I thought the news cycle had been exhausting for the last several years. Then, I heard the heartbreaking news of the death of George Floyd at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department. Since then, the news of the details of all the horrifying things George Floyd experienced in the final moments of his life and the subsequent national (and eventually global) reaction has felt too much for me.
And that’s before my focus eventually was turned back to the deaths of Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Eric Garner and… this is so long. It is too long. And it has unfortunately continued to get longer even in the days since the protests began.
I’m exhausted. And I have to admit that I am saying that as I continue to sit here with all of my white, male privilege.
As I try to reflect on what navigating the last week or so has been like for me a thought that has often crossed my mind is that this must be what it feels like every day for black men and women in this country. But in examining that reflection, when being as honest with myself as I can be, I have to admit that my perspective still must be limited by my experience as a white person in this society.
After all, the path to my current exhaustion started less than two weeks ago. Two weeks! I must confess that I couldn’t even begin to imagine a lifetime of this. I can’t remotely imagine my life being this heavy every single day. And there is no legitimate reason for me to think what I am feeling is comparable to what members of the black community experiences daily.
A thought on why it’s hard to know what to do
I have a million thoughts on these subjects. But I’m trying to do a lot more listening and learning than speaking on them. From where I currently am on this journey that I hope will lead to significantly more understating and empathy, there can’t be much that I can add to the conversation apart from a commitment to seek knowledge and perspective and to act upon it.
But that’s not enough.
I can’t be the only white person in this country that has struggled with knowing how and where to help the cause.
How much speaking up is too little? How much is too much? How do I know if I am taking up space in the conversation that’s not mine to consume? Am I amplifying the right people and messages? Or am I taking over a part of the dialogue?
What does constructively showing up look like? How do I know if I am stepping into a place that is not mine to occupy?
Does it mean anything if my intent was to help? Because I know that I still have so much to learn, I know that I still function with a ton of ignorance. Does that prevent me from being able to join in the fight?
It consistently feels easier to do nothing, or if I manage to do something to be cautious about it and to do things on the margins.
Why? Here is what I think.
In this society white people aren’t used to be told we are doing it wrong. We aren’t used to being corrected. We aren’t used to be told to do what we are doing differently or to do it better.
And we are severely sensitive about that.
The racism that was built and that continues to be cultivated into this society to benefit us has protected us from these experiences. And the thought of going through them terrifies us so much that we all too often choose to sit out opportunity after opportunity after opportunity.
Our self-image of goodness (or whiteness) and inherent nobility is exceedingly precious to us and too important for us to risk by joining in the fight.
For me, I have come to believe that this is what most has to change in order for me to do my part.
If I do it wrong is someone going to shoot me? Assault me? Press a knee into my neck?
What happens as a result might hurt my feelings. And I’ve largely been protected from that my entire life.
I am committed to doing my best to get involved and help in the fight in the best way that I know how. If I get yelled at for not doing it the right way am I not capable of getting over that? Am I not capable of taking instruction from someone that our society has long told me should not be instructing me?
Am I above being told to do it better? To being told to have a seat for a minute to reflect on how I was trying to contribute?
If I am sincere in wanting to be a part of the solution, I figure that I better find a way to be OK with it.
That doesn’t give me the freedom to jump in from a place of willful or lazy ignorance. It’s on me to do my best to listen, to seek feedback, to be grateful for it in fact, and to pursue an increasingly deeper understanding of the issues and dynamics at work.
But for me, it’s starts with getting over an anxiety that is firmly born out of my privilege to avoid criticism and instruction.
That’s where I am at this juncture. And if you live with the same privilege that I do, maybe it would be useful to consider if it’s the reason you haven’t done more to actively do your part.
I contribute here at Peachtree Hoops because I love the NBA and greatly enjoy writing about the Atlanta Hawks.
I would never have been afforded this space if not the immeasurable and irreplaceable contributions from black men and women in this industry.
Further, I have been greatly inspired by how players and coaches across the league have stepped to the forefront to lead their respective communities on the issues.
Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce recently spoke to his personal experience in our society using the word fear. The vulnerability Pierce has demonstrated, in these recent weeks especially, has served as a sobering message to me that there is no acceptable excuse for me to sit this out because getting involved would be uncomfortable. Just reflecting on the contrast of him speaking up personally about the fear he experiences every day to my own anxiety about leaving my comfort zone should be enough to move me toward a state of persistent action so long as I am sincerely and honestly holding myself accountable to the things that I profess to be about.
Pierce has also spoken of the responsibility that comes along with the authority and influence that his job as an NBA coach affords. It’s not hard to admire that. But can those of us living with white privilege use his example as reminder of the undeniable responsibility that comes with the status that we have in society? Especially considering that we were born into this status simply as a result of having white parents. There is no meritocracy to the process that determines our skin color.
I’ve been far too willing to coast through this life leaning on my unearned privilege all the while professing to believe in justice and equality.
My actions have not always supported that those values are genuinely important to me.
It’s time for me to be honest regarding whether keeping my own fragile feelings in tact is more important that the fight to combat the systematic racism and oppression that costs the lives and welfare of black people every single day in this country.
I have not done nearly enough. It’s long past time for me to do more.