I grew up with stories of racism from my parents. In my youth I typically shrugged off my father’s urgings of being careful about those who would treat me as less than because of my race. I had the good fortune of living in a working-class neighborhood and attending highly rated schools that were well integrated. It was not until later that I started to take racism more seriously.
One of my first police encounters involved being in a car that was pulled over after leaving a church choir rehearsal of all places. When my friend driving asked the nature of the infraction, we were informed that the police were on gang patrol. His insinuations of what a car full of teenage African American males must mean did not immediately dawn on me.
While in college I saw just how underrepresented African Americans were on campus. So much so that without being told I instinctually knew to nod as if to say a silent hello anytime I saw someone of my hue walking past. I learned quickly to make sure my gas tank was full when driving my hour-long weekend trips from campus to my parents' home lest I end up like Carol Jenkins.
I remember vividly the picture of a lynching in my college textbook with the captions detailing that the event occurred in the town that my Father grew up in and the date was just 1 year after his birth. During my U.S. history class, I experienced Klan day where the teacher spent the entire lecture walking through the illicit history of the organization and its deep roots in the state of Indiana. My experiences were minuscule compared to the stories I heard from classmates and staff willing to share their encounters.
During my professional career I never felt the full heel of overt racism. I was blessed to work for organizations that shared their value of diversity and inclusion with not only words but also dollars. Most of the time, racism came across as the silly things people say: “I’ve never met a black person that (blank) like you” or “Based on your view on (blank) I would have never thought you were black” (for decency’s sake I’ve skipped some of the more vulgar stereotypes colleagues have divulged to me).
In some respects, the benefits of good pay and career fulfillment allowed me to overlook just how present the impacts of bias and racism continue to be felt. There are countless stories of people that look like me that received unusually brutal treatment. Many have made the news and many more never will. Botham Jean’s encounter especially hit home to me because I could see myself in his experience. More recently Breonna Taylor’s case turned my stomach as it was overshadowed in the news so quickly. This week I finally forced myself to watch the video of George Floyd and shuddered at the thought of how many times this occurs without camera footage.
I doubt this forum is an adequate venue for openly discussing solutions. As with most societal ills, they would be far less plentiful if we dealt with them appropriately in our homes. My purpose is not to bash, accuse or cast aspersions on anyone. I have found over the years that I am a very poor judge of anyone else’s character. I just thought, maybe foolishly, that some people would be interested in hearing another perspective.
For the empaths that care deeply about every human life: I hope you use your energies to be the compassion our community needs. To the strong, individual freedom loving patriots: I pray your indignation is directed to fight for the rights of people who do not look like you or have the same socioeconomic blessings as you. To those that continually experience both the seen and unseen injustices: may you have the strength to be the clear voice we need to hear.