Children are an amazing gift. You bring home this little blob from the hospital, turn around a few times, and discover an amazing person. That’s what’s happened to me recently. My amazing daughter, an adjunct professor of writing at Columbia University, challenged me: “Are you going to do something, Dad?”, “Do you have any plans for showing up on LinkedIn as an anti-racist?”
This is a hard thing: I am a small-business owner and have tried to keep politics out of my business even though I have very strong theological roots and care deeply about the plight of all humanity. Today, I serve on the board of The Gratitude Network and give that work the highest priority as I set my schedule for the day and the week.
Given today’s environment, it will be impossible for me to say what I believe to be important without appearing to be taking sides politically. But I can no longer stay silent.
My daughter knows my heart.
From the very beginning of our relationship, my wife and I have worked to improve the lives of the under-resourced locally, across the US, and around the world – investments of both time and money. Although never wealthy, we knew we came from privileged backgrounds as we never had to worry about where our next meal would come from – even if it might be waffles at the end of the month as the food money ran short.
We were both raised in white, suburban surroundings, attended fine schools, and were afforded excellent college and graduate educations. We have worked hard to provide for our family and I do not apologize for what we have been able to achieve.
But the events of the past two weeks have shown that I must do more. The senseless killing of George Floyd has re-awakened the nation to respond to this issue at a level that I don’t recall since the height of the civil rights movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
This is not just about standing on the right side of history but about standing up for what is right, period: I must stand with them.
My daughter asked me the following questions: What don’t I know? What do I know? Where do I have influence? What am I going to do?
What don’t I know?
I am a heterosexual, white male. I clearly do not know what it is like to be a person of color. Or a woman or gay or bi or trans or anything other than what I am. I do not know what it is like to be denied fair treatment just because of who I am or what I look like.
I do not know what it is like to grow up in a system that is biased against me.
What do I know?
I know that I was born into white privilege. I would say “solidly, middle class.” Dad worked, as an engineer, Mom didn’t (well not for pay, anyhow). While there were clearly limits to what we could afford, we never wanted for anything growing up. That was not a choice I made, I just got lucky.
I also know that all people are God’s children and we are all equal in God’s sight. I know that I hope for a world in which every child can grow up free from fear and want and able to live out their own dream, and any system which perpetuates inequality is wrong and should be abolished.
I also must acknowledge my participation in the systems here in this country which perpetuate that inequality. I have not done so intentionally, but nonetheless, I am part of the system.
I even have to admit that deep down, I am a racist. My brain is wired to prefer those who are similar to me – this was a survival mechanism as we evolved as a species, so it’s there and I need to acknowledge it.
The question is, do I act out of that racism? Do I let my “reptilian brain” control how I act? I work very hard to be able to say “No!” to that instinct. I think I’m doing okay, but it’s still there.
Where do I have influence?
I have influence in my community, with my friends, in my church, and even a bit on-line. Over my lifetime, I’ve noticed that I’m a natural leader, so in most settings where I participate, I wind up in some sort of leadership position.
As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So I need to acknowledge that I have that responsibility and speak out against all systems that continue to, in the words of Al Sharpton (from Mr. Floyd’s eulogy last week) put a knee in the neck of black people. These are our systems of education, employment, justice, and public protection (aka police) at the very least.
What am I going to do?
Well, last week, I participated in a march here in my local community with my mask and my sign “Black Lives Matter, PERIOD.” Yes, all lives matter, but when you read the parable of the lost sheep, it’s clear we need to focus on the one who is lost, not the 99 who are doing fine.
Assuming social restrictions continue to loosen, I will go to Washington for the march on August 28 to commemorate the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” Between now and then, I will speak out. I will not remain silent. I will challenge the status quo. And I will begin working to change the systems that perpetuate injustice and inequality.
It’s time for this privileged, white man to state firmly and for the record: Black Lives Matter. PERIOD.