There was an excruciating moment in my conversation with Dekaila Stewart-Ruffin, an African-American politics student at the University of South Alabama, when my own prejudice was written across my face.
When she’s not studying, Dekaila is busy setting up her own clothing company. Continental Republic1947 aims to produce clothes and gear for Americans who like to spend their time in the great outdoors - hunting, shooting and fishing.
My eyebrows raised when she told me this, and she responded with gracious laughter. It stopped me from actually saying "that’s not a business I would have associated with someone like you", but Dekaila knew what I was thinking, of course.
She explained she had been fishing on the Mobile River Delta in the deep, deep south of America since she was a little girl.
Her grandfather used to take her along with him and she loved it. The name of her new company commemorates the year of his birth.
Her enthusiasm for the outdoors life combined with her interest in fashion to spark an idea for a new business.
It was more than I deserved, but Dekaila laughed again and tried to ease my embarrassment.
She said she was aware that much of her target market "doesn’t look like me". She is considering keeping images of herself ‘in the background’ as her company launches.
We talked about some of the other burdens borne by young black Americans trying to make their way in the world.
How potential employers make judgements when they read a "black-sounding" name on an application form.
"You kinda get looked over," says Dekaila.
And then there’s the fearful routine when you get stopped by police while driving your car. “Hands visible, on the steering wheel. Don’t just reach for your licence and registration. Tell them you’re going to do it first”.
I brought up Black Lives Matter, and how the adoption of the slogan by so much of corporate America might be a sign of some progress.
They are now the three words you will see in the windows of coffee shops and sportswear stores across this country.
Now it was Dekaila’s turn to pull a giveaway facial expression. It was the biggest eye-roll I’ve ever seen.
“It’s more than just a way to get your sales up,” she said.
“I don’t think they understand why we say it. Being scared to send our husbands, boyfriends, sons and brothers out into the world. It’s a matter of life and death”.
Dekaila gave me a just-off-the-production-line hat bearing her new company logo as a souvenir of our meeting.
I will treasure it. I will remember Dekaila’s patience. I hope she forgets my presumption.