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I am a white American male. I’m married to a beautiful blond-haired green-eyed woman, and have two amazing blond-haired blue-eyed boys.  I was a blond-haired blue-eyed child who grew up in suburban New Jersey in a solid family with a mother, a father, a brother and two dogs. I lived a life marked by opportunity and forgiveness; and while I may not have always had “much,” I have always had the benefit of the doubt.

I was raised to treat everyone equally, regardless of race, or any other demographic for that matter. And while my town may have been predominantly white, I certainly didn’t grow up isolated from other races and cultures.

But even with the upbringing and exposure I was blessed with, I’m probably still a racist. I don’t mean racist like a hate-filled bigot who dehumanizes and devalues the lives of others based on skin color.  I mean that I am uncomfortable with, ignorant of and distant from racial inequalities that exist in my country.

I lived a life marked by opportunity and forgiveness; and while I may not have always had “much,” I have always had the benefit of the doubt.

It is okay for me to admit this.  It doesn’t make me evil. It makes me ready for change. This admission took two things: research and honesty.  Over the last couple of years, I have read, watched, listened to and participated in countless discussions on the topic coming from a broad range of sources.  Through this process I was able to realize the aforementioned realities. Which is great for me, but for purposes of this post, let’s unpack them a little.

I am uncomfortable with racial inequalities that exist in my country.

I live my life day in and day out and only rarely am I forced to confront these realities. Certainly the media, social and otherwise, shine a light on the issue, but that is not what I mean.  Reading a powerful blog post or an inspiring tweet does not constitute confronting anything.  What I mean is that when I get pulled over, shop in a store, go for a job interview, meet a new person for the first time, etc… I expect to be judged by who I am.

Yes, I am tattooed and bearded so I’m sure that on occasion someone generalizes about me, but I don’t worry about it because I know that once they get to know me they will move beyond those judgements. And I assume that they will eventually get to know me, because even with their judgement, they will give me the benefit of the doubt.  I live my life benefiting from other people’s glass walls.  That is simply not true for people of color.  They are forced to confront it every single day.  Perhaps not in an overtly bigoted and hateful way (although I’m sure that happens too), but in the “deficit of the doubt.”

I live my life benefiting from other people’s glass walls. That is simply not true for people of color.

The security guard that makes a mental note that they are there, the woman who locks her car door as they walk by, and yes, the times they get pulled over for driving while black. (No matter how much or how little you think that happens, we all know it happens.)  So you see, while I am very uncomfortable when forced to confront a terrible reality that I can generally avoid, my friends and neighbors of color are forced to confront it every day.

Consequently, they have formed a thicker skin to the subject and are more free to discuss it.  This can easily be misunderstood as being rash or aggressive because it creates an uneasy feeling in me. Let me put it this way: we all have that person in our lives who always manages to say the one thing that makes everyone in the room uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a friend or coworker, maybe it’s your cousin or your sister-in-law; whoever it is, our attitude is generally that it is their problem.  We feel like they are doing something to us, because we are feeling uncomfortable with what they are saying or doing, rather than taking responsibility for our own feelings.

Until I can acknowledge that I feel more uncomfortable talking about racial inequality than people who have been forced to deal with it every single day of their lives, I will never be able to get over myself enough to be a part of the solution.  And if I’m not a part of the solution, I’m a part of the problem.

I am ignorant of the racial inequalities that exist in my country.  

I was recently watching a Sunday service from North Point Church.  In the service the lead pastor, Andy Stanley, invited two African American men who were also Christian leaders to be a part of a discussion about recent events and racism in general in this country.  They both explained the reality that they were taught how to behave if they ever got pulled over by the police. They talked about it as if it was just another part of growing up.  An obvious lesson like don’t drink and drive or always pay your bills.  This may not seem so strange until they described exactly what they meant by “how to behave if you ever get pulled over.”

One of the men relayed that he was taught that you never reach for your wallet. Now, I understand that if you are being addressed by a police officer you don’t want to be erratic or make any sudden moves, but the degree to which this lesson was ingrained in him as an African American young man was startling.  It ran so deep in his heart that when he heard about recent events he admitted that there was a part of him that thought to himself, “Why’d you reach for your wallet? You know you’re not supposed to reach for your wallet.”  

