I’ve been meaning to write this for a while now. It’s been swirling in my brain, heart, and gut for quite a while, but every time I feel like I’m close to putting fingers to keyboard, I shy away, worried of the reaction from all sides.
It’s a sensitive topic, you see. A white guy writing to other white guys about being a white guy in today’s society and culture.
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A new nationwide poll shows that 55% of white Americans feel they experience discrimination for being white. I’m trying to wrap my head around this one. Efforts to target opportunity for people of color are not discrimination against white people, who by and large already have these opportunities by default.
I can’t think of a single thing I’ve been denied based on the color of my skin.
South Park has always used satire to provoke and highlight our struggles in society, with no impunity for either side of the political spectrum. They have a new video game on the market. When you’re building your character you have to choose a game difficulty level. As the difficulty goes up, your character’s skin color gets darker.
Cartman’s voice says “don’t worry, this doesn’t affect combat, just every other aspect of your whole life.”
As I often do with South Park, my initial reaction was “Whoa, I can’t believe they did that.” But it’s one hell of a way to remind a generation of gamers that life has challenges by default for people of color in our country.
If you’re wondering what privilege looks like, take a few minutes. Privilege is nothing to be ashamed about, but it’s something to be aware of as we move through life and see others through our lens of experience.
My son is 15. I’ve never once had to coach him on how to deal with law enforcement. You know why?
It’s not because he’s a good law-abiding kid, which he is. It’s because he’s white, and that’ll give him the law enforcement benefit of the doubt if he finds himself in an unfortunate situation.
That’s why I understand the desperate plea in the dissent of NFL players taking a knee during our national anthem. Because I can’t imagine a world where letting my kid out into the world is such a frightening prospect.
In this country, black lives are not assigned the same value as white lives. Until they are, I will understand their desperate plea.
Last night at my son’s band competition, there was a young man sitting next to us wearing a confederate flag hat with the words REBEL across the front. His behavior was perfectly civil otherwise. I’ll admit it bothered me every time I saw it, as I fought the urge to ask him why he was wearing it, but that’s his right.
The band that won the overall competition used the life of Abraham Lincoln as its theme, and at the end of the performance unveiled a large image of the Lincoln Memorial. I glanced over at the guy in the REBEL hat and his head was bowed toward the ground.
I think that was message enough.
Respect for the flag is actually codified, and all you have to do is walk through any department store around the 4th of July to see that taking a knee in first-amendment protected protest isn’t the only way we’re “disrespecting” the flag.
Humans have an amazing way of picking and choosing our rules when we’re out to criticize or justify our own beliefs and actions.
Take a read and think about this the next time you’re wiping potato salad off your face with a flag napkin.
Of all the reasons to break the flag code, protest of injustice is likely the most honorable.
Acknowledging the societal privilege that came with me out of the womb doesn’t mean I feel guilty about it. It just means that I recognize that the mountains I’ve climbed aren’t quite as steep and my pack not quite as heavy. It also means that I regularly check myself and my organizations and affinity groups to make sure we’re not consciously or unconsciously adding weight into the packs that others were born wearing.
My mind is working overtime after attending a campus racial justice allies and advocates training this morning. A few initial thoughts and takeaways:
1) When we stereotype and/or expect certain cultural norms, those that don’t fit our stereotypes or norms often mute themselves in order to fit in. The quote that stuck with me was, “We go through our days dead.”
2) It’s ok, almost preferred, to be uncomfortable as we have real conversations around race and discrimination.
3) Get to know who you are, where you came from, and the societal constructs that give context to your vision. We can’t really change our organizations and communities until we know where our own minds and hearts are.
4) Personal relationships are the key to real justice. When we get to know others as humans, not as labels or stereotypes, our willingness to ignore the injustices they suffer goes away.
5) Engage in dialog, not debate. Put down your need to defend your position, listen and converse.
I walk into the gallery hall.
I lose my breath.
The air escapes from those around me, too. Silence is only broken by the whisper of horror.
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