Sunday, June 7, 2020

A Few Comments on Current Events

I've done SO MUCH self-reflection this last two weeks, as I imagine most of us have. As I HOPE many of us have. Self-reflection, after all, is never a bad thing. Unpleasant sometimes, perhaps, but never a bad thing in the long run.

I’ve threatened every day to sit down and write. To just write until I feel better. Until it’s all out. Until things don’t feel so heavy anymore. Until I feel like the universe has heard me somehow. I think I needed to wait until enough time had elapsed that things felt less… raw? I found myself resisting writing the raw stuff. I think there’s enough rawness around us right now. I wanted to be able to put my thoughts into some sort of organized fashion so that when I am done, I feel I’ve accomplished something and actually made progress. Anyone can write a rage page and heaven knows they have their place. I’ve written several! (Ooooo, I should share some of mine… with names changed, of course. Who doesn’t enjoy a good train wreck?) 

Anyway, I needed to write something closer to neat and tidy. Not for you; for me! (Sorry!) One of the things I have learned about myself in years, and years… ahem… of therapy, is that I tend to like things in categories or tucked neatly in boxes. No, not literally. Well, now that I think about it, yes, literally too! But I mean my thoughts. I process things so much better if they are somewhat organized. So, here goes. Bear with me, please?

I’m a white woman. Until a couple weeks ago, I never thought extensively about the privilege that comes with that. If you just rolled your eyes, I get it. I used to roll my eyes at that, too. Not because I’m heartless, but because I truly didn’t understand it. No one had ever put this in a way that resonated with me. Even for the first few days after what happened in Minneapolis, though I could acknowledge that I was lucky to be born Caucasian, I really didn’t truly grasp the depth of that privilege. Hey, I never said I wasn’t hard-headed and sometimes a bit oblivious…

Of course, social media has been ablaze since then with everything from angry tirades to insightful monologues to memes of all kinds. But it actually took a TikTok video for this to fully hit home for me and to give me the ‘light bulb moment’ that I didn’t know I wanted so badly. Here it is, if you’d like to see it.

This man’s message hit me over the head like a sledgehammer. I related to it immediately and deeply. 

But… how and why? How can a middle-aged white lady possibly relate to that? 

Let me explain.

I am married to a phenomenal human being who happens to be a middle-aged white man. When he sees someone in a bad situation, he always wants to help. If he sees a woman on the side of the road, he always becomes visibly stressed and usually he either stops or asks me if I think he should stop to help. His distress at the sight of someone in trouble, especially a woman or a child, is palpable. Every single time.

After he started doing martial arts a few years ago, he became more confident and less likely to resist his urges to help. Less afraid of risk and repercussions. It was so lovely to watch him come out of his shell more. One night, on a run to the grocery store alone, he witnessed a man in the parking lot smacking his lady around. My super-duper extremely NON-confrontational husband drove right over to them and, while taking a video just in case, yelled at the scumbag to stop hitting her. One thing led to another, and my husband ended up swooping in and inviting this woman into his truck, then driving away to get her away from her abuser. Once at a safe distance, he helped her call a relative to come pick her up and take her to safety. 

When he came home and told me this story, I almost didn’t believe him. Not because he wouldn’t help someone that way, but because the confrontational part was so completely out of character for him. My heart nearly exploded with pride. But I admit, somewhere in the back of my (anxious) mind, I thought, “what if she had called the police instead and said you kidnapped her, or said you were the one who bruised her face?” It’s a very scary thought, as there’d be no way to really prove his innocence.

Around that same time, he started getting friend requests on social media from young ladies in his taekwondo program. He was someone that others in the class truly looked up to and (rightfully) felt they could trust – sort of a mentor. And he absolutely loved that role. There were a few times that he would offer people rides home from class, especially youngsters. He couldn’t stomach the thought of them walking home and something happening to them.

But, me? I was supportive of this, but so nervous. “You’re a middle-aged man, what if their parents think you’re a creeper when you drop them off? What if they make assumptions and come after you somehow?”

I mean… if a forty-something man you didn’t know dropped your 13-year-old girl off in his truck after taekwondo class when you’d been expecting her to walk home, what exactly would you think?


This video made me realize that people of color must have to deal with this ALL THE TIME. The man in the video just wanted to help a lost little girl. He knew there was a decent chance she’d experience a terrible fate of some sort if he just kept driving. So, he stopped. But he also knew what the perception of this might be, so he wanted a friend on video chat as he helped. He knew there was a good chance anyone who encountered him during this interaction might assume he was up to no good. Even law enforcement. In some parts of the country, maybe especially law enforcement. (Again, please bear with me. I’m not a cop hater; far from it.)

What if he took her hand to lead her to his vehicle so she’d be safe, and her parents happened to pull up in the middle of that? He could find himself dead. Would a white man need to be that nervous? Probably not. I don’t like that any more than anyone else does, but I believe it’s often true.

It’s not that hard to see why this has happened. Looking back in history, it was not very long ago that discrimination was the norm in our country. Same with segregation. The slaves were only freed 155 years ago. That is wild. There’s been a lot of change in a short amount of time and I think humans sometimes struggle to keep up. I feel like that’s what’s happened here. Even many of us born in the 1970s and 1980s were raised by parents who just looked at people of color as different. Maybe not better or worse, but fundamentally different. Those cycles are so hard to change.

But we have to. WE have to. We can’t help the way we were raised. We can’t help that we developed biases along the way for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean we have to keep them. We are not entitled to keep them. 

I believe that fixing what’s wrong starts with acknowledging that these biases and gaps in knowledge and experience even exist. It starts with realizing that we, as white people, are fortunate that we don’t have to worry about our skin color being something that holds us back.

Let me be clear – nobody’s saying white people don’t have problems. Good heavens, we have problems! But our problems aren’t generally related to skin color.

We need to acknowledge that it’s unfair that many people have problems that hold them back or complicate their lives based on THEIR skin color. Let us not forget that they aren’t able to choose or change their skin color! It’s time to change our way of thinking and make sure everyone has an even playing field for the first time in our nation’s history. Not unfair advantages; simply an equal playing field.

It starts with our generation. It’s up to us to turn this around and it’s not that difficult. You don’t have to put on a sandwich board and join a march. You can start much smaller.

First and most importantly, even though it can be difficult and a little scary, be willing to look inside yourself and see what distorted thoughts or biases you might find. Again, many people came by those honestly, as it’s all they were taught or all they knew. That doesn’t mean we can’t fix it now. Work on it. It costs nothing and no one needs to know about the work you’re doing in your own mind. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind or changing the way you think about things. Ever.

Then, talk to your kids and other young people in your world. Make sure they know it’s okay that people look different than they do, and that it means nothing about their capabilities, their character, or anything else. We honor people of color when we acknowledge them for who they are, when we don’t make assumptions about anyone merely on appearance, and when we choose kindness above all else.

I’ll say it again: it starts with us and we can always choose kindness and refuse to make assumptions about people based on how they look. To put our (gulp) preconceived notions aside and to treat everyone based on character and behavior, not on skin color or appearance.

BE KIND and OPEN YOUR MIND! If we start it, just think what our kids’ world could look like.