I will teach my boys to always be respectful of police. I will teach them not to resist or run if addressed by police and to always be upfront and honest, but I will not have to teach them not to reach for their wallet.  I cannot imagine feeling like I have to teach my children how to protect themselves from the people who are meant to protect them.

If ignorance is defined as lack of knowledge, education or awareness then I am most certainly ignorant of the racial inequalities that exist in our country. The beautiful thing about ignorance, though, is that it is easily remedied ― but not without willingness and intention.

I cannot imagine feeling like I have to teach my children how to protect themselves from the people who are meant to protect them.

There is a video that has been circulating recently showing several people sitting in a diner, all of whom are white except one.  The waitress comes out and brings all the white patrons pie.  The African American man then asks the waitress, “Where’s my pie?” to which the other patrons respond, “Why are you making such a big deal? All pie matters.”  It is meant to illustrate the tension between #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter.  I think it is an excellent illustration except that it misses one of the most important factors.  It would have been far more accurate if the white guys who had received their pie were blind-folded. Because whether or not we mean to, most of us are blind-folded to the things that people of color deal with every day.  That is not our fault, but whether or not we stay that way is on us.

 

My discomfort and my ignorance can be attributed primarily to one thing: 

I am distant from the racial inequalities that exist in my country.  

I live in New Jersey.  I am not someone who has gone their whole life without interacting with people of color.  I am not someone who is solely informed by the media in regard to cultures and races outside my own.  I have friends, coworkers, neighbors, mentors and family members who are people of color, but I am still distant from the racial inequalities that mark their lives.  I have never made it a secret that I was a “rebellious youth”.  And by that I mean that I was a criminal.  I made very bad decisions and did a lot of awful things.  Some things that I will never be able to fully make amends for.

I have, however, never spent more than a weekend in jail.  I have always attributed the reality that I am a free man to God protecting me and allowing me to learn my lesson without prison time.  I still absolutely know that to be true.  However, I have to acknowledge that my “get out of jail free cards” came, at least in part, due to my ability to catch a good sunburn in 15 minutes.  I also regularly share with people how grateful I am for all of the opportunities I have been given to do things I really wasn’t qualified for.  I have been allowed behind the scenes in a lot of situations that shaped who I am and developed me in my field with no explainable reason.

I have a certain degree of … privilege because of my skin color. The responsibility for having it isn’t on me; but the responsibility for what I do with it is.

While I will never really know for sure, I have to wonder if my experience would have looked the same way if I didn’t.  The “deficit of the doubt” that people of color experience throughout their lives is something that I am only beginning to understand.  And that understanding is really only an intellectual one.  It is often said that the greatest distance in the world is 18”, the distance from your head to your heart.  I will always remain distant from the deficit of the doubt until I allow it to hit close to my heart.  The question then is: how?

Know someone.

I don’t mean know someone in that way that white people tend to reference when racism comes up in conversation.  That, “One of my best friends is black” way.  I mean I have to enter in.  I have to make it my business to overcome my discomfort;  I have to be intentional about educating myself and raising my awareness so that my ignorance can diminish; and I have make it personal.

I need to let my heart break at the fact that there are people in this country who do not receive the benefit of the doubt, ever.  I need to care enough to do something.  Something more than just write a blog post or share a powerful video clip.  I have to build genuine relationships with people of color and stop the whole ridiculous “I don’t see color” BS.

I need to see color and learn to appreciate it for what it is.  I need to allow myself to participate in and grow from and enjoy a culture that is not my own.  One that has its pluses and minuses like all others.  I need to be willing to get close enough to applaud when there is a victory, mourn when there is a loss and call it out when there is a shortcoming. I need to actually see my brothers and sisters of color as family.

I have a certain degree of power and privilege because of my skin color.  That is not something I need to feel guilty about.  I didn’t ask for it or seek it out, but I have it.  The responsibility for having it isn’t on me; but the responsibility for what I do with it is. 

Jeff Cook

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To be offended by Black Lives Matter is a glaring representation that you don’t get it.

Racism is real… I’ve experienced it even as an adoptive white mom of black kids.

To my friends who are uncomfortable with the thought that they or any of their other friends have a “racial bone in their body.

Let me assure you, you do.

Having a “token black friend” at work doesn’t make you less racist.  If you really talked to that friend, or put yourself in their culture, your heart would ache for how their experience differs from yours.  So quit using that to convince yourself you treat and look at black people the same way you look at your own kind.  

