What I Know
June 16, 2020
What I Know
It is June 2020 and the world is in chaos with 10 new headlines every day! As I go through my days and read, hear, and listen to all that is occurring in the United States and the world, I find myself reflecting on one question. “What do I know?” Here is what I have come up with thus far. This is an ever-growing list.
I know that I am white.
I know that I was born into a middle-class family that eventually became an upper-middle-class family.
I know that I went to a high school where there was very little diversity. There were few Jews. There was only one black student in the entire school.
I know that I learned to embrace diversity from my maternal grandfather who was a professional boxer.
I know that Grandpa Phil said he became a professional boxer because he learned to defend himself going to and from school daily as someone who was Jewish.
I know that growing up 25 miles east of Cleveland in the suburbs, I saw mostly white people.
I know that due to where I lived and where I chose to go to college (University of Wisconsin-Madison) that I had few interactions with people of color.
I know that I have always been curious about people who have lived differently from me. I have always been curious and interested in people who are considered “other” by the broader community.
I know the majority of books that I have read in my life have been written by white authors and possibly white male authors.
I know that it has only been a few years since I began to realize my biases and my white privilege.
I now know that the history I have been taught throughout my 55 years has not been a complete history.
I know that I now read a lot of books written by people of color with very different life experiences from my own in an effort to understand another human’s life experience.
I know that as hard as I try, I will never truly understand what any person of color has lived through on a daily basis.
I know that I will never fully understand the trauma that white people have systematically caused to black people over 400 years.
I know that it is my responsibility to educate myself about the lives of others. It is not their responsibility to teach me about their history and a history that is unknown to me.
I know that black parents parent their children very differently than white parents do.
I know that I have much to learn about the black experience in America.
I also know that not knowing is not an excuse. Not knowing is the memo that tells me that it is time for me to listen.
I know that not knowing is an invitation to be quiet, listen, and learn and take in the stories and facts from black people.
I know that black lives matter!
I know that black lives historically have not been valued in the United States.
I know that voter suppression in the United States is real and is prevalent throughout our country.
I know that black lives have been kept down systematically throughout history and have suffered unspeakable pains at the hands of white people.
I know that I have a responsibility as a white person in 2020 to do what I can to stop this vicious cycle.
I know that I am willing to give up every benefit that whiteness has provided me.
I know that I am willing to give up all the privilege—bonuses that society gave to me the moment I was born—so that those who have been oppressed, subjugated, and demoralized can begin to live lives that are free, equal, and valued. And possibly we can create a country that has life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ALL.
What do you know?
I encourage you to reflect on this question.
I have been committed to educating myself for the past few years to learn from people who have a different life experience than my own. I encourage each of you to discover authors, artists, journalists, public speakers, educators, and poets who speak to you. Everyone’s list will be different.
I have always used this space to share books that I have read, movies that I have seen, or some other experience that has helped me broaden my perspective on life. I will continue to use this space for that purpose. If you choose to look into my recommendations, great. If not, that is fine too. Also, if you come across a great piece of work that you would like me to share with this community, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Here are two of my latest shares. The first is an incredible article by Ta-Nehisi Coates titled “The Case for Reparations.”
Here is a great list by Corinne Shutack that is continually updated, titled “75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice.”
You might be thinking that it’s impossible to find inspiration at this moment in time. I would disagree. Yes, this is a time full of turmoil. It is a time fraught with tension and even violence. However, keep widening your lens. Broaden your perspective. I am seeing tons of white people who are paying attention and listening to the stories of people who are black and brown. I am hearing about many white people who are reading, learning, and listening to the voices of their peers who have lived different lives. I am witnessing many white people who are paying attention to the STORIES instead of the stats of people of color, potentially for the first time. People who are open to learning. People who are open to challenging their old assumptions. People who are curious and want to understand more. This is where it all begins. This is where we start. May we all continue this journey and never stop. May we always continue to be curious about our fellow human beings and do everything in our power to truly understand them.
You have articulated very well the expanding consciousness of many white people, brought to a critical point by the past few weeks but slowly growing in our hearts and minds for years. Too slowly, but at least growing toward understanding. Your words nourish our growth and light the candles we need to navigate the darkness of our understanding. Thank you so much.