I am an upper-income, white, middle-aged man. The walking definition of white privilege.
In part, my gender, color, and social class have afforded me certain advantages.
Please do not mistake this as an apology for my successes, but I must minimally acknowledge the institutional bias in my favor. A bigger seat at the table. A few more open doors. An everyday ease from other white, male executives.
And to contextualize things further, I feel it’s important to acknowledge several unique things my black friends have shared with me over the years that I can never truly relate to:
- I have no generational link to slavery at the hands of any people.
- I have never felt “other” or “lesser” in any public setting.
- I have never felt terrified for my life when pulled over by the police.
- I have never felt discriminated against. Anywhere. Ever.
I did not write this next bullet-pointed, italicized section, came across it while researching, so I borrowed it from an outstanding Facebook post.
Think of these poignant examples of black people dying because they were black. Then ask yourself why it is so important to specifically acknowledge why Black Lives Matter.
As a white male, I know I would not die if:
- If I were jogging and decided to look around a new construction, I would NOT be chased down by self-deputized neighborhood watchmen and shot. I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #AhmaudArbery #blackwhilejogging
- If a friend who was under investigation sent a package to my house, would the police have entered my home in the middle of the night unannounced with full force and engaged my boyfriend in a firefight that killed me where I lie in my bed? No. It is likely they would have decided to question to me first, and I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #BreonnaTaylor #blackwhilesleeping
- If I was playing video games with my nephew, and left my door open for some fresh air and a neighbor called the police to come CHECK ON ME, the police would not have shot me through my window and lied about seeing a weapon on me. I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #AtatianaJefferson #blackwhileathome
- If I were pulled over with my significant other and young child in the car and disclosed to the officer that I had my legal weapon in the vehicle, I would NOT be shot while reaching for my license in front of my child and spouse. I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #PhilandroCastile #blackwhiledriving #blackwhilecomplying
- If I were accused of selling cigarettes on the sidewalk and there was an escalation leading to my arrest, I would not have been tackled by 5 officers. I would not have been choked to death while repeating that I could not breathe while one officer refused to stop choking me and another pressed my face into the pavement. I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #ICANTBREATH #EricGarner #blackwhilestanding
- If I was an active duty Marine Sergeant who was just in a car crash with my two daughters, and failed to show my hands to officers while showing a “mean” expression I would NOT have been shot and killed in front of my daughters. In fact, I would have probably received the fastest ambulance response available for myself and my daughters. Regardless, I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #ManuelLogginsJr #blackwhileinneed
- If my family and I were in search of food and shelter after one of the nation’s most horrific natural disasters, I would NOT have been shot in the back and killed next while the remaining 5 members of my family were wounded in the gunfire, and one other killed. I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #RonaldMaddison #JamesBrisette #blackwhilesurviving
- If I were suspected of a crime, and when stopped and asked for identification by police I reached for my wallet, I would not have been shot 19 times as an unarmed person. I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #AmadouDiallo #blackwhilewalking #blackwhilecomplying
- Last – George Floyd. If I were suspected of using counterfeit money, chances are I would be asked to leave the store, but in the case that the police were called, I would NOT be thrown to the ground and mounted with knees in my neck. I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. #GeorgeFloyd #ISTILLcantbreathe #blackwhileshopping
Having watched the nearly 9-minute murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police in horror and outrage, I have fully encouraged and supported the protests that have followed. It is so obvious and heartbreaking that George died because he was black.
Yes, the looting is awful. But its abject lawlessness steals oxygen from the predominantly lawful, albeit impassioned, protests. It makes us lose sight that the issue is racial inequality, not criminal proclivity. Any time a massive group of people assemble, criminals will always spring up like a weed.
It’s cause and effect: Cop murders black man > protests occur > crime occurs. It’s the murder of the black man that starts the cascade. No murder. No looting.
My heart aches that any people – but in this specific case, black people – are still fighting for equality and a voice that matters. Crazy how far we still must go in race relations. Of the many strategies needed to ultimately achieve these goals, integrity-based communications must occupy the top of the list.