We all have biases that makes us uncomfortable around those that are different than us.  Even though I have adopted black kids, I sometimes find myself biased, too.  Guess what?  Even my black children can find themselves with these same societal biases… Americans are deeply programmed to see black Americans negatively.

I once saw a phrase in the middle of a sentence and it wasn’t even the point, that said “Society is God.” Despite your religious beliefs, that is so very true.  Andsociety has profusely trained us to fear the black man and to have negative views about black women, too.

But the black man, unless he’s dressed in a suit and highly educated, is immediately lumped into the “I might need to be afraid of this person” category.

Black teenage boys with hoodies are often seen the same way.

This week, I was sitting at the bedside of my son Clay, who was experiencing complications from a surgery.  I missed all the news coverage and I only saw one-sentence news notices I get on my phone.  The police shootings were going on while my son was in critical danger.  I didn’t have the mental capacity in my worry over my son to process anything.

But, I saw my Facebook feed the next day who showed me who some of my friends really are… some good and some not so good.

I also answered the scared texts from my 15-year-old daughter who is asking a lot of hard questions about how she can feel safe in a world that sees her first and foremost for her skin, and may not give her the opportunity to show her beautiful and fierce heart.

When I was a new adoptive mom 20 years ago, I would see the puzzled looks on people’s faces as they tried to figure out why a middle-class white woman had black children with her.

Over the years people have asked me some stupid questions like “Where are they from?”  I reply “America!”  They seem confused.  Mostly, I developed a skill to not pay attention to the looks and stares and quizzical glances.

When my kids hit their teenage years, the looks started being more blatant.

One thing that always happened is when I am with my lighter-skinned, bi-racial son, Clay, people treated me differently.  You know why?

THEY ASSUMED I HAD BEEN WITH A BLACK MAN.  And they treated ME differently than I am treated as a middle-class white woman when I am out alone.  When I’m with Clay, they looked at me differently… sometimes with contempt. 

You know who didn’t look at me different EVER? 

Black people. Black people thanked me (although that was never necessary). Black people were gracious and kind.

Since Clay’s mid-teens, he could easily pass for a full grown black man in his 20s. Despite being bi-racial, the world will ALWAYS see the black first and respond to societal norms based on his blackness, forgetting his whiteness.  People notice him… and me… and it’s hard to always know what they are thinking now that he is grown, but I know it’s because of racism that they notice us in the first place.

When Trayvon Martin was killed, I had to sit Clay down and tell him if he is ever involved with police that he be respectful, EVEN IF THEY GOT IT WRONG AND HE IS INNOCENT.  I told him to comply, put his hands up, be respectful, don’t resist.  I told him to do whatever they want and when he gets to the police station to call me and we will work it out from there.

I HAD to tell Clay when he’s at the Mall right down the road, the security guards and mall cops will be watching him more than his white friends.  I told him this because it’s TRUE, because I’ve seen it when he is with me a few feet away.  My white friends don’t have to have this conversation with their white sons, but all of my black friends have had to have it with theirs.

Clay was thrown from the backseat in a car crash a couple of weeks ago…he was with four of his fellow football players, all black.  The policeman actually told me how cooperative and respectful the other boys all were (Clay wasn’t able to be interviewed then). The policemen and EMT workers were respectful, too.

When I arrived at the scene and despite riding on the ambulance with him to the trauma center, I was questioned over and over again about being his mother.  This too is racism.

This is people seeing a middle-class white woman, who alone would not be expected to be associated in any way with a young black male teenager, and then treated differently when the assumption is that I am a “n*gger-lover” (and yes, that’s been said to me before).

I felt harassed after being questioned about my right to be there for my son six times in just a couple of hours.

The biases can work in other ways, too.  When I am just with my kids that are not bi-racial, that are darker, there are some same looks.

However, there is a quicker assumption that I am their adoptive mom.  I’m seen as a saint (which I hate) and they are seen as special and somehow “not as black.” 

I experience being black-by-proxy and they experience being white-by-proxy. 

This is not the case when they are out alone of course, they are just seen as black teenagers.  How confusing that must be for them to process… to experience white privilege when the adoption is known, but treated with the society impressions of what it is to be black the rest of the time.

