I was oblivious to any racism at my high school in the late 70’s. My experience was on bus rides with the basketball team, as we celebrated winning most of our games – including a state championship our senior year – by loudly playing music by the Commodores, Brick, Parliament, Ohio Players and Brothers Johnson on postgame return trips to school.
I reflected on those times the past two weeks and realized I didn’t live up to how I was raised and my own expectations about equality.
There was the poem someone shared our senior year. It was titled ‘De Black Speckled Banner.’ I passed it along.
There were jokes by others I laughed at that made white people look superior. I retold them.
There were times white friends said something and I knew it was derogatory and I should have spoken up. I kept quiet.
Because of my career journey, I have worked with people who didn’t look and think just like me. Black. Hispanic. Asian. Jew. Muslim. Hindu. Buddhist. Mormon. Atheist. LGBTQ+.
I’ve always believed I am not a racist. That my experiences and the people I met along the way give me a wide and open view of humanity. That living a life based on the teaching of ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ makes me unbiased.
Then… George Floyd.
After many conversations since with my wife and the two adult daughters living with us during these socially distanced times. After reading numerous articles. After watching lots of videos. After looking deep inside and acknowledging white privilege. After considering 400 years of this country’s history.
I looked in the mirror and said, “My silence is racist.”
So I’ve been sharing a lot of links with my white friends. Most of them are open to having dialogue so they, too, can better understand the experiences of those who don’t look like us, weren’t raised like us, haven’t had our same advantages. A couple pushed back and said all the protests are a ‘narrative by the left-leaning media.’ One told me to stop sending him things because he doesn’t want to think about it.
I can’t control how people react. I can’t make people think differently. I can’t change people. However, I can’t remain silent any longer. I will continue to share. Continue to challenge. Continue to move the conversation forward. Perhaps I won’t have any impact on anyone else. I know it will make a difference in me.
The world changed May 25. I am changing too.