I am writing about this because I don’t want to write about this. The more uncomfortable I felt about it, the more I felt I had to write something — even if it’s not very good or insightful. I just know that not talking about it is no longer an option. (And, of course, if we want to hear from anyone, it’s a white guy who grew up in New Hampshire.)
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Patrick Spruell, the first Black kid I met back in 5th grade. I don’t remember much about what he was really like. All I can remember is that he was shy — as you would likely be, being the only Black kid in the school district — and that I desperately wanted him to be my friend. Looking back, it’s clear that I liked him because he was different. That’s better than the opposite, but it’s still a flawed way of friend-picking.
I’m sure many of us have similar stories of the first time someone different came into our lives. Armed with this memory, we’d like to believe that we don’t hold any prejudices or biases. I certainly want to believe that I’m one of the good guys. I want to talk about race. I want to ask questions and learn. But I’ve realized recently that it’s not enough, that I’ve sat by for the last 39 years of my life telling myself that I’m one of the good guys while doing nothing.
To my fellow bystanders, I know we’re afraid to say the wrong thing or to be vulnerable — and even more afraid to confront the idea that there’s a part of us that isn’t as open and accepting as we might think. If you’re someone who is uncomfortable or unwilling to have an honest conversation about this subject, then you need to have a bigger one with yourself.
I did, and it sucked. I realized that I had a bunch of excuses and false narratives buried inside me. So I’ve started educating myself. I’m having real, honest conversations. And I’m listening to the pain of my friends and colleagues — pain that’s red, raw, and unresolved, pain that I failed to notice before now. (You can find the pain I’m referring to in this Dave Chappelle video.)
The George Floyd video woke up a country that had been unwilling to acknowledge its sins. Black people are treated differently, I think it’s near impossible to argue that point any longer. But if we can acknowledge that fact together, then we can collectively agree that it’s not acceptable, and we all need to commit to keep our eyes open wide. Because the only thing we can’t do anymore is nothing.