Added: Katherina Schmalz - Date: 11.09.2021 22:16 - Views: 27914 - Clicks: 4459
We met when we were 10 years old playing boys club basketball in Washington, D. Back then, we were rivals. He had game, especially for a white boy from Upper Northwest. As it happened, we wound up going to middle and high school together where we played alongside one another for the better part of six years. I remember spending entire weekends at his house watching and talking about basketball over pizza.
We listened to the same rap albums. We dressed in similarly baggy hip-hop gear. He used to let me borrow his black Grand Cherokee to get my haircut or so I could front with a girl I was trying to impress. We were close. Why was he calling? Why now? It turned out that he wanted to see how I was doing. He was angry and upset. At first, he felt paralyzed. What, after all, could he do? He thought about contacting the Washington Post or some other publication but for what, to say what. Instead, he decided to pick up the phone and call me to ask if I was good. If I needed anything. If there was anything he could do.
We wound up talking for an hour or so and in that time we both started to recover parts of our relationship that had been forged more than 30 years ago when we were. As we talked, the conversation expanded into a broader discussion of the noxious political landscape and the price COVID is exacting on black lives. He acknowledged that he was one of the privileged who retreated to summer homes to ride out the crisis but he now worried that the isolation he and other privileged white people had sought was only deepening the disconnect between himself and the world.
The reality is that none of what is happening is surprising or shocking to me. Earlier in the week, a white male CEO I have worked with extensively also reached out. He le an organization that serves primarily people of color yet he has always had a difficult time wading into race related discussions or dealing with the issues that impact the people his organization serves through a racial justice lens. And so the advice I gave him was to own his own pain. To not allow himself to get stuck in white guilt. To resist the urge to write a tired mass expressing his sympathy.
We need you to feel your own hurt, to express your own outrage. As far as I can tell, you mostly see it in terms of harms that have been done exclusively to people of color. You experience black death as repugnant but not as a visceral, perpetual threat to your own existence and violation of your humanity.
It is probably an unpopular thing to write at this moment but I am going to do it anyway: We who do DEI and anti-racist work often say that we need white people to do their own work. In recent days an excellent article about supporting black people at work has been making the rounds to my white male friends.
Some of you have even sent it to me, which is ironic but whatever. Reading an article is not the end all be all of the work. And so, I am issuing this challenge to my white male friends. Never made things weird or uncomfortable for you. Never asked you to read books by black authors, especially black women like Audre Lorde or Toni Morrison. Never asked you to support black candidates or black businesses or black issues. I have always strived to be open minded and level headed about racial issues.
I rarely talk about the racist traumas I have experienced with the police or in the workplace. And I have done all of that because our friendship has meant and continues to mean so much to me. And because I believe cross racial relationships are critical to our survival and healing both as humans and as a nation.
Now I come to you with an ask that is as much for me as for you. A cop put his gun to my throat when I was in high school. In college, I stood trial on a charge of inciting a riot because a cop lied on me. I share my social location at the time of these trying incidents because I was doing all of the things I was told I needed to do in order to avoid the police, yet they happened anyway.
All of those experiences and more live in my body. Even now, I find my heart beats faster and my mind starts to scramble whenever I recall those encounters. Even now, each time I witness or learn about another horrific event, my own traumas risk resurfacing again. That is my reality. I live with it. Look at what is happening for what it is—people who are tired of being abused in every way imaginable by whiteness, white people and white supremacist ideology and institutions in this society—boiling with rage.
Resist the urge to judge or condemn looters. Resist the impulse to impose your preferred modes of problem solving. And you have not done the work because no one has ever challenged you to do it. Either way, a deep, compassionate understanding of the black experience has never been presented to you as a requirement or prerequisite to anything that capitalism places any value on.
I, on the other hand, had to learn how to navigate your world and mine. I had to develop an ability to see the world both as it is and as you see it. In order to survive and build a life for myself, I had to learn how to think two, three steps ahead. I had to be adaptable, resourceful and resilient because I never got the same opportunities or had the same room to fail or mess up without it being a broader indictment of the race and confirmation of our basic ineptitude.