The bottom line is this: of course all lives matter, of course all policemen matter ― and to support one or all of these things doesn’t mean you are against the other. 

However, to be offended by BLACK LIVES MATTER is a glaring representation that YOU don’t get it. 

It shows that YOU are uncomfortable admitting to yourself or others that black people in America are treated differently.  You are comfortable in your white privilege and just don’t care that other people’s experiences are different than your own.

Yet if your sibling got treated as a black person does for a week, you would take up cause, you would be emotional about the injustice.

If you can say you love everyone exactly the same…and your behavior and thoughts reflect it, then great.  If that’s actually 100% true, then we need you…because you can be a leader in this movement. 

Does that make you pause and start with a list of excuses?  I thought so.

MLK’s work is not done, he died for it.

Right now, these sweet black souls that have died in the past year to bring this all to light have too.  

Be assured it was not news to the black community…it’s only news to those of us who are cocooned in our privilegethey HAD to get loud and angry for us to even pay attention.

The best way we can honor them is to take a big gulp and start to understand and admit that racism is ugly, real, and relevant and start to change our own hearts, stand in solidarity and say, Black Lives Matter.

Deb Besinger

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Most white people don’t see themselves as racist. They can comfortably reel off a list of people of colour they know, like, or maybe even love. They can’t think of a time when they’ve negatively discriminated against someone on the grounds of their race. And they don’t see, in a concrete way, how their own race has positively affected them.

More than that, when people imagine a racist, they probably envisage a white skinhead sat in a pub ready to start a fight with the first black or brown person who walks through the door. That’s a convenient picture to conjure up – it’s pretty easy to comfort yourself that you’re nothing at all like that awful bastard.

In fact, though, everyone – of whatever colour – is racist. As part of a TV documentary I’ve been working on, I’ve seen how our brains have a tendency to automatically associate our own race with good and other races with bad, whoever we are.

Psychological tests showed me this. I looked at the results of 2,846 British people who took an “Implicit Association Test”, designed to analyse automatic racial preferences.

On average, white Brits demonstrated a moderately strong bias towards their own race and black Brits showed a very weak bias towards their own race. I don’t think white people are born with some sort of racism gene – the main thing that explains those different scores is the way that society has geared up our brains differently.

I put myself under the lens too, and took a test where I was asked to put myself in the position of a police officer. Images of white men and black men flashed on a computer screen in front of me and I had less than a second to decide whether or not to shoot them, based on whether I thought they were holding a gun, or a harmless object like a can of drink or a packet of cigarettes. My results showed that I was slightly more likely to shoot white unarmed men than black unarmed men.

I think my responses to a game about police killings and gunmen have been affected by the fact that I’m a journalist. I’ve spent the past year in the United States covering relentless news about unarmed black men being shot by the policeand armed white men committing mass murders. That’s pretty unique. Compared with the other participants, my results were very unusual – the data shows most people are much more likely to shoot at black men than white men. But that data comes almost exclusively from white participants who are much more likely to be police officers holding the gun in the real world (94.5% of police officers in England and Wales are white, just 1.1% are black).

So if the tests show that bias works both ways, shouldn’t we spend more time talking about white victims of racism, rather than white perpetrators? When a white friend asked me a similar question I felt deep frustration. It’s because the question assumes that we work in a racially neutral society where prejudice against one group is equivalent to another. We don’t.

I think of the gatekeepers in my life – not just the police officer I asked to record a crime for me but also the headteacher I asked not to expel me, the boss I asked to promote me – and in every instance I’ve sat opposite a white person and had to simply trust (what else is there to do?) that they wouldn’t view me differently because I’m not white. It’s a question of vulnerability. As long as systems of power remain white, racism against white people will not be the same as racism against people of other races.

I am, though, reluctant to dismiss anti-white racism altogether. Because the fact is, my friend and a lot of other white people in Britain genuinely believe racism affects them too: that people like me benefit more from positive action schemes than we suffer from negative discrimination. And they would never, ever use the word “racist” to describe themselves.

We need to acknowledge the frustrations of those white individuals who feel ignored by elites and who might vent this by turning against people of colour, or migrants. But taking apart the racist label and understanding that everyone is biased is an important first step in understanding how a racist society has affected us. Then we need to find a language that doesn’t conveniently overlook systems of power that are still set up to privilege one race: a white one.

Mona Chalabi

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