In my previous week’s podcast, What is it like to be a white man?, I quoted George Washington, the first President of the United States, and somebody messaged me and said, Did you know he was a slave owner? I guess I had known that at some level, but had not thought about it in years. What scared me more was my first reaction to their question. I started to hope that George Washington was a good slave owner. I started to describe what I had hoped a good slave owner might have been versus a bad slave owner. Then I had to stop myself and realize that saying somebody was a good slave owner was like saying there is such a thing as a good kidnapping. Both are bad and both are wrong.
Then somebody said to me, you are whitewashed. I am a white male from the United States and I have lived under the mostly white view of history and events in the United States. I did have to look back on my life and for the most part, I did grow up in a mostly white society. I have worked with black people and not given it a second thought. I hope that I have treated them fairly and with respect, and I have never had a deep conversation on what it is like for them to be black. I guess that I have known about issues that white people have with black people, but I never really thought about it. It was an out of sight, out of mind view.
I know that I will never know what it is like to be a black person. I can only try and in watching the movie Mercy, there are two scenes where a black man was pulled over by white police. In one of the scenes, the black lawyer was pulled over for no reason and I tried to imagine what it would have been like in his shoes. I would have wanted to be angry and I could feel it bubbling up as he asked the white policeman, what is the reason for you pulling me over? multiple times. I felt scared when the white policeman pulled his gun out and pointed it at my head. Even though I was feeling scared, I would have to fight to keep my anger in check, because I would be thinking that he had no reason to pull me over, but I also know that if I did anything out of line, I could be dead. How do you balance those two opposing strong emotions? When the white policemen finally let me go, I would feel a huge relief. As I think about it now, the anger is still there and how easily that anger would turn into hate for the white policemen and distrust for them. What would I need to do to stop that from taking root, because if I let that anger, that distrust, take root, I become like them. Could I be bigger than them?
When I was thinking about the podcast, Are you whitewashed?, I happened to listen to My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem and in the book Menakem posed the question, what if I went to a large event and walked into a room of only black people? I would hope that I would be willing to enter the room and enjoy the event, meeting new people. I know that I have been to large events before where I knew few or no people and had good times, but I cannot recall one where I was the only white person in the room. I hope I could walk into that room.
Finally, right before my podcast this week, I saw a quote.
Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.
By Maya Angelou
Now, that my eyes are opened a little bit, can I do better? I hope so. I hope that I can see a little more color. I hope that I am strong enough to stand up for the injustice that I come across and speak up. I hope I can do better.
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