I am shaken.
People have asked me how I’m doing. The answer is, I’m shaken. The girls are upset and bothered. More than I expected. Ella has been protesting in the streets of Seattle; Grace has been talking to and educating anyone who will listen (and attending protests with Ella); Carrie has for the first time engaged in conversations about race. Yet, while we all talk, and I usually have words of comfort or perspective, they’re just not flowing like they normally do. This is hard to explain. I’m shaken.
I am wondering.
I’m trying to hear what people are saying. Especially what my non-black friends are saying. I am, however, finding my pretext for many of the conversations with me wondering, “What side are you on?” And I don’t like that. While I’m seeing a lot of hopeful commentary, I still see a lot of the other sort, comments riddled with code words and phrases like “We all bleed red”; “Sure, they protest, but did you see the looting?”; “Loving your fellow human is the answer”; “Let’s put politics aside”; “kneeling is disrespecting the flag and military”; “My daughter is dating a black guy.” It shows me that many of my “friends” lack a real understanding of what’s going on. “Black lives matter” or “All lives matter”? Which is it for you? I’m wondering.
I am fortunate.
My journey with race is filled with contradictions that I struggle with to this day. I was raised by white parents. Growing up, I never spent time thinking that the system is stacked against me in a way that made me feel second class. My Mom didn’t have to give me the “race talk”. I rode my bike anywhere I wanted. I played with white kids every day. My best friends were white. I just didn’t think about the system. College was a rude introduction to racism. I struggled with relationships between my black friends and my white friends. There were fist fights. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I didn’t feel black enough. And I certainly wasn’t white. As an adult I had success. And in a way, that success pushed racism to the background. But I still get pulled over A LOT. The Medina police asked, “What are you doing here?” The Bellevue police didn’t like that one of the light bulbs on my license plate was burned out. The Seattle police wanted to know, “Is this your car?” Don’t even get me started on the number of times I got pulled over in my boat. People have called me the “N” word. I’m told, “You’re so articulate.” People say, “Well, you don’t sound black.” Shit, I make jokes about being black. But, through it all, I never felt scared about being black. I never lived in fear like so many blacks in our country do on a daily basis. I never felt like my life could be taken away because of the color my skin. You could say I benefited from white privilege. In this way, I’m fortunate.
I am black.
BUT, for the first time in my life, the events of last week have made me feel shaken about being black. I feel unsettled, agitated, distracted. Last week, something broke through the excuses I’ve been telling myself for far too long. Excuses I’ve made for white people for much of my life. What was once a blur, has now crystalized into a view that the justice system is indeed stacked against me and anyone who looks like me. Racism and police brutality don’t feel distant or academic. It’s in my face. It’s in my daughters faces. Chris Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the countless others where there’s no video to capture the shit that goes down, sits as the pit in my stomach. If I lived in another state, what would the police say when they pulled me over? What would they do? As I said, I’ve been so fortunate in my life — and the girls as well. I’ve done and gone wherever I wanted without being scared. But now, it feels different. I feel very different. I’m confronting a truth I never have before. My “white privilege” only takes me so far. I also feel a strong sense of guilt at my own realization that blacks across the country have felt like this EVERYDAY of their entire lives and I, as a black man did not. I’m scared to be pulled over again. I’m black.
I am talking.
I’ve appreciated all the texts, the phone calls, the replies. I can feel the horror, outrage, and hunger in people’s voices — they want to act. They want change. I hear the sadness. I hear the guilt. But I also hear the helplessness. The wondering if a return to everyday life is just around the corner. The fear that nothing is going to change. Like the mass shootings that now seem to be a hallmark of our country. If someone murders kindergarteners, things will change. Right? If you murder a black man for the world to see, there will be change. Right? If the stock market returns, will people care? Is this just a big referendum on Donald Trump and race is now the best chance to elect him out of office? In the silent pockets of our conversations, I can hear the doubt. But we keep the conversations going, because we agree — this feels different. So I’m talking.
I am asking.
So, what would I ask of my non-black friends right now? Be committed to empathy and action. And I specifically use the word empathy. Think about the times when you were most scared and contemplate everyday life feeling like that. Or at least when you get pulled over by the police. As I said before, it’s hitting me now, and it’s utterly terrifying. So, listen to your black friends. Suspend your rational judgment and recognize that it’s NOT just a moment in time. This has been building up for 400 f**king years. Don’t rob blacks of their emotional response. Just listen. Your black friends are feeling something in a way that is going to be hard to understand. They’re tired. Exhausted. Angry. But try to understand. Go to protests. Make donations. Read. Vote for politicians that improve our moral fabric, not just those who will benefit you financially. Talk to your children about being privileged and how to use that privilege to help others. And please stop saying “All Lives Matter”, there is no middle ground on this one. Take a knee. But, most importantly, just f**king stop, listen, and try to understand. I know many of you want to act. I do as well. But action without understanding is nothing more than a transactional moment in time. Action with understanding leads to lasting change. Your job is to seek to understand. It’s my job too. I’m asking.
I am different.
As I was talking to my biological dad, and he was sharing his perspective on racism, something came up that has stuck with me. In our nation’s history, some of our greatest pains have brought about the biggest change. So, my hope is that today’s pain will be tomorrow’s change. And we agreed, this pain feels different. The largest civil rights demonstration in the world. People reaching out to me and asking if I’m okay. Police officers taking a knee. Colleagues joining video conference calls and setting aside their professionalism and crying while sharing their stories. People saying sorry. That didn’t happen after Michael Brown and Ferguson. That didn’t happen with Trayvon. This is different. I’m different.
I am hopeful.
I don’t know how this will all play out. I don’t know when the news cycle will flip. I don’t know when I’ll see the coded language stop. I don’t know when we’ll see the next video of George Floyd. I don’t know if the cops who murdered him will be held accountable. I don’t know what the election will hold. I don’t know when the pit in my stomach will go away. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully internalize the pain and suffering blacks have been enduring in our country for so long. I don’t know when I’ll get pulled over again. I don’t how many “friends” I will lose.
But, I’m hopeful.
I’m ready to do the work. I have to be. I have three black daughters who deserve a better world than this.