The article began, “White people of America, take a moment to reflect on the reality that many of you have and continue to witness black people brutalized and killed for the better part of the last decade. #YouAreComplicit” (You Are Complicit, @Shaft, Medium.com, May 28, 2020)
@Shaft is surely right. He quotes David Crossman as saying, “When you turn a blind eye to atrocities, you are complicit in them.”
How can anyone believe themselves to be human while ignoring so many major and minor abuses of our brethren regardless of their skin color? How can one believe themselves to be caring while not speaking up?
I know I have biases, both explicit and implicit, both conscious and unconscious. I try to be aware so that those biases do not unfairly impact my behaviors and responses—I sometimes fail. I am that worst-of-all character: A white aging balding Christian male. My upbringing was rather insular. I have things to work on. I know I have lived and still live in a privileged position. I was born into a financially-poor family, and I’ve worked hard for my position in life, but I know that my skin color has not impeded my success—and that gives me privilege.
But am I wrong to think that ‘white people’ are not alone in possessing biases? I hear, “You wouldn’t understand.”
One incident remains in my mind. About five or six years ago I was driving out of my close-in suburban neighborhood in San Antonio to run an essential errand. Backing out of my driveway that clear and cool morning, I could hear the brassy sounds of the marching band at their Saturday morning practice over at St. Mary’s Hall, the exclusive and expensive private school a few blocks West of my home. Bronzed by the South Texas sun and toned by exercise in backyard pools or home tennis courts of the mansions that surrounded the school, these high-school band members would hardly be breaking a sweat in the mild weather today. Resting my arm on the driver’s door at the open window of my 10-year-old GMC pickup, I slowly drove away from my home. Down the block, I waved a greeting to my neighbor, Dr. Anna Karlsdotter, as she unlocked her Mercedes sedan. Noticing that she was dressed in a conservative light-blue pants-suit, I imagined she was headed for work at Northeast Baptist Hospital near the I-410 highway near the southern-most entry to our neighborhood. I thought about Dr. Karlsdotter and her family and hoped they would stay in their current home, but had my doubts. The homes on my street were a little old and a little small for an up-and-coming OB surgeon.
Several families were already outside working on their suburban yards. Taking a left on Barrington Drive I noted a line of cars already along the curb by the Episcopal Church of the Reconciliation. A few church ladies in colorful hats were lugging bags and boxes toward the church’s cultural hall for a spring-time event. As I rolled slowly past, their priest, Bishop Washington, purple scarf hanging from his neck, greeted me with a fist-wave. At the far end of the oak-lined paved parking lot, a group of young men, mostly a mix of Hispanic and black, were playing basketball under the outdoor hoops and I could hear their trash-talk. It’s a good bet that most of these youngsters were residents of one of the many apartment complexes between the church and the nearby freeway and that they didn’t attend St. Mary’s Hall. Bishop Washington and his congregation provided a lot of good services for those young men and their families, including breakfast and lunch for the youngsters that they probably wouldn’t otherwise get when school was not in session. Further along, the suburban homes turned to townhomes in tight rows with contracted landscape men at work. Serna Elementary School, ranked one of the most diverse public elementary schools in Texas, wasn’t in session, so the schoolyard and playgrounds were empty. I took another left at the Rahman Mosque and pulled up to the stoplight at the corner by the Lighthouse Baptist Church.
So there I was, a stereotypical white guy driving a stereotypical white pickup truck in Texas, windows cranked down on a balmy spring morning. I had been listening to some Fleetwood Mac. As I pulled to and waited at the stoplight to turn right where my neighborhood street exited onto the feeder road, I noted several people at the covered bus stop waiting for trusty Via Metropolitan #14. My wife often rode that bus to and from her gymnasium and had reported a generally congenial mix of riders. As I watched, a big guy finished his 32oz Circle K drink and tossed the paper cup, plastic lid, and straw to the sloppily trimmed lawn area behind the bus stop. Allow me to emphasize this: HE WAS STANDING NEXT TO A CITY-PROVIDED TRASH CAN. I was appalled. How can we keep our neighborhoods and streets nice under the insult of such behavior? I hate littering. I had just read that local peer pressure is more impactful against littering than rules and signs. I quickly escalated from appalled to incensed.
Window down, I shouted, “Hey, you, soda drinker! Pick up that damn cup. Trash can’s right there. Don’t trash our neighborhood!”
The light turned green and I drove away. Within seconds it hit me. “Oh, no! Damn.” The guy, the litterer, was black. He will think my verbal admonition was motivated by race.” I felt bad, and I still do, about this. I did not yell at him because he was black. I yelled because I hate slothful littering and trash. Anywhere, but especially near my home.
I know I have biases—but here I assume that he was biased too in thinking my rant was race-based. I have no way of knowing what he actually thought, but my imagination hears him responding in kind but with a racial component that probably had something to do with honky or cracker. What did he think of my use of “our neighborhood?” I meant OUR neighborhood – his and mine – but I fear he thought I meant MY neighborhood. “What are you doing here, ‘boy,’ anyway?” may have been, to him, implied in my words. Did I commit a microaggression? I felt bad then, and still do, that he may have felt attacked for his skin color. Would it still have been a microaggression if I had been black? Or if he had yelled at me? Or can only white people commit microagressions?
What should I have done? Nothing? Accept that some people just don’t care about litter? Should I just give up any and all attempts to shape the world around me in what seems to me to be a positive way for fear that I might offend someone? Should I just shut up and color if I perceive a wrong in the hands of someone of a different ethnicity or culture? Our taxes pay for picking up litter and we have to live with the garbage until it is picked up—I often pick up litter from others.
I struggle to understand: There was a trash can right there! This was a ship-in-the-night incident. I never saw him at the bus stop or in our neighborhood after this. I have had no chance to apologize or to discuss the event.
What should I do now in the time of George Floyd? I simply don’t know. I try not to discriminate in business and in my personal life. I’m very willing to discuss this and try to learn. “You wouldn’t understand” does not help. I am trying to understand and to know how to help. From what platform should I speak? I have no broad audience.
I only ask that you bring to our discussions the possibility of considering that it is not only white people who have biases and that it is not only people of color that are harmed by them. I strongly agree that people of color have for much too long carried a much heavier, unbearably heavy, load in this regard—but the distrust, the fear weakens and harms us all. We can talk and maybe work together if we don’t simply condemn one another out of hand due to our skin color.
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AhmaudArbery)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
I can go to church (#Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hairbrush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)
I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd)