’s done negatively to a whole race of people. You don’t hate all women because you got slapped by one. We’ve got to take individual responsibility and not just label an ethnicity or gender just because of what one person does.”
In recent weeks, Americans have been reawakened to the racial injustice that still permeates the country.
“The evidence is so instantaneous with these phones and these videos that you can see a young lady getting body slammed onto the pavement or a guy’s neck getting choked … until every ounce of life went out of him,” he said. “People of right minds can’t tolerate that. You see what’s going on. It’s inescapable.”
Kaufman is left-handed.
He had a teacher with a yardstick tap his hand anytime he tried to write with his left hand.
“(Pastor) Tony Evans talked about privilege and used the right-handed/left-handed comparison,” Kaufman said. “Right-handers don’t realize that everything is privileged to them because they’re not left-handed. It’s hard for a right-hander to understand that.”
Kaufman said that if a right-hander is blind to everyday benefits, how much more are people blind to racial privilege?
Kaufman grew up during the Civil Rights movement, and he is a proponent of peaceful protests.
“Martin Luther King learned his tactics from Mahatma Gandhi,” Kaufman said. “Gandhi was an originator of all these protest movements. They used that nonviolence scenario. That was a real initiator for change. Martin Luther King picked up on nonviolent, peaceful protests. That’s a big difference between then and today.”
Kaufman said protesters need to embody that same sentiment.
“Blacks have to claim responsibility by voting. There’s a big percentage of blacks who don’t vote,” Kaufman added. “That’s really sad because people gave their lives and their blood for the right to vote. Secondly, blacks have to learn to reach out to whites, Asians, Hispanics and other people that are different than them. They have as big a responsibility to befriend whites who don’t understand this as much as whites do. It’s not a movement that blacks can claim on their own. It’s a movement that has to come from the heart of everybody.”
During one of Southeast’s elder prayer meetings, Kaufman’s heart ached for all people to be redeemed from racism.
“I don’t hate all cops because of that guy’s knee on that guy’s neck,” Kaufman said. “I startled some of my fellow elders because I prayed for that guy and all the racists in the world to come to know Jesus. Jesus said, ‘Pray for those who despitefully use you.’”
Now that racial injustice has “everybody’s attention,” Kaufman said we need to act.
“I don’t think that whites should be sitting around feeling guilty for what somebody did to us, but I do think they have a responsibility,” he said. “As Maya Angelou said, ‘When you know better, do better.’ They saw the guy’s knee on his neck. They should stand up and say, ‘That’s not right. We need to do better than this.’ Above all, this is so simple, ‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.’”
At the end of the day, it’s not enough to sit around and talk.
“I don’t need to get political; I need to stay spiritual,” Kaufman said. “People are stepping up in ways that we’ve never seen them step up. We ought to always have that question, ‘What can I be doing today to help this situation?’ It’s not a thing; it’s lots of things. That’s not just for white people, but for people of color. ‘Am I doing enough?’”