On Juneteeth, my employer ServiceNow encouraged employees to learn more about the holiday and racism in America. With that research time and many hours of contemplation, I came up with the fodder for this blog — which feels a little like a confession — something potential allies are being asked to do. So here goes:
I have been an advocate for people with disabilities for a long time because my older brother was born with brain damage that limited some of his cognitive capabilities. In the old days, he was described as “mentally retarded.”
When my daughter was a toddler, she passed the Deaf Test (do not say failed the hearing test!), and immediately I became an advocate for her and soon after an ally to the Deaf community.
I’ve also been a long-time ally for Gay community causes having spent the majority of my life doing and seeing Theatre as a student, actor, and playwright. I’m straight but since high school, I’ve always had close Gay friends and coworkers.
Becoming a Black community ally should’ve come naturally
So becoming an ally to the Black community should have come naturally to me, especially because I have biracial male relatives — a first cousin named Rodney and a nephew named Beau. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the case.
I don’t think I was a racist, but I wasn’t an antiracist either — which I learned recently, means I was sure as hell enabling racism. Damn! That sucks to know I was/am part of the problem. I mean I identify as a liberal and a progressive. I backed up those labels with my support in donations to and activism with left-leaning causes like food banks, Planned Parenthood, and common-sense gun law advocacy groups.
But though I often thought about it, I have never given money or support to the Southern Poverty Law Center or any other race equality-focused advocacy organization.
I’m way more racist than I realized
Sadly, I have come to realize in the past few years — thanks in no small part to diversity, inclusion, and belonging training at work — that I have unconscious and unexamined biases that make me way more racist than I want to be or ever imagined myself to be.
Looking back over my life, I had little opportunities to engage with Black people in school and college as I grew up in Southern California suburbs. However, when I began working in big city workplaces, I developed several close friendships with Black people.
I remember when my office pal Doris invited me to her house party, I was one of only a few white people in a group of 40 or 50. This was the first time I’d ever experienced being “the minority.” It was an eye-opening experience, even though it was only for an hour or two. I remember thinking, this is what it must feel like to be Black in a “white world.”
Recipe for disaster
Initially, I was quite uncomfortable with this reversal of my normal. Now, I’m thinking that this “uncomfortableness” is probably a big part of why White Americans are struggling as the country becomes more diverse — something the cretin-in-chief has divisively played upon for way too long. It’s hard to give up power and privilege, but America returning to the “good ole days” is a recipe for disaster.
So even though I was very sympathetic to the cause, I’ve had to reflect on my thoughts and actions prior to my “awakening.” What I thought about two high-profile tragedies reveals a lot about how I’ve evolved in less than a decade.
Fruitvale and Ferguson
I have to admit my reactions to Oscar Grant’s death on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transportation (BART) Fruitvale station platform on New Year’s Eve 2009 and to Michael Brown being gunned down on a Ferguson, Missouri street a few years later were not very compassionate or deeply considered.
First, the Grant homicide — I was living in Fremont (East San Francisco Bay) at the time. My recollection of the event was that Grant got into some kind of altercation on the train that led to the police being called and eventually the 22-year-old was detained face down on the platform in one of the train stops in Oakland.
Apparently, Grant wasn’t cooperating with the police officer Johannes Mehserle, who had him pinned down. The officer stood up and pulled out his gun. He then shot Grant in the back from point-blank range with a whole train of people watching and many video-recording the incident.
I bought officer ’s claim that he meant to draw his Taser and not his gun, simply based on his first words were said to be, “Oh, shit. I shot him.” He was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in July 2010. He lost his job and served time. I thought that was a fair result.
I was not supportive of making Oscar Grant into some kind of hero. I felt the film “Fruitvale” portrayed him in a very sympathetic and unnecessary way. In my mind, he was a petty criminal and his immature actions that night led to what happened, though he certainly did not deserve to die for them.
