On April 20, 2021, I, like so many people around the world, waited with bated breath as the Derek Chauvin verdict was being announced in a quiet courtroom in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Derek Chauvin, the disgraced Minneapolis police officer who brutally assassinated George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in front of the entire world, was found guilty on all charges. My wife and I cried for joy, with the silent hope that Mr. Floyd was somewhere in Heaven celebrating the moment with his mother. Five minutes into our tear-fest I received a call from Phil Dixon, who along with his wife Cathy are two of my closest friends in the world. I heard Phil’s voice, and I broke down in tears again as I heard him quietly sobbing.
Phil and I met each other in 2004. Phil is from London, England; he’s twenty some odd years older than me, and I forgot to mention that he’s white. I’m from this little suburb called Bridgeton, which is right outside of St. Louis, Missouri; I’m forty-seven, and I forgot to mention that I’m Black. We are literally from opposite ends of the planet with completely different life experiences, and yet we have forged a friendship that has weathered the highs and lows of business, life, this thing called Race in America, and everything in between.
What struck me as odd, but refreshing about Phil, is that he has never attempted to “explain away racism” to me. The “explain away racism” tactic is often employed by friends, who happen to be white, when the subject of race comes up. They will tell me, “Jason, racism is not as bad as it used to be,” “Don’t let the media manipulate you, Jason,” or my personal favorite, “I love you like Jesus loves you. I don’t see color; I just see you.”
I know that my friends mean well, but I also know that the race topic is hard for them to discuss because they’ve been trained to believe that the best way to deal with racism is by not talking about it. Phil, on the other hand, would just listen to me, not for the sake of being polite but for the purpose of truly attempting to understand. Granted, he would ask probing questions but always from the perspective of clarity as opposed to diminishing my experiences. There was always comfort in knowing that he would be there for me, no matter what.
So, on May 29, 2020, just four days removed from watching Derek Chauvin kill George Floyd, I called Phil with this desire to do something… anything that was going to facilitate change in our country. Six months later, we published our International Bestselling book, Bias, Racism and the Brain. The goal of our book was to simply move the race-based conversation forward in a positive direction.
When I reached out to Phil on May 29 to discuss the George Floyd video, I was not thinking “I can’t talk to him about my heartbreak over the death of George Floyd because he’s white.” On the contrary, I reached out to him because he’s my friend, a friend who has been there for me during my darkest days and who has celebrated with me during my brightest moments. I constantly hear people say that our sense of humanity has been lost, but I completely disagree with this line of thinking.
We have not lost our humanity; rather, we have lost our ability and willingness to connect. We are divided across racial, gender, political, and every other categorical line you can think of. We want to end our divisions, but so many, myself included, are too stubborn to reach out to people who are different from us.
We want to end racism, but we can’t figure out how to. We want to heal the political divide, but we don’t know what or who to believe. We want to stop the heinous discrimination against the LGBTQ community, but we can’t find our way. I don’t pretend to know all the answers to the dilemmas that plague our society, but I do know that we can’t fix what collectively hurts us until we are willing to put down our swords and invest in connecting with one another.
In the moment when Phil and I were crying over the guilty verdict, it didn’t matter that he was from England and I was from Bridgeton. It didn’t matter that he is white and I am black. All that mattered was that we were two people who had invested time in connecting with each other. Phil will never know the pain associated with being a Black man in America, just as I will never know what it means to be a white man because it shouldn’t have to happen to you for it to matter to you. That’s what friendship taught me, and my hope is that the generation that comes after us will inherit a world full of connection, love, possibility, and respect.
This post is republished on Medium.
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