Over the last twenty-five years, I have evolved some guiding communication principles that have served me well in business, in relationships, in friendships, in life. I think these principles can help others and make us think of how we interact with each other, irrespective of our color, class, or gender. Trust you will accept this in the loving context intended, and not some sort of “white man preachiness.”
Listen. Empathize. Relate.
- It starts with listening. Not just hearing someone… actively listening. Asking questions when you do not understand something. Seeking to truly understand what someone is saying to you is essential, respectful, and authentic. Affirming you hear someone and comprehending what they are saying is crucial.
- You must empathize with others emotionally, cognitively, and compassionately. You know you have connected emotionally in that moment when you cry while someone else is crying. Cognitive empathy requires you to try to walk a mile in their shoes and think about how they feel in a situation. Compassionate empathy is speaking up when you see someone telling racist jokes. It is acting on behalf of someone else and using your position of privilege without fear of backlash.
- Finally, relate to them. When it comes to issues directly related to being black in the United States, you may have to contextualize some of the things mentioned earlier that I, as a white man, may never fully understand due to lack of experience. But you must have the courage to share your own experiences back to another person with full unfettered honesty. We must acknowledge that we are interdependent on each other. True happiness cannot exist without the realization that until everyone feels love, trust, respect or loyalty, harmony cannot exist.
But these principles came to me later in life. I learned them through experience and time. They were never taught to me. How I wish I had these skills when I was young.
My best friend in high school was black. That sounds so odd and awkward to talk about “my one black friend” in 2020, but in the context of a 1987 rural, lower-income, predominantly white high school, it resonates.
He accidentally and tragically drowned a few days before his eighteenth birthday at a pool party. No one knew he couldn’t swim. We were all drunk and high. I live with that guilt every day.
Sadness aside, my biggest regret is that I never took the time to listen to how ‘outside’ he must have felt at our school. I had not developed the empathy skills to truly understand the overt racism he handled nor the ability to relate so I could have been a better, more genuine friend while he was alive.
His death created a lifelong mission for me to work on being a better person. To forge relationships of substance and discard those that lack any sense of mutuality. The effort needs to be shared and not one-sided by either party.
As we all seek to better listen, empathize, and relate to each other, let’s stop the stupid, shithead, ignorant statements of obvious white privilege. For example:
- “I don’t see color. I see everyone the same.” How offensive. We should embrace our differences and acknowledge them and use them to unify us versus divide us.
- “All lives matter” is a cop out. It misses the point completely of what Black Lives Matter is trying to accomplish. Have a black cop kneel on the throat of a white person as they die on camera. Exactly. Does not happen. Stop being so damn tone deaf. LISTEN.
- “Every time these protests happen looting occurs.” The inference here is racist, that black people are criminals waiting for an excuse. Makes me sick when white people say this because it is likely white supremacist agitators stirring things up in the first place.
I often wonder if true equality occurs over the long haul. Societies cannot change en masse. Hear me. When we look to the masses to come along, we set ourselves up for failure. Just like with looting, the mob caters to the lowest common denominator in people, not our better angels. Only people change, and then societies reflect those changes in their culture.
Perhaps we simply need generational ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and bigotry to die off. Progress takes time, and there have been some steps in the last fifty years as the older, more bigoted generations go to their dirt nap. Not enough progress. And never fast enough.
I look at my daughters today, and I am so proud. They do not label, and that is a good start. They do not have “black friends or “gay friends.” They just have friends. They judge people based on their actions, not their appearance. How beautiful is that?
But you also wonder: how prolific is that color-blindness in this generation of Millennials and Gen Z’ers? Are these young adults the answer to a better, more equal more inclusive world?
Only time will tell. For now, all we can do is individually make the necessary changes in our hearts and our minds to suck less as a person, but also to suck less as communities. Do your part to help bridge the divisions between races. Be relentless and passionate. Never give up hoping and fighting for better days and a better world.
Listen. Empathize. Relate.
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