One of the healthiest outcomes from the increased discussion about race in this country has been the number of white people who have spoken up. Count me in that group. After years of thinking of myself as “aware” I found I wasn’t nearly aware enough.
If you are a white person who has an uneasy feeling in your stomach right now, I’m here to tell you that’s a good thing. But, you can’t stop there. Consider this a bit of a guide in navigating this space from someone my friends call “one of the whitest people they know.” The reality? White people are the ones who need to be having this conversation. As one Black colleague recently said, “Black people have been talking about this for 400 years. It’s about time white people started talking about it.” Indeed.
Why now? The combination of George Floyd’s death and COVID-19 must be considered part of the alchemy which brought this to the fore. People had time to think. They watched George Floyd’s story and the sickening laundry list of other unnecessary deaths and couldn’t look away. There’s one other very significant factor which I’ll address in a moment.
What about Black Lives Matter? Three simple, clear words have taken on significant meaning. It has gone beyond any organization or platform. The words Black Lives Matter are being used by business leaders and those in the white mainstream because we can’t get to All Lives Matter until we address something that so clearly has not been addressed. Also, using those words as a white person says, “I hear you – and I’m ready to listen.”
But, wait, didn’t this already get addressed? You may hear, “Well this was all addressed with the passage of the Civil Rights Act or through affirmative action programs.” A closer study of racial equality will put that discussion aside pretty quickly. Black Americans have consistently heard we have a system with equal opportunity for all, but the reality just doesn’t bear that out. Whether you are talking about access to healthcare, schooling, job and advancement opportunities or even just feeling safe – every one of these items is too often experienced very differently by one specific group of people.
Where do we go from here? The one other reason I think the death of George Floyd made the white world stop comes down to eight minutes and 46 seconds. Everyone could see another human beg for his life for more than eight minutes while a white officer seemed unconcerned. The answer to “Where do we go from here,” is right there. If this can happen in this country on Memorial Day 2020, white folks need to listen to others who better understand these issues. We need to study and focus on injustice. It only really changes when white people demand change and then live that change themselves. Count me in.
Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.