The other day in a phone call with my parents about my weekend, I said, “I was enjoying my white privilege painting my front porch.” I was trying to make a joke, but my wife pointed out that it sounded like I was being a dick. It made me pause and reconsider.
I am about to turn 52. I was born in the middle of the year everyone is referencing now, 1968. My life began in central Illinois, a couple of hours away from major cities like Chicago, St. Louis, or Indianapolis. My upbringing included all the privileges, blinders and biases that come with being a white kid growing up in small town America.
Today there is real rage and I can understand it, but I’ll never share in it. The closest I can get is to mourn for the families of George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and so many others. I can point to places online to help foster support such as these two articles, “How to Support the Struggle Against Police Brutality” and “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.” I can try and make a difference in my own life and one of the most simple ways is with understanding, listening, and challenging myself.
I decided I needed to do more reading about the situation and see things from a different perspective. I’m sure there are plenty of better writings, but these were the ones that caught my eye, no doubt, due to their authorship.
The first thing I read was this editorial by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.
Then I found one by Arnold Schwarzenegger:
We can do better. We have to be willing to listen, to learn, to look in the mirror and see that none of us is perfect. We have to be willing to see one another as Americans, and not as enemies. We have to be willing to sit down and do the hard work of reform without worrying about stupid party lines.
I’m ready to listen and work to make America better every day. Are you?
George Clooney, writes a piece that ultimately has the right solution.
The anger and the frustration we see playing out once again in our streets is just a reminder of how little we’ve grown as a country from our original sin of slavery. The fact that we aren’t actually buying and selling other human beings anymore is not a badge of honor. We need systemic change in our law enforcement and in our criminal justice system. We need policymakers and politicians that reflect basic fairness to all of their citizens equally. Not leaders that stoke hatred and violence as if the idea of shooting looters could ever be anything less than a racial dog whistle. Bull Connor was more subtle.
This is our pandemic. It infects all of us, and in 400 years we’ve yet to find a vaccine. It seems we’ve stopped even looking for one and we just try to treat the wound on an individual basis. And we sure haven’t done a very good job of that. So this week, as we’re wondering what it’s going to take to fix these seemingly insurmountable problems, just remember we created these issues so we can fix them. And there is only one way in this country to bring lasting change: Vote.
Finally, today Barack Obama decided to weigh in on things. It’s so nice when an adult speaks:
I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.
Let’s get to work.
Yes. Let’s do this. Vote.