Given recent events and the protests for racial justice, we wanted to give the opportunity for our employees that are members of the Black community to use our platform to communicate their message and what they want people to think about right now. And while I’m proud of that decision and our company’s willingness to stand behind their words, it has also occurred to me that, in doing so, I’ve indirectly made it so the onus is on them to solve this problem of racial injustice in our country. That could not be further from the truth. As a white male in the technology industry, I’m pretty much the embodiment of white privilege and it is my / our (as those that are privileged) responsibility to ensure equity and justice for those that are not. While it didn’t take recent events for me to realize this, I’m ashamed that it took recent events for me to speak out about it.
A Little Background
I grew up much of my life thinking that I had the cards stacked against me. That I was beating a system that was rigged. I was the first in my family to go to college. My parents did not make a crazy amount of money but they always made sure that I had everything that I needed. But because of that I did have to take out large student loans to be able to attend college and had to earn my way to get there. If I had to earn everything I did and everything I have, how could I possibly be privileged? Right? I’ll get to that later. But perspective is everything. And that was something my parents instilled in me that I remember to this day. Things could always be worse. You may not like the food that you have on your plate, but at least you have food on your plate. It could be worse. And that is why I'm writing this. Because it is much worse for someone else, right now..
I grew up with both of my parents and no fear that would ever not be the case. Not once did I ever think to myself that there would be a possibility of my dad or my mom getting stopped by police for running a stop sign or driving over the speed limit and that being the last time that I would ever see them. Those thoughts are occurring in hundreds of thousands of Black children's minds at this very second. As a father of a 2 year old, with another on the way, that absolutely crushes me and breaks my heart to imagine a world where they would think that way every time I leave for work. And yet that’s a reality for many. No matter the circumstances, that’s just unacceptable.
My experiences with police.. You probably know exactly where this is going. I’ve had at least a half dozen interactions with the police. Most were minor traffic violations (speeding) and 1) at no point did I have any fear that those stops would escalate to anything more than a ticket and 2) NONE OF THEM EVEN RESULTED IN A TICKET. I walked away with a warning, on all of them. This was even something I would proudly joke about for a long time.. “I’ve been stopped a bunch of times but never received a ticket” [laughs in white privilege]. But seriously, how many times have we now seen on the news that a Black person wound up with their life taken after a routine traffic stop? Don’t know? Me neither, because we stopped counting.
And this doesn’t even include my most intense police encounter (remember, this is my perspective) while I was in high school. Someone had recently robbed a local coffee stand and I just happened to match the description that was given by the owner that was held at gunpoint. I was a few blocks away from my house and driving to a friends house when I was pulled over by the police and asked to step out of my vehicle. I followed their instructions and sat on the hood of my car while they searched my car. Here’s the kicker: they found my airsoft gun in the pouch behind the passenger seat. They had me stay there until the owner of the coffee shop came by to identify me and confirmed that I was NOT the person that robbed him. Not once did any of the police lay a hand on me or act aggressively. Can you imagine if I hadn’t been a white male in that scenario? We just saw the outcome of fear of George Floyd using a counterfeit $20 but yet I perfectly fit the description of someone who had just robbed a coffee shop at gunpoint.
I started “the race” 10 steps ahead to begin with. I talked earlier about how I felt that I was battling a rigged system and, what I didn’t realize until college, was that I was playing the game of America on “Easy Mode”. The areas that I was able to live in allowed me to go to schools that were funded better than others. Was it the nicest school in the area? No. But it was still much better than others had access to. That directly impacts their performance in high school and therefore their access to college. So while I thought I was starting the race to success 5 steps behind those more privileged than I was, it was still 10 steps ahead of those directly impacted by the fact that our school system is built to favor those that look like me and live in neighborhoods like mine.
Silence. This one is probably one of the most powerful. Like I said earlier, I’ve been aware of my privilege for a while now. But I’ve not publicly spoken up about it until now, and how have I been affected by that silence? I haven’t. At all. And that’s privilege right there. Silence is a luxury. The very fact that I can stay silent and the system will still work for me is the perfect example of how the deck is not stacked against me but all people of color in America. Does me speaking up relinquish that privilege? Not at all. But I can guarantee that I will no longer take that privilege for granted and I’ll do what I can to amplify other voices that do not have the luxuries I do.
Educating myself about racism instead of experiencing it. There are far too many people that are constantly calculating every move they make throughout their day / life out of fear that they will be perceived as a threat (we saw that recently with Amy Cooper calling the police on Christian Cooper, a Black man, who was simply out bird-watching). One of the things I’m most grateful for is my ability to always be, unapologetically, myself. That is a luxury and a privilege that I get to experience that while many have to be someone they're not out of fear.
This Is Not a Zero-Sum Game
I’ll go ahead and skip Privileges #6 through #100 because I think you get the point. This list could go on and on. To those of you in the Black community that have made it this far, I applaud you for making it through a laundry list of things you already know. This is nothing new to you. To anyone who is still “on the fence” about these issues and struggling with coming to terms with your white privilege, I challenge you to withhold all personal comparisons / feelings and just listen to the experiences of those that have been negatively impacted by the system we take advantage of.
I also want to remind you that, contrary to the way our society has been programmed, the United States of America is NOT a “zero sum game”. I mean that both economically and socially. The success and betterment of another group does not take anything away from you. Therefore equity and justice for the Black community does not mean anything is being taken away from you. We’ve been so divided lately and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it is that can actually unite people and bring people back together. Every time, I land on empathy.
Emapthy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.
What Can We Do?
Whether we agree or not, we have to take the time to try and understand WHY others feel the way that they do. It reminds me of relationships.. Even if you don’t believe that you did anything wrong to your significant other, if they FEEL like you did something wrong you still have to get to the bottom of it and understand what it was that made them feel that way to adjust and make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future. To be clear, I 100% believe that the origins of our country and the foundation on which it was built has created a system that benefits people that look like me over those that don’t.
But even if you don’t agree with that, and remember there are over 1,000 Black people since 2015 that would argue against you if they could, it’s still your responsibility to welcome other points of view and experiences with open arms and understanding. That’s what will unite us moving forward. We are not capable of greatness in spite of our differences, we are capable of greatness because of our differences.
If you’re like me and you’re wondering, “okay but what can I do about it?” I’m not going to try and pretend like I have the answers. But I will link to some resources below that can point you to how you can get involved, whether it be through time or money. But for the most actionable thing we can all do, as those with privilege, I will quote one of my coworkers:
Call out people for every racist thing you hear or read no matter how subtle. It is not enough to just not be racist. We, as a community, have to be aggressively anti-racist.
– Arianna Smith