I feel called upon to make some personal statements regarding the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent demonstrations that have swept across the United States and around the world.
First and foremost, BLACK LIVES MATTER. The reason I have to make that statement is because I am part of a society whose behavior is inconsistent with those words. I see you George Floyd. I see you Breonna Taylor. I see you Ahmaud Arbery. I see you Trayvon Martin. I see you Michael Brown.
This isn’t only about Black victims of police and vigilantes, though. In general, Black people in the U.S. are more likely to be victims of gun violence than white people. Black people are 6 times as likely to be incarcerated as white people. Black mothers are 3 times as likely as white mothers to die in childbirth. Black people are also 3 times as likely as white people to die from COVID-19. Black families are far more likely to face eviction and homelessness. This is what systemic racism looks like.
And I am complicit. I have benefited from and tolerated systemic racism. Everything I have accomplished in my life has been boosted by centuries of having the scales tipped in my favor. And my attitude about that has been, “Not my problem.” The reason it has taken me so long to make this statement is because I’m still in my own head about it. I’m not racist. There’s nothing I can do to change the system. This isn’t about me. Wrong. As a beneficiary of white privilege, I have more than my fair share of power. Therefore, I also bear the responsibility of fixing the injustice.
And yet, I feel so powerless. I am just one person, after all, so how can I effect change? I’m going to start by changing myself. For me, privilege is the ability to pick and choose when to be afraid. For almost everyone I know, that privilege is normal, and most of us never even think about it. I feel that whatever action I take is most meaningful if I find a way to share in the fear that systemic racism causes Black people to face daily. And that’s the point of this post–it makes me uncomfortable. And, that is my commitment, right now–to BE UNCOMFORTABLE.
It was easy to talk myself out of writing this. What do I know? Who wants to hear from me? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I offend or alienate someone? What if I don’t say enough? What if I say too much? What if I sound like a fraud? What if I AM a fraud? You know what? All of those things are true, and they are all going to happen here, and I’m just going to have to deal with that. That’s the whole point. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid I might get beaten up or killed when I get pulled over. I don’t know what it’s like to get thrown in jail for possession of marijuana (I got community service). I don’t know what it’s like to be harassed in a coffee shop or stalked by store security just because of my appearance, and I can’t know.
I have been singled out and treated differently because of my skin color. When I was 18, I moved to Cleveland, Ohio. I needed a part for my bicycle, so I looked up a bike shop (this was way before Google Maps) and started walking. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I ended up walking through a low-income, Black neighborhood. I had a half dozen different people (all of them Black) come up to me on the street and ask me where I was trying to go and warn me that I really shouldn’t be there–it wasn’t safe. I was too stupid to be afraid (I was 18), and they were afraid for me–talk about privilege!
I share that story because that’s what I aspire to be as an ally to Black people living under and fighting to overcome systemic racism. My eyes are open now and I am afraid for you. My fear manifests in discomfort, and I am committed to stay uncomfortable. It’s hard, and it’s scary. I don’t think I have the courage to kneel when the national anthem is played before a football game I’m attending. I do (barely) have the courage to put myself out there in this post, and it’s a step. I’m uncomfortable, and I intend to stay that way. I will tolerate systemic racism no longer.