Let me preface this by saying the opinions given are my own, but they are not meant to cause offense. Instead, I hope to discuss a perspective that should not be mine only, but one that should be shared. I hope to unite and not divide.
I am a white, straight, male. With these describing factors of who I am as a human being I have a certain perspective that is more privileged than others. For the sake of this post I am going to concentrate on only one of those descriptions: white. Yes, I am going to talk about race as a white person. But, before you exit this post you may be surprised by where this ends up.
Growing up I was taught that everyone was equal no matter the color of their skin. I grew up in southern California where some of the biggest racial incidents in American history took place, but I was not aware of racial tension where I lived. I went to school and lived in a neighborhood where all people of color coexisted. To me there was no difference between everyone. If I were to discriminate against people of color than I would not have any friends. Many of you might be thinking “Oh great another white person trying to prove they aren’t racist because they have friends of color.” I point out the diverse area I grew up in to show that initially I existed in an area where race was not a defining factor for who you were as a person.
Racial tension became real for me when I moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Unlike California, Missouri did not have as diverse of a population. While many races do live within the state of Missouri, the two prominent races are white and black. In my high school the tension between these two races was clear. While many people within the school were very open minded, and for the most part everyone lived together fine, the difference between cultures was clearly evident. White people could be seen wearing Confederate flags and heard saying racial slurs. Often the cultures stayed divided and rarely mixed.
During college racial tensions reached an all time high in my life when the Ferguson riots began and police brutality toward people of color was brought to light in social media. Many of my friends took sides while I was stuck in the middle trying to just understand the issue. I was, at that point in time, trying to become a police officer, so I wanted to defend the acts of police officers. But, the more I learned the more I realized that not all police officers should be defended. At the same time, I learned that maybe sometimes use of force is needed. This is when I realized that I needed to listen instead of talk.
Over the past few years racial tension has continued to grow and so I have continued to stay quiet. After college I worked in an office that was half white and half people of color. This year when racial incidents happened in the US I saw my co-workers become more and more frustrated with the state our nation. I began asking them questions trying to understand. I no doubly said very naive and ignorant things, and their grace toward me was incredible. We had very open and civil discussions about racial issues. I kept hearing from them that no one was willing to listen or acknowledge their pain. My co-workers described that their community has been trying to speak out for so long, but it’s like they are in a clear, sound proof box. They can be seen screaming but no one is willing to hear them. While they were not directly involved in the incidents that occurred they still felt the pain because they were tired of people of color being over looked and discriminated against. This has been going on for so long that they have become tired and believe that in order to be heard serious action has to be taken. For a lot of people in this country, the serious action is violence. Violence on both sides: white and black.
I told my co-workers that I wish I could speak out about some of these issues, but every time I speak it seems like I am not listened to because I am white. People don’t want to hear about racial issues from a white person because I don’t know what they have gone through. My co-workers told me that maybe I now have a very tiny idea of what they have dealt with their whole lives. This completely changed the way I thought about everything. I still came from such a place of privilege that I was mad I couldn’t be heard when my co-workers feel like this all the time.
There are no easy answers for the issues that face the US. I think the proper place to start is by listening, and letting those who have not had a voice to be heard. Only by listening and understanding differing perspectives can true solutions be reached. Violence should not be the answer in any situation. To affect real change all sides have to be willing to talk. My perspective has certainly changed because of the experiences and talks that I have had in my life. I wish that everyone could have the same amount of privilege that I have been lucky to live with. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
I wrote the post so that hopefully some people could read this and realize that they come from a place of privilege. It is time for others to be heard. Our voice should not always be the one that is loudest.
“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.” ― Thurgood Marshall