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Can I really add anything of value to the conversation?

June 10th, 2020


Are you going to blog about this? It was a simple question, asked by a co-worker and the person that edits all the pieces I write. As a 60-year-old white male (arguably, the demographic that most represents white privilege or privilege in general in this country) what can I really add to the discussion? Over the past few days, the news has been full of stories of those that have suffered loss and faced hardships because of their skin color. My Facebook feed is full of stories from people of color talking about being stopped or followed because of the color of their skin. White people talking about their “AHA moment” when they understood what systemic racism in this country was. None of that really applies to me. How can I possibly write something that will really provide any benefit to those that are reading it? Besides, I really try and stay away from blogs that are chalked full of the words I and me. My comfort zone is trying to see things from someone else’s viewpoint.

To be perfectly blunt, I am not colorblind. Take that for what it is worth but I do see the color of people’s skin. It is impossible not to, it is right there in front of you and the first sign that we are different. We have travelled different paths and had different experiences. I have never walked in your shoes nor you in mine. My lack of being colorblind comes from my Mother. She understood and explained to me, at a young age, that we are all different, not better, or worse, just different. She believed that everyone should be treated with respect, kindness and dignity. She also practiced what she preached.

My parents started their lives together in New York but then moved to South Bend Indiana. For the most part, growing up there was awesome. People left their doors unlocked, play dates happened organically and we all knew our neighbors. It was rare that I experienced bigotry but it happened. Unlike the Northeast, the population of Jews in Indiana when I grew up, was small. Schools were not closed on the Jewish holidays and there were a few times I was called a Christ killer. Mostly, people didn’t even realize that I was Jewish and if they did, it was a non-issue. We belonged to the local Elks club back then and one day we were at the pool when another member family arrived. They had just adopted 2 black children and they were asked to leave the pool. Welcome to South Bend in the mid to late 60’s. My mother watched the whole exchange. After letting the people at the club know that she found their conduct appalling, she packed all of us up and took us home. We never went back to the Elks again. She was clear with us that a club like that was not the type of place we belonged in.

During 7th and 8th grade, I was on the varsity wrestling team. We would travel to other schools for our matches. It was very obvious that separate but unequal was alive and well. The city was divided into black schools and white schools and the difference was shocking. Facilities at the schools in predominately white neighborhoods, including mine, were significantly better. I have a vivid recollection of walking into one of the black schools and the floor in the gym creaked with every step you took and there was a drain right in the middle. Their locker rooms were dank and musty, not like our clean, polished home gym. Then, we moved to Boston in 1974, right at the start of forced busing.

This brings me full circle to my question, what can I add to the conversation? I have been stopped many times by police, always with cause. During those stops, I have had the trunk of my vehicle searched. I have been asked to step out of my car twice. Once, when I was covered in red paint driving home from a job at 2:30AM and probably looked like an axe murderer and once because every time I was asked a question, my wife answered and the officer thought I was drunk. When I go into stores, I am never followed by store staff due to the color of my skin. In fact, when I worked in a drug store during high school, I was told by my store manager to follow any black patrons we had. A directive I chose to ignore. Instead, I followed the known drunks that frequented our establishment and would steal Witch Hazel and mouthwash.

Clearly, my experience with racism has been as an observer and not a participant, so I ask again, what can I really add? Maybe adding to the conversation isn’t where I can make an impact, maybe I am more helpful to the cause by acting. This morning there was a small protest in the town I live in. Young people, mostly high school aged, were standing on the street hold BLM and stop the violence signs. I decided to change the direction I was planning on going in, to drive by them and honk and wave to show support. In the future, I need to make the effort to be more deliberate on where I choose to make donations, finding organizations that will help balance the playing field. Be more intentional on where I shop and seek out minority owned businesses to support. Really looking at candidates for elected office that can make positive changes for all. Clearly there are ways for my voice to be heard.

A special thank you to my Mom for teaching me right from wrong and for embracing others regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. Thanks to Jeannette for being willing to have some difficult and sometimes awkward conversations with me. Joel Christian Gill, I appreciate your voice, point of view and unwavering moral compass. Thanks to so many of my clients that constantly ask me to think differently, whether they realize it or not. Last, but not least, thanks to my family for always being willing to challenge me.

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