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We need to be better.


I don’t usually talk about world events in this space.

Of course, the nation isn’t usually on fire, either.

So, look:

Black lives matter.

I know some people won’t be happy with this post, and that’s…well, that’s too bad.

Let me start off by saying that I know I’ve got life on easy mode. I’m a white, heterosexual, cis male in America. When I get stopped by the police (it’s happened a few times), my heart pounds because I might get a ticket and not because I might be killed. People in my neighborhood don’t get upset when I take a walk. No one calls the cops because I “look suspicious.” That’s privilege, and I get it.

Instead of trying to tell you what racism is like, let me tell you about something I regret. I don’t have many regrets. This one, though, it really eats at me sometimes.

I was in a store with my father a few years ago. These two biker dudes (stereotypically bearded wearing black tees and leather vests and patches and all) in line ahead of us at the checkout were talking to us about traveling and my dad was talking to them about traveling because he loves a road trip. Then they said something about how they always detour around DC. They looked like we should know why. We didn’t, so my dad says “Yeah, I don’t like the traffic there, either.” They’re on motorcycles and I wouldn’t want to be caught in traffic on a hot highway on a motorcycle. It sucks enough when you’re in a car.


“It smells like fried chicken and watermelon,” they say.  <wink>

I didn’t get it for a few seconds. I remember not getting it that these dudes who were talking to us about road trips decided that we were people who would understand and appreciate some casual racism. Obama was President at the time. They were just being super racist, and they thought that we’d appreciate it and that a wink was good and we were all in the same club because we’re white guys.

So here’s what I regret: I didn’t do much of anything. I didn’t tell anyone off. I didn’t take any action. I stood there awkwardly, said “oof” and ended the conversation.

Sure, it’s good that I didn’t go full tilt on strangers in a store. They were bigger than me. Almost certainly armed. I’d probably have gotten myself killed. Still, though, I didn’t do enough. I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t a racist and they should be ashamed. I didn’t ask them to explain their joke. I didn’t say much of anything to them about this abhorrent behavior.

So, that’s what I regret: I didn’t speak up.

I don’t know how to end racism. I don’t know how to get people to understand that their fellow people have equal value and rights. I know we can’t stay silent in the face of bigotry.

Call out racism or any other bigotry in your friends, family, or social groups. Do it on the job. Do it on the phone. Do it if we ever have parties again. Speak up when you hear it or see it. Don’t let it pass by without comment. I know that this happens in checkout lines and parks and schools and churches and everywhere else. Don’t let it be “normal.”

Racism isn’t always as blatant as the KKK. It’s often subtle exclusion and suspicion. Maybe the people doing it haven’t realized that racism is tainting their perception of other people. Maybe they’ll stop and think about what they’re saying or doing if you say something as simple as “Would you think that about a white person?” or “Would you ask that about a man?”

Maybe even just a "That's not cool, dude."

Some people are fine being racists, but I’d bet lots of them don’t want to be racists. They can be reached. I don’t know the magic words, but we need to do better.

We can be better. We can treat people as people who are equally deserving of our respect. We can help our neighbors stand up to bullies and racists. I must believe that we can be better.