As a white man I know I will never be able to fully understand the stress and fear that our country has impressed upon the Black community, and I won’t pretend to. I’ve never feared for my life in an encounter with the police, never worried about being out late, or ever felt I didn’t “belong” in a certain neighborhood. In those regards I am extremely fortunate, and my fortune has never been made clearer than in the past week.
When you hear the term “white privilege,” my life as described is what people are talking about. Admitting you benefit from it doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard, or that you didn’t have your own hurdles to overcome, it means society has been structured to see whiteness as the default. The system inherently benefits you because it was made by people that look like you. If you’re white and reading this, and don’t think white privilege is a thing, ask yourself this: would you trade skin color and want to deal with what your black neighbor does? Be honest with yourself. Right now, I know I wouldn’t.
Not sharing the same life experiences does not prevent us from having empathy for our fellow citizens, though, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should sit on the sidelines. We’ve seen empathy for George Floyd and his family, and a shared disgust and outrage at how he was murdered. His murder was an eye opening look into the evil side of our country for a lot of people. Unfortunately for more, it was just another day in America, the only this time it was caught on video and couldn’t be denied. So empathy isn’t enough; we need to both listen to and advocate for those who have been caught up in this system and have been calling for change.
The most basic way to help is to speak up. I’ve definitely been guilty of staying silent as people around me made racist jokes that are “all in good fun.” And to my shame it’s often been easier to awkwardly change the subject than to confront someone that I otherwise respect about their behavior. I still know some people who casually throw slurs into conversation, and even when they are confronted about it, they laugh it off, dismissing concern as overbearing political correctness. Why? Because they’re comfortable doing so. I can’t believe this needs to be said, but racists SHOULDN’T feel comfortable. I’m sorry I’ve played a part in making them feel it’s okay to act that way. But that stops now. We should be challenging each other to be better. It’s not enough to simply live non-racist lives; we have to be actively ANTI-racist and call prejudiced behavior out or we risk normalizing it further. If you know people like the ones I’ve described, make them look in the mirror. Chip away at their justifications. Let them know there’s no place for acting that way. Because to be silent on these issues is to be not only complicit, but cowardly.
So it’s time to learn. Time to speak up. Time to vote. Time to support free press and citizens’ rights to demonstrate. I’ll stand with anyone who is fighting for equality, systemic change and the simple right to be heard. Because Black Lives Matter and we sure as hell can be better as a country.
For anyone who is looking to support George Floyd’s family, or any of the causes that have been highlighted since, I encourage you to donate whatever you can to any of the funds/organizations below:
The American Civil Liberties Union