Reflecting On The Color of My Skin
I am borrowing the title for this essay from Niel deGrasse Tyson and got the idea for this essay from Marques Brownlee, who among others, have recently published their own thoughts on this important topic. In doing so, I hope to show additional solidarity on the current and pressing problems of Racism.
I say these words from my imperfect heart. I do not have much of a social following. I do not have a platform per se, but I feel I must try to share my thoughts to help the greater good prevail.
I do not understand everything that people of color are feeling and processing right now. I can only reflect on my own experiences as a white man in the light of current events and insights coming into the public dialog. By sharing, I wish to change the establishment so that we treat Black lives equally across all aspects of civil society.
To start, I will acknowledge that I’ve heard terms such as ‘white privilege’ and ‘unconscious bias’ several times before in an academic setting. I figured that I was doing my part to become educated on the matter, thus showing my support for change. However, I am realizing now that this is not enough. The time for being a mere cheerleader of social reform is done.
My responsibilities are changing with the murder of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I initially struggled to say George Floyd was ‘murdered’ for several reasons. First and foremost is that I was not there. I have only seen reports of the incident and I am unsure of the biases that came in from editorialized conversations. I also do not have sufficient context in my own life to give me a frame of reference for how to determine what murder actually is. I mean this in the sense of any killing of human life unjustly.
But I think this is a point that my black brothers and sisters are trying to make to me. By my own values, I wholeheartedly agree that this death was unjust, simply because it ended a precious human life. Furthermore, this is not the first death from similar circumstances over time. #Saytheirname is just one list of many victims of Racism around the world.
This list was far too long after the first person suffered an unjust death from Racist perpetrators. This is how precious a human life is. But sadly there are countless martyrs throughout the history of my own country who have died innocently at the hands of so-called authorities acting in the wrong through their own Racist prejudices.
I admit I’ve never had to learn this fact before simply because of the color of my skin and where I was born.
George Floyd’s death was wrong. There is no version of the story that makes it right. That is why this is indeed a murder and that law and order must prevail in bringing the accused to the bar of justice. Justice is determined by the people. The people have spoken and continue to speak about what is morally right here.
And all this speaking causes me to confront some of my own insecurities which I believe are part of the problem of Racism.
I have struggled my entire life with a fairly common skin condition known as Eczema. When I was in the 1st grade, my hands were so dried and cracked, that I had open sores on my palms and knuckles. I was also very itchy most of the time, which made me a distracted and fidgety kid in class. I can only imagine what I missed in lessons and discussions because I was preoccupied with my discomfort.
I remember one time on the playground when other children started called me “Old-man hands” while pointing and laughing at me. I hated this. I went off on my own and cried. For the first time in my life, I felt ‘cut off’ from the cool kids who mocked people that weren’t ‘normal’ like them. I had no power to change who I was so I was devastated by their prejudice .
I do not share this to say that I understand what Black people may be going through today while living ‘in a white man’s world’, but I share this because this experience forms my frame of reference for how I interpret exclusion and inequality.
The irony is that these little kids had no idea how that made me feel.
Being ostracized by schoolyard children is not significant at a macro level, but it is relevant to my own microcosm. For me this was the first traumatic experience in a long self-degrading, inner dialog of being an outsider amongst my peers. My personal demons pinned the phrase ‘old man hands’ on my mind as the label for why I don’t fit in and why I am not as good as others.
I offer this experience in hopes of illuminating potential solutions to Racism.
We must realize that we (and I) are perpetual perpetrators that facilitate prejudices on a daily basis.
Said differently, I talk about my experiences on the playground as being the victim in that situation. I must also acknowledge that I am complicit, albeit oblivious, to many situations where I caused this same pain in others. I can only imagine that there is someone out there carrying pain that I gave them on the same playground. I am sorry to be a part of the problem that we all have. It is haunting to recognize now that these prejudices are several orders of magnitude more traumatic and damaging to Black people.
To combat our prevalent enmity, I propose we repeat the following three questions every day until they become ingrained into our ancient brains and become second nature:
How can I show love and respect to the person I am talking to right now in this very moment?
What am I doing that may cause someone to think that I am better or worse than them as I talk and how can I deemphasize those differences instead?
Who can I reach out to and simply say “I love you” that may be struggling with Racism?
The last question gets to be ambiguous and I hope it is taken in the right way. The intent is this: Can you reach out to a white friend who is trying to become conscious of the fact that racism is ingrained in all of us and show your support for them? Can you also reach out to a black friend and say, “we hear you” and “I stand by you” to let them know that the struggle is becoming internalized in your heart across the racial divides. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, can you reach out to someone who does not yet realize their racist behaviors and say, “I love you, but we need to talk about a specific thing you just did”?
To the members of the law enforcement community- I want to reiterate the last point. I trust you to hold the peace, to protect and serve, and to uphold the inalienable rights of all people. Thank you for your service and for dedicating your lives to this noble cause. I do not understand everything it takes to keep us safe and your sacrifices are truly appreciated. It is OK to struggle with these duties, it is what makes you a great person. And as a great person, you are on the front line of helping combat Racism. As such, can you also reach out to your fellow officers and officials and say “I love you, but we need to talk about what you did, because it is not right.”
We need to trust and even applaud our black brothers and sisters because they have demonstrated the courage to speak up for an issue that I never realized I own. I now want to speak up in complete support. It is in all of our best interest to heed their example, because this is an unprecedented opportunity to weed out the plagues of fear, hate, and insecurity that all humanity shares.
What a world we could live in, if we chose to always honor and respect Black human rights with dignity and compassion!
Can you imagine a future world where even our 6 year old children have enough wherewithal to avoid showing unwitting prejudices of all forms. How many Black lives will that unlock for our future? Let us focus on #Blacklivesmatter now by showing your love to others constantly until it becomes the new normal.
Daniel B. Howell