My perspective was clouded because of my daughter’s proximity to the manslaughter
My perspective was certainly clouded by the knowledge that my ex-wife had allowed our 17-year-old daughter — without consulting me — to go into San Francisco with three high school friends unescorted by adults that New Year’s Eve. I was pissed to learn that my daughter was on a BART train that night, maybe only a half-hour before the incident. I told my ex I would have never forgiven her if something had happened to our daughter that night.
The idea that my daughter could’ve been hurt or even just witnessed this traumatic and tragic incident at such a young age surely colored my view of the Oscar Grant incident. (Obviously, I didn’t see “the big picture” of this being another case where a young Black man died at the hands of a reckless or sadistic white cop.)
A few years later, when Michael Brown was shot and killed on a Ferguson, Missouri street, I had a similar view despite having no “personal” connection to the incident. When I saw the convenience store video of big Mike Brown roughing up the small immigrant store owner before he was killed on the street, I thought “classic bully spoiling for a fight.”
Of course, young Mr. Brown did not deserve to end up shot 6 to 8 times and left in the middle of the street like roadkill. But again, I had a hard time with making him out to be a “hero.”
I said as much on my cousin Rodney’s Facebook feed and forced him to play peace-maker when his Black friends challenged my viewpoint with angry responses. I can see clearly, I was buying into the Angry Black Man narrative and not helping people with my privileged views. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I need to acknowledge my myopia was based on racism.
How I learned racism is buried deep in me
Now, that I am more woke than I was, I still have to admit I have much more to learn and experience. And I was reminded of that just a week or two ago when I was walking in my safe urban neighborhood. I saw an attractive, athletic Black woman walking on the other side of the street with a pure white dog and my first thought was: “That’s wrong. She shouldn’t have a white dog.”
I had to laugh at my idiotic thought, but then I realized how ingrained racism is in me. Honestly, it depresses me, because that negative thought/emotion felt like it was very, very deeply embedded.
Of course, I can reason myself out of thinking like that, but the fact that I have to do that is so concerning. One has to be thoughtful and if you’re under pressure or in an emotional state, thoughtfulness isn’t going to be easy to do. It’s much, much easier to react without thinking deeply about what’s motivating you.
I’m a work-in-progress making progress
Still, I did think about my racist reaction and that’s half the battle, isn’t it? I feel I’m a work-in-progress making progress. When I shared this Black woman/white dog story with my “diversity coach” via my DIBs training, she wrote:
Richard, I have to laugh you are so transparent and I love it. NO Black people don’t be thinking about the color of white people dogs LOL although I did have someone tell me once they got a black dog because the shelters says no one wants a black dog (reminder of black people) so she waited until she could find a black dog, now she was a black woman but that was the first time I ever heard of that. I found that to be funny too.
I think it’s good you challenge the way you think, we all have to do that. I found myself being a bit nervous in calling my white friends, I wanted to ask them how they feel about everything going on, but I stopped myself because I was afraid if one of them would say things like; oh its being over rated, black people are too sensitive, or I don’t believe that is really happening or some other “dumb” comment that would have hurt my feelings and affected the way I think of them and that it would make me want to end my friendship with them.
So I’ve slowly approached the topic. I dont know if I can handle a friend being insensitive to this cause because its not just happening to Black people, but hispanics, asians, american indian, muslims, or gay people almost all minorities and some white people too just not as prevalent. its just that Black people have taken up the banner and run with it, and fighting back. We feel enough is enough, we have often times turned the other cheek but now when we can see it on TV or people doing it knowing they are being videoed and not care and feel they are within their right to take another person’s life because of the color of their skin — well enough is enough because if we don’t stop it some other group will rise to the occasion and do it.
White people have to take a stand against this, its ungodly attitude on all levels. We have to get to a place where we can LOVE each other no matter who you are. It must break God’s heart when he see’s mankind behaving this way, he made all of us and he said “this is good” how dare we accuse him of being wrong by saying some of us are good and others are not because they are not white or like me.
Previously published on medium
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.