This weekend I watched Just Mercy, an amazing story of a lawyer who went to bat for people who needed an advocate for them on death row. At the end of the movie, the lawyer played by Michael B. Jordan said, “We can’t change the world with only ideas in our minds. We need conviction in our hearts.” It brought tears to my mind in light of what’s happened in the past two weeks.
Before I go on, please allow me to take a step back.
On President Trump’s Inauguration Day, I marched with women across the country speaking up for their rights. I felt awkward being the man in a pink hat, wondering what people thought of me out there marching. I wrote about how I hoped it mattered in my city of Dallas, or even in the big picture.
What ended up being affected the most was my own world view.
I’m a 43-year-old white man that for decades didn’t realize the privilege I grew up in. I even used to say that white men were the most mistreated demographic today. What an idiot I was to think that. I think it’s just the result of growing up in a small, mostly white, West Texan town growing up where all you do is vote Republican.
You grow up hearing older men make jokes like, “well that’s mighty white of you,” as a way of appreciating someone’s nice gesture. You think it’s okay to say the n-word because you hear Tupac rapping, not realizing its part of a culture that wasn’t mine to copy. Thinking I’m superior enough to make those comments. The only thing I was afraid of when I saw red and blue lights was how pissed my dad would be at me for getting a speeding ticket. I didn’t create that culture of white supremacy, but I was inadvertently keeping it alive by repeating the things said by white men older than me.
My parents are good people. I do not believe them to be racists. They just didn’t have non-white friends over. The only exposure I had to black culture was what I saw on The Cosby Show growing up, then later Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and MTV (that I had to sneak to watch). They are good people who didn’t question me inviting the only black kid in my grade over for hoops and soda. They never told me I was only allowed to date white girls.
I believe my father to be a man who respects the rights of women and people of color. He’s an electrician, so he spent many a day on construction sites with Hispanic men. They used to call him the coolest white guy they knew.
Other men around him, however, said different things. When I think about what mentality could have created such conscious and unconscious bias to place us where we are in 2020…that’s it. It put me behind the 8-ball to see just how good I had it.
It wasn’t until my mid-30s before I fully acknowledged my privilege. I went from thinking I was lucky to be where I was in life…to see it was more than luck. I was allowed to succeed where so many others were not. After marching, I decided it wasn’t enough to just see my privilege. I had to start speaking up and making room for women in whatever space I’m in.
It resulted in becoming a voice for those that didn’t have any. I’ve written many times about making space for women, hosted and guested on podcasts about Women in Agile, and even been told I’m an ally for them. That’s a huge honor for me. It’s the kind of appreciation that makes one think they have accomplished something.
This week has shown me I’ve still not acknowledged enough of my privilege.
I started years ago by trying to be aware of my language and tone regarding people of color. Working in IT, I’ve met people from many countries and learned to appreciate what makes their cultures so amazing. Spent time with them, shared meals and said how much I appreciated feeling included by them. The strange part looking back is I showed appreciation for cultures that were outside the US. Yet, I wasn’t learning more about cultures different than my white upbringing that was just down the street from me.
We can live in the same city, do the same things, and yet operate within different cultures. I have so much to learn about my fellow Americans.
Reading that paragraph, it’s sad to think I’ve done a thing at all to help. But this isn’t about me beating myself up for everyone to see. Acting out of guilt will lead to nothing really changing in the US. Many are saying that people will lose interest, and allow things to go back to business as usual.
There’s still a pandemic going on while the administration is pushing for things to be opened back up for the economy’s and their sake. It’s near impossible to keep social distancing when you are running away from tear gas and being arrested for staying past curfew. That’s how important the protests have been to people across the world. And as much as I’ve wanted to be out there with other advocates of anti-racism, I have my kids with me this week and don’t want to put them in harm’s way.
My wife has asked me several times if there’s something more we can do. Sometimes I’ve said yes, others no, and a ton of the time I shrug my shoulders and say, “I’m not sure.” Many of my white friends and I have been asking each other the same questions all week.
How do I speak up without making it seem like a token statement? A black square on social media does communicate where I stand on the topic, but it won’t save a single person of color from police brutality.
So I’ve started telling Beth, “whatever we do, let’s just make sure it’s not a token gesture.”
I’m in no position to preach to anyone now how to be anti-racist. There are times unconscious bias crops up in my life, and there have been occasions where its a bit of a gray area. I am not perfect when it comes to behavior towards non-white males, but that didn’t stop me from speaking about women in my community. It certainly shouldn’t stop me now. I want to listen if and when anyone would love to tell me their story.
Back to Just Mercy. After Jordan said those powerful words he followed them with this, “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Hope allows us to push forward even when the truth is distorted by people in power. It allows us to stand up when they say sit down, and speak up when they say be quiet.”
I will not sit down anymore. I will speak up from now on. My voice and actions may do nothing more than affecting my own worldview again, but its a start.
And I’m asking all white people to please join me.