I sit here today with a heavy heart, unable to clearly articulate what I’m feeling or what to do about it. And to be honest, unsure what the reaction will be. But I think that’s what is being asked of me – to start. I worry after all this pain, loss and suffering that the message will be lost – so that’s where I want to focus.
Like any traumatic incident, once it hits home it means something different. Hearing the legitimate pain and fear from friends, many of which I consider family, while also watching other friends (black and white) that are police officers being put in such difficult and scary situations. All people I love and admire – and they are all asking for help.
But one thing has become clear which is that people like me, White people, are being asked to help specifically. I honestly didn’t hear it this way before, and it’s probably because I wasn’t listening. I am now and my first step is to share what I’m learning and what I need to do about it. I hope I’m on the right track and I hope we can come together. Please understand this is raw, unfiltered and somewhat unedited but that’s kind of where we are all at right now.
I was empathetic, but I was not engaged.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I was barely informed about the death of George Floyd. Like many I briefly saw the story, parts of the video and was disgusted. I shook my head, felt sad, but said nothing. When you hear that staying silent makes you part of the problem – this is what I think is meant. This does affect me but I didn’t realize it until it really hit home.
It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that I received a long text from one of my best friends. He’s been a hero of mine, a mentor, and one of the strongest men I know. He was shaken, and it shook me. He was sharing his sadness with me, and I empathized, but didn’t know what else to. I realize now he was asking for help. Not for him, for the bigger issue – for change. I thought I was one of the good ones – but I was not doing enough.
I have white privilege, and I didn’t know it.
Anytime I heard this phrase in the past it frustrated me. It felt counterproductive as if shifting blame to yet another skin color would solve the problem. It was a label which I felt was ineffective for any position. I was defensive. I thought I was one of the good guys. But as I’ve engaged in conversation these past days, I’m realizing how wrong I was. This phrase is not about blame, it’s not about me, it’s about fact.
White privilege is something I have, not something I did. It doesn’t suggest my life or your life isn’t hard, filled with challenges. And as was my initial push back, it doesn’t mean that I have not worked my ass off for everything I’ve achieved. It defines my playing field which is different. It’s one I can use to help others – I see and hear that now.
It can be both. But it has to be one first.
Hearing arguments about Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives matter was maddening and one of the main reasons I disengaged from the conversation. I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t focus on “humans”, why keep these labels? But that was skipping an important step I didn’t fully appreciate. We have to level up, we have to eliminate the injustice before we work on the entire thing. Admittedly, this one was hard to understand, but I think I get it now.
Like you, I have amazing black friends and I also have lifelong friends that are amazing police officers. They all matter to me, but that’s not the argument here. Both things can indeed be true at the same time, but this is about prioritizing the conversation to help the oppressed so we all can be better, together. I thought I was one of the good ones, but I didn’t see the difference.
Avoidance isn’t action.
The reason I didn’t know much about this story is not because I didn’t care, but because I wasn’t listening. I avoid all media as much as possible. Even during the last two months of the COVID pandemic I successfully avoided the news. I even wore that as a badge of honor. Why? Because I can’t handle engaging when nobody is listening, when everyone is taking sides rather than taking action. Politics, guns, human rights – it all gets so polarized so quickly. I feel like the person in the middle that gets trampled trying to get everyone to listen to each other.
So I stopped listening to this issue about racial injustice. Not because I didn’t agree there was a problem, but because I didn’t understand how or why it was being discussed as it was. I need to better understand these issues, and get engaged in the conversation in my own way but in a meaningful way. I need to stand up for what I believe is right even if it’s not popular or convenient. I thought I was one of the good ones – I need to do better.
I truly believe there are more good humans than bad and hopeful this tragedy will bring them all out and together. Don’t lose faith in each other or the opportunity at hand. Love and life are too important.