About Race, Privilege, and Change

I don’t know where to start.

To say nothing about George Floyd and the ensuing protests is likely the worst thing to do, given that it ignores the past three weeks, and really, the past 400 years of inequality in this country. Then again, to say something, anything, is bound to come across as conciliatory drivel from a middle class white man. That said, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that no single post I could write could possibly address everything that needs to be addressed.

And I think that theme is present in just about all of this. There’s so much that needs to be discussed, that needs to change, so many people have to step back and consider a perspective different from their own. It’s overwhelming. I don’t know where to start.

But the fact is, we have to start somewhere.

It doesn’t matter what my experience has been to this point. I’ve lived a privileged life, being a white male, and I’ve only started to wake up to that fact in recent years. The protests of the past three weeks served as yet another reminder of the privilege to which I have previously been somewhat ignorant. To me, privilege meant rich folks. Growing up, my family didn’t have a ton of money, so I never considered myself privileged. I didn’t think that was me. But that word has taken on a new meaning to me now.

For example, I’ve been pulled over maybe six or seven times in my life. I’ve never once gotten a speeding ticket despite the fact that I speed constantly. For real, I deserve a speeding ticket every single time I drive. Like anyone else, every time I got pulled over my heart would start beating out of my chest, I’d start sweating, I’d feel real panic, real dread. My biggest fear in those moments? Getting a speeding ticket.

The other week, I was asking a black coworker of mine about her thoughts on George Floyd and everything that has happened since his death. During the conversation, she told me a story about how she and a friend got pulled over once. As the police officer walked up to the car, her friend instinctively pulled out her phone and started recording because, “hey, who knows what might happen?”

That’s the sort of privilege I’m starting to understand I possess. I’m sweating bullets over whether or not I’m about to get a $150 speeding ticket. My black coworker and her friend felt like they needed video evidence to protect themselves from the police. That’s a completely different level of anxiety.

I always thought I was getting out of speeding tickets because I was polite. Maybe, though, it has more to do with me being a white guy (who happens to be polite).

Now look, that’s a single example of the effects of racial injustice in this country. It’s one possible example of the sort of privilege I’m learning about. It doesn’t come close to shining a light on every one of the injustices minorities face in this country. But that one small story was enough to spur a new thought to contemplate. That 15-second story led to a much larger realization.

So that’s where we start. We start by listening to the stories of those with perspectives we’re ignorant to. We talk to people who don’t look like us. It requires action. It requires that we go out of our way a little to purposefully interact with folks we don’t typically interact with.

Later in the conversation with my coworker, she offered some excellent advice. She said the best thing I could do today to affect long-term change would be to raise my kids to be accepting of others.

Acceptance. She didn’t say anything about race. Or inequality. Or injustice. She wants my little white children to be accepting of her race. That, right there, should not have to be requested. It should just, be.

I think the reason I’ve had so much trouble articulating my thoughts over the past few weeks is because I’m realizing the immense responsibility I have in raising my son and daughter where acceptance is simply second nature. My kids’ generation, the generation that is growing up in this world today, they are relying on us to lay the right foundation. And please don’t misunderstand this – acceptance doesn’t mean being passive, or refusing to argue and debate. It’s not swallowing your opinions because someone disagrees with you. But it is the understanding that the person you disagree with is more important than any thought, attitude, or belief that you could possibly have in your head.

I read a piece written by an F3 guy who I’ve never met before, but he really hit the nail on the head with his big takeaway:

Any change in society has to start with the change within myself.

Curtis Hoberman / F3 Dos Equis

What are you doing, big or small, to change your thinking? For me, it was humbly realizing that I’ve been ignorant about what it means to be privileged and allowing myself to reconsider some of my lifelong attitudes and beliefs.

I hurt for the Black community. I’m deeply saddened by George Floyd’s death, and I celebrate the people who are exercising their right to protest.  Maybe for the first time, for real, I see you. I hear you. My commitment to you is this: I promise to search my own heart for deficiencies in the way I think about race, prejudice, and my inherent biases, and I promise to teach my children to accept others and their perspectives, regardless of whether they agree or not.

It’s a small thing right now. But my hope is that these small, personal changes will help shape a better future for the generations to come. The fact is, we have to start somewhere.

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