Saturday, June 13, 2020
Talk About It or Just STFU?
Ok, which is it? Can white people talk about racism or should they just STFU? If they are allowed to talk about racism but don’t follow “the script”, should they just STFU? If they are inclined to perhaps comment negatively about some things like rioting, looting or attacking police officers should they just STFU? If they acknowledge their own racism and admit to white privilege without begging or offering to buy forgiveness may they speak or should they just STFU?
You see I believe that rational human beings have the capacity to hold more than one idea in their minds at the same time. Even ideas that conflict with each other. Freedom/Law and Order. Free Will/ Determinism. Judgment/ Mercy. Taste Great/Less Filling. And so it is with most issues, especially the big ones. Issues where we find it difficult to distinguish between cause and effect, disease and symptom, cure and treatment.
So with that, I shall talk about racism. Talk about it not from ‘A’ white man’s perspective, but from “THIS” white man’s perspective. This white man who grew up in Texas and is old enough to remember white and black water fountains. This white man who was told by his parents not to use “the N-word”. That “they” preferred to be called “colored” or “Negro”. “They” were good people and God loved them, too. But they were different and it was just better for us to remain separated as much as possible. This white man who remembers the time when Martin Luther King was assassinated. A time when this white man’s father told him about running off “N-word” looters who were trying to break into the back of his truck. This white man who worked side by side and sometimes under the supervision of black men in his late teens and early 20’s. This white man who even in the 80’s while living in South Carolina saw old black men step off the sidewalk and look away when a white woman walked by. This white man who spent his management career in an industry where “management” was predominately male and very white.
This white man admits to his racism. I wish it was not there. I know it’s wrong. I do see color before I see the person. And I expect most people do, regardless of their own color. We are all shaped by our experiences, our thoughts and our hearts. My racism doesn’t cause me to dislike, much less hate black people. But it does lead me to think of them differently, sometimes even to the point of feeling sorry for them. And often pity does more damage than hate. But I am trying to do better, to be better.
This white man has always understood that in our culture whites have more privilege than blacks. That’s undeniable. It is foundational in Western civilization. We brought it with us from Europe and institutionalized it with slavery and the class system that was imposed afterward. It is what it is in every sense of the word.
So what do we do about it? We can reform law enforcement and the criminal justice system. We should do so. But that’s only changing the way we treat the disease. It only makes the pain more bearable and perhaps opens a few more doors for those who no longer get locked up and can find their way to a better life. The same can be said for “after school programs” and more “recreational facilities”. We can take down statues of confederate generals and notable historical figures who said something wrong or failed to say something right. We can all take a knee and stop singing “The Eyes of Texas”. (Yes, that is now on the “to be banned” list). But, if it does not translate into better Education and better Employment for more people of color, real change, lasting change won’t come.
Education and Employment lead to Empowerment. It takes longer to clean up a mess than it does to make one. Racism has been going on for centuries around the world and our version of it has been here since the nation began. We’ve taken some steps over the past 50+ years to level the playing field and some have benefited. We see black people in careers and living in neighborhoods that would have been unthinkable not that long ago. But we’ve also allowed, if not enabled, things to get worse for many of those left behind in poverty with little hope of a good education or a good job. Whatever steps we take moving forward, if they are not directed toward providing better education, and that includes education and training that prepares people to earn a decent living (and I’m not talking about minimum wage), then we will fail. We are just rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.
When Blacks do get “in the game” we have to lift the glass ceiling. And not just symbolically. It’s nice to have Blacks on the Board of Directors, but how many are in the C-suite leading the enterprise? I’m not talking about tokenism or promoting unqualified people. (There are already too many unqualified white guys at the C-level). I’m saying there has to be a real pathway for talented black managers to move beyond middle management or even division leadership roles. There is room at the top.
Beyond Education and Employment, hearts and minds have to change. As a Christian I have my beliefs about how that happens. Others will seek a different path. We don’t have to agree with each other to respect each other. So whatever works for you, just get right in your head and in your heart.
(And I pray that God forgives me for the ‘STFU’…but sometimes you just need to get the point across).