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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.

Post Comment
Czerwin said...

Kudos on a great post.
I appreciate your honesty.
I hope we can all do better.

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

Thank you for this post. Continue to be brave and strong and speak out against injustice.

Unknown said...

Mike, THANK YOU, for using your voice. I appreciate your openness and leaning into the discomfort of honesty. I know it was a risk. It made me cry to read your post. —Tina Tree

El A in the D said...

That felt right. That is where we all can start.......

carloscalbrandao said...

Well put!

Jan Scott said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing - that cannot have been easy. I'm in the UK and am just watching this with real sadness. Not that we don't have our problems but not quite like this. Though some would have it so. And I despair of them.

Ben said...

Mike, thank you. This is a great example of what it means to be an ally. I've been following you for a long time not just for the quality of your content (which is great), but also because you just seem like good people. I'm glad to be proven right.

Your talents for empathy and introspection are unfortunately not as common as I wish they were.

Jared (beachypens) said...

I haven't been reading the blog too much, but this is well said. As a white dude, I can say, there have been times with strangers and family, where I've struggled to speak out about what is said to me, in my presence, or what I overhear. I don't think you'll find a non-white person in this entire country that could honestly say they haven't failed at this one or more times in their life. We all need to read, talk, practice, and learn to be better. Our silence kills. Thanks for speaking up when it wasn't easy.

Patrick L said...

Well said.

Unknown said...

Nicely said. Upsetting people is how changes happen.

cilffbaker9 said...

Well put, Mike! I agree with you. Sometimes, we just roll our eyes to ourselves and say nothing. We should not. We should call it out, and let them know that we are not with them on this. Silence passes for agreement.

Mike Matteson said...

Thanks for all the kind words, folks. I appreciate them. I hesitated to even post anything, as my voice isn't the one that needs to be heard right now, but by putting this here and not elsewhere I can hopefully make my position clear while not making noise that will drown out important voices. If anyone says "What does Mike think?" you can send them here.

Luisa said...

Thanks for your post. Well put. I agree with you: we have to speak and call it out. I'm glad you did.

Bruce said...

Mike - Just got around to reading this. Like you cis heterosexual white male whose only significant interactions with police have been a few moving violations and a few more "warnings." Thank you for using your platform to say what needed to be said.

Phyllis B Pickett said...


Eloquent as always. As a philospher, you know better than I do that human thought can go in all kinds of directions. And mouths do the same. Please consider giving yourself a break about those jerks and their racist comment. You were not with those guys - physically, spiritually or philosophically. You were with your dad and you did what was best for him -- and you. I am proud of you, my friend, for telling what happened because the more we talk abobut racism the better --sharing its effects is part of the solution. I have been in many situations where the person who brings up race in context is called the racist. No better context than in these days. Thank you for speaking out -- now where and when it really matters. Your pal, PB