This isn't a post about what it is like to be black in America. I would never for a second assume to know what that feels like. More than anything, this is an analysis of my own privilege. See, I am a white male. I was born to white parents. I grew up in a middle class home. Never have I felt the sting of poverty. While I have worked hard my entire life, never have I had to worry about when my next meal would come. I was born into a system bent toward my success. For 28 years of my life, I was unaware of these conditions. More than unaware, I was ignorant.
Growing up in a small town in southwestern Oklahoma, I saw racism first hand. I was surrounded by people who used the "N word" to describe every African American they came in contact. On rare instances, I even saw them muster the bravery to say such things to the face of the oppressed. I saw how people treated those who lived on the other side of the tracks. This racism also extended to people of Hispanic backgrounds or any other person seen as different. No one was immune to xenophobia in small town America.
My mother taught us treat people fairly and based on their actions, not their skin color. In fact, if you would have driven past my neighborhood growing up it would have looked something like the United Nations. Kids of every color and gender, playing sports, tag and whatever else our imaginations could conceive. We were the wealthier kids in our neighborhood and we loved to share and have people over to play.
As a child, unaware of the name to be given to racism, I knew the names levied at people with different backgrounds than my own was wrong. I asked for people not to use those words around me. I made friends with the new kids. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the underdog. If I found people were unable to put aside their insults, I simply avoided them. I did this, because I was taught to do so. See racism and intolerance are a product of the environment we are born into. No one is born to hate.
There was something else I wasn't taught; to fear police officers. My parents made sure we respected authority figures, but cops were never something to be feared. I have also never been followed around a store, because of my skin color. I have never been denied employment or housing, because I am white. I was never uninvited to someone's home, because of my race. Preconceived and ignorant notions don't follow me around. Never in my life, have I ever felt the sting of racism. See, this is my privilege. I am white, middle class and a male, who has it better than me.
Let me give an example here. While in college, a buddy of mine and I were at a local bar. I will admit we had one too many pitchers. Soon after leaving the bar, I was pulled over. Embarrassed, I was asked to step out of my car by an Edmond police officer. I walked the line. I touched my nose. I counted back from 100. Like every intoxicated person, I thought I had nailed it. The handcuffs and my placement in the back of his police car said differently. As I set back there hoping for a miracle, a second police officer showed and began talking to the first officer. I was soon asked to step out of the car. I was told to call someone to come pick us up. I would later learn that I was let go, because the officers thought I was related to a high powered Oklahoma City attorney who often appears on Channel 9 News (I am not by the way). See here is a perfect example of my privilege, both perceived and real at work. I know in my heart of hearts no black kid would have been released that night.
As I said in the opening, I didn't become aware of my white privilege until I was 28. Graduate school opened my eyes. I heard the stories of others. Their trials and tribulations just because of their race. These stories had a tremendous impact on me. I was confronted with on the job discrimination, denied admission to colleges, suspicion while shopping, harassment from law enforcement, negative looks based on clothing choices and the phrase "acting white." All of which, I have never ever had to worry about.
This brings up a fundamental question; what now? I write this as a 30 year old male who fully believes in order for things to change systems must change. The ruling class must relinquish some power. This is easier said than done. To do so, has the potential to impact our wallets and our livelihood. Still, it is something we must do. When we are in the position to hire, we must work to interview and hire people from diverse backgrounds. When confronted with verbal and nonverbal racism, we have to name it. We must demand reform for our police departments. We must show hoodies are nothing to be feared. We must make little changes together and together systemic changes can be realized. Why? Because we are at a tipping point. The very fabric of our society and culture needs shared opportunity. America cannot succeed if it continues to leave half of its people behind. All ships must rise and it starts with conversations with friends and strangers about what it is like to be black in America.
Thanks for entering my world,