You don't know what you don't know. Listen and Learn
Yesterday, I was honored to spend some time talking to one of my coworkers, a 29-year-old Black man, about bias and what it meant to grow up Black in America. You see, I’m a white guy who always had this mindset that the best response to #blacklivesmatter was to immediately say, #alllivesmatter. While this is true, I didn’t realize that I was downplaying a movement that is needed. In the aftermath of the senseless death of George Floyd, I have had to take a hard look at the biases I have, whether real or imagined. Talking with my new friend yesterday I realized that I really don’t have a true understanding of what it means to grow up Black in America.
My former thoughts were always that I grew up poor, which I did, I didn’t have a stable home, which I didn’t, and I overcame two felonies and a dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps to get where I am today. I felt like an overcomer. While I have overcome things, the majority of things I’ve overcome are of my own doing. Mistakes that I made. The difference? I didn’t have to overcome being born a certain color.
Here are some of my takeaways from the conversation that I hope will help those who are on the fence of whether we need to support our Brothers and Sisters of color.
1. I don’t determine the placement of my wallet on a daily basis based upon whether I might get pulled over by the police and wanting to make them as comfortable as possible.
2. THE TALK I have with my kids is about the birds and the bees, not about how to focus on just making it home if the police pull you over.
3. I’ve never been told, “You look like you have warrants, let me see your ID.”
4. While I was followed around in the store when I was a punk kid, it doesn’t happen as an adult.
5. I don’t have to wonder what someone is saying after I leave a meeting discussing the need to not use racial epitaphs to me. It was an eye-opening moment when talking to my new friend that he immediately wonders, “Are they saying this because they mean it or are they saying not to say those type of things in front of me?”
6. I’ve never been pulled over for driving 2 miles under the speed limit. I’ve never had a police officer purposely misspell my name to have a reason to detain me.
7. I’ve never been told that I match the description of someone who just robbed a store, even if I was NOWHERE near where it happened.
This one conversation opened my eyes to the differences in culture and treatment that he and I face daily. I don’t fully understand what he faces, but I have a better understanding. Take some time to talk to someone, NOT LIKE YOU, be it a woman, a man, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or a Person of Color, ask questions and just listen. You’ll be a better person because of this. Trust me.