In the course of our lives I have come to know you or at least whiteness far better than you know me. So, at least, consider what I have to say to you—all of my white male friends of a certain age who I love so dearly. I need you—we need you—to step the fuck up. Now, I have some sobering news. You would accept that you have to commit to going to working out every day and to struggling to build muscle over time.
You would do it because you want the. Because you want to look in the mirror and feel good about yourself. I need you to want to fight racism with the same intensity you fight your love handles. The views of the black intelligentsia and even black entertainers and athletes are valid but they are not the end all be all. Think about the ways systemic racism—the latest woke buzz phrase—is discussed. We talk about various outcome disparities in health, wealth, home ownership, education, criminal justice involvement, and mortality.
But by focusing only on what we can measure or have invested in measuring, we reinforce the ideas that exist in too many white minds who have little to no contact with people of color about the entirety of the black experience. The story that the data tells about black life is one of abject lack. On the other hand, it has allowed white people to develop, sustain and pass down explicitly and implicitly a warped set of ideas about whiteness and wellness from one generation to the next.
Recently, the largest counties in Ohio and Wisconsin passed resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis. A Minneapolis councilwoman has suggested that her city passes one as well. This is an excellent start. The shortcoming and concern that I have is that these resolutions only define the problem as one afflicting black people. They situate white people as allies in the struggle not among the afflicted.
She found herself in a stressful situation and it just kicked in.
Now racism has stripped her of the life she knew and labeled her a pariah. Racism is a disease. It is a sickness. It is an affliction. It lives in all of our brains. Studies have shown that our empathetic neural responses decrease ificantly when we view faces of other races. Those and other brain responses translate to a host of behaviors including avoiding people of color, presuming anything black is inferior, devaluing the contributions black people have and continue to make to this world, diminishing our intellectual accomplishments and disbelieving our stories unless they can be verified through means you deem credible.
It also lives in the bodies and behaviors of white folks who consider their own culture and background milquetoast or vanilla and fetishize and exoticize black culture and cultural expression. I am convinced that until white men are able to appreciate that racism has robbed their lives of a fullness and richness that no amount of material success, positional power or achievement can match or make up for, we are all trapped in the ebb and flow cycle of white violence and pain that has now marked my entire life; until you are able to extend empathy and compassion beyond your immediate circles and experience our pain and suffering as your own, we can not see the lasting change we all seek.
You are not our savior. We do not need you to think for an instant that it is your job to fix the problems of society. We do not need you to start another nonprofit to save us or to another board to help us. What I am suggesting is that you us in the struggle and that you start by looking at your own life and figuring out your blocks in emotional connectivity and gaps in learning and understanding.
Talk to other white men. Talk to your children. Reach out to your POC friends like me and ask how we are doing, then tell us how you are doing and what you are doingthen be prepared to learn but also to contribute to the conversation. Put yourself on the line. Be willing to risk discovering uncomfortable truths about yourself. Those are false notions embedded in white supremacy ideology that have likely brought you stress and misery.
Accept that you will make mistakes and have the grace to ask for forgiveness. Just be human and go in. To get started on your journey, here is a solid reflection tool created by white people for white people. Here is excellent tool to root out white supremacy at work.
Here in an oldy but goody on white privilege. Finally, here a checklist that is a little dated but still quite useful. The problem we face now is that Americans have been trained to see racism as black peoples problem. In recent years business has come to realize it is harmful to the bottom line and responded with diversity initiatives.
Those have had uneven success in part because you have outright resisted them or relegated them in your mind to being for minorities, LGBTQ folks and women. They are and have always been for you too. As a friend who cares about you, appreciates you calling to check in on me and needs you to be part of the solution, I implore you to keep going. You are only beginning to recognize that racism is toxic to your life. You still have far to go in understanding the warped notions that lie within. Stare into the abyss, the hole, the missing parts of your humanity that keep you from being able to connect deeply with people of color beyond the comforts of the workplace where invariably you hold positions of power and authority or through the lens of sports and entertainment.I love white males
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A Letter to My White Male Friends of a Certain Age