There was a time in my life when I remained silent to racist and bigoted injustices. Growing up in small-town rural West Virginia surrounded by a small pond of white faces, I was silent and afraid in situations both when I was personally the recipient of hate and in situations where I was not the target. I am still afraid, but no longer silent. I am afraid of a future that does not change. Stepping across the line of comfort is hard, scary, and often painful.
I am gay man, married to a bi-racial Chinese/white man, raising a black child. I cannot put into words how honored and proud I am that I get to be a part of this diverse little family. That said, I do not take for granted that I am still awarded privilege that the rest of my little family is not. A privilege that I did not earn.
My son, Riley, is now a little over three years old. He was born at 7:03AM on Valentine’s Day. At 9:14AM on that same day, he was the target of racism. It was a punch to the gut on a day that should have only been filled with love. Riley is full of energy, curiosity, stubbornness, amazement, happiness, and love. He’s becoming more and more perceptive every day, but still he does not yet know he’s been the target of racism from nearly the moment he was born.
‘You’d even be OK with adopting a black baby?’, ‘Is he black? He’s still so cute!’, ‘I’ll change his diaper, but I probably won’t be able to tell if he’s clean’, ‘His skin doesn’t look as dark now’, ‘He’s so lucky that you adopted him since he’ll have a much better life’, ‘Wouldn’t it have been easier if you adopted a baby that looked more like you?’, ‘You don’t need to get a sitter, Riley can sleep in your dog’s crate. He’ll have to get used to a cage someday anyway’.
These are not comments from strangers about my son. They are from people that I cared about and were once a big part of my life. Some have said that I was being too sensitive or it was just a joke or they didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I will never be less sensitive to racism, only more.
Did those making the comments have remorse? Maybe. Did I try to influence and educate? Yes. Did they change? Many did not! Did they try to understand my perspective? Maybe with the “yeah, but” argument. Are they in my life now? Those that refused to unlearn behaviors and beliefs are not. My intolerance for racism is absolute. I truly hope the absence of my family is causing to pursue their own reflection and self-education. As so many others have said, racism is learned and it can be UNLEARNED.
A few months ago I accidentally rolled through a red traffic light in an affluent town in Westchester. I wasn’t paying attention and there was someone in the crosswalk. Luckily, I was moving very slowly and I realized what I had done and was able to avoid hitting a pedestrian. I was pulled over by the police, as I should have been. I got a ticket, but not for what I thought. I got a ticket because my car’s inspection had expired the day before. I was told by the officer to plead not guilty and it’d just go away (I paid fee for the the violation). That was WHITE PRIVILEGE! I can’t help but think that my son would not have been treated the same under the exact same circumstances and it breaks my heart, it terrifies me, it disgusts me, and it enrages me!
I was feeling so many emotions as we saw video after video of George Floyd begging for his life. With every image, I saw my son’s face. Every morning as I climbed the stairs to my home office he would cry “Daddy, I want you”. I would hear George’s voice calling for his mom. The headlines have continued with new injustices and heartbreaking stories. With every video, story, or conversation, I see in my mind what my son’s life may be like as he grows into a black man in America.
It is up to me to use the UNEARNED advantage from the color of my skin to make the world a better place for Riley and all those like him. If what is happening to our fellow human beings is not personal for you, look in the mirror and ask why! What will you do? Will you make your privilege mean something by doing something? Will you take action?
Over the past several weeks, I have adjusted my priorities. I’ve protested (with the proper precautions), I’ve restarted volunteering as a mentor, I have donated to several charities, I have spoken on panels to share my experiences, I have worked with schools in areas that are predominantly minorities to see how I can get involved (I donated laptops at the beginning of COVID to these schools), and I have prioritized supporting black and minority owned businesses in my neighborhood. I have also not backed away from tough conversations. I’ve told my husband to step up, I’ve demanded that my friends and family tell me how they are taking action, but I know it’s not enough and I will continue to do more.
As a white man, I will never fully know the pain and heartache that the black community has felt over the last 400+ years and continues to feel today. I will do my part and I am hopeful that 2020 is the year that we truly and sustainably influence change for ourselves and the generations to come. Anything less is unacceptable.