I am a sixty-three year old semi-retired middle-class white man. Almost every day throughout the pandemic I have felt grateful. Our life is modest but comfortable and our adult children are in similar positions. We have the good fortune of love, health and reasonable security in the midst of global insecurity. Life is good. I like to be aware of what’s going on, so I read the headlines… then turn away. Read a book. Do some yoga. Isolated and insulated; grateful to live in this world not that world. That world is a major topic of conversation, like a work of fiction. My views tend to be compassionate and open-minded. I can get worked up, argue vehemently for the planet, human rights and the root causes of global decline. Desperate and passionate. Momentarily. Then the conversation shifts to another topic and we move along. That’s what privilege looks like.
This world not that world???
Now the brutal murder of George Floyd. Another innocent human being. The United States is burning. Black lives matter, and racism is rampant. In Canada black lives matter too. And the lives of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. And the need for truth and reconciliation. Racism is epidemic on both sides of the border. Entire populations – one person at a time – are abused, ignored, beaten, murdered, marginalized, hated and despised. The idea being that if your skin colour is not white then you are inferior. It’s simple. You are less. Less human. Less beautiful. Less amazing. Less worthy.
The idea that any one person is more or less worthy of anything whatsoever because of skin pigmentation or culture is nothing short of demented. Just writing this, I’m getting worked up. Desperate and passionate. Momentarily. Soon I’ll go out on the deck with my binoculars and see if any new songbirds have arrived in the backyard. That’s what privilege looks like.
This morning I wanted to make a case for my helplessness and inability to actually make any difference in the fight against racism. My wife said, “You could write something.” I made no reply. Further along in the conversation she said it again.
And again, I said nothing.
I said nothing because I truly believed it couldn’t matter. But I thought about it. If I am so insignificant and irrelevant in the great scheme of things – sadly, then I am comfortably so. I have been sincere in these feelings but they have also let me off the hook.
I have already written more than many of us care to read these days, and I’m not entirely sure where it is going. But I’ll tell you that right now I am sitting here quietly crying. Reading the headlines and knowing that we all share and live in one world I am often close to tears. Occasionally I break down. Momentarily. My mind may wander, but my heart knows full well what is going on. If I do not speak out, if I am not heartbroken by the cruelty and reality of racism, then I am less than I should be. I am less of the example for my children and grandchildren than I should be. I am less than I should be to those who love and trust me and those who are strangers. I am less of a citizen. Less of a solution. Less of a human being.
What is my role in the fight against racism? I’m not sure but it occurred to me that I might be representative of millions of people who think similarly. We are privileged. We are not racists. Good people. Sometimes we donate money. Sometimes we march in demonstrations. We are engaged and passionate. This world and that world become one. Momentarily.
What we must do is return to those moments as often as possible. With compassion and determination. Return and return again until we are no longer in and out but rather living and acting fully in the one world we all share. The fact is, there are MANY of us. We are in a position of power. Each of us has the ability to influence others and in turn create change in the institutions that are there to serve all of us. Institutions and corporations that exist and survive only because we allow them to.
I am a sixty-three year old semi-retired middle-class white man. I can’t apologize for that, in fact I can only be grateful. I have a responsibility to act with strength and decency and to serve and make this world a better place for all people. I promise that I will do my best.