When I went for my last Uber car inspection I discovered my license plate light was out. They didn’t have a replacement bulb in stock so they passed me but told me to get the bulb replaced. I have procrastinated and never replaced the light bulb. Despite the light being out for an extended period of time the police have never pulled me over. In 54 years I have never been pulled over for a light being out on my license plate. I have a relative who is an African American male. He has been pulled over for having a license plate inadequately lit while driving his car, while driving his work vehicle, and while driving his wife’s car. I told a white friend about this and my white friend’s first response was: “Well, was the light out on his license plate?!” This week cell phone cameras have captured the horrific , systemic racism that exists in our country. I would like to challenge my fellow middle aged white men to uncover the racism within them.
I was never a white supremacist racist. When I was 4 or 5 years old I lived in a working class neighborhood in Oklahoma City, OK. Black people were beginning to move into our neighborhood. I remember when the kids across the street made cardboard signs that they held up to cars passing by that said, “Honk if you hate (N-word)”. I thought it looked like fun and I ran inside and told my mom that I wanted to make a sign. I don’t remember my mom’s exact words, but they were along the lines of “No, Chris. We don’t hate people because of the color of their skin.” I remember my 5 year old self standing there stunned at the wisdom of my mother and my brain recalibrating around my mother’s insight. Why would you hate someone because of the color of their skin?
But from that time until my late 30’s I lived and worked and socialized in overwhelming white environments. It wasn’t until I worked and lived in environments that were predominantly people of color that I discovered my own racist attitudes that I had been completely oblivious to when I lived surrounded by white people. I had no idea how ‘white-centric’ I was.
These racist attitudes continue to pop up and confront me with my ignorance. My wife and I hope to buy our first home soon. One of our activities that we enjoy during the COVID-19 isolation is to get out and look at houses for sale. I showed her one house that I really liked. When she liked it as well I then informed her in a serious tone,
“I need to tell you that if we buy this house we might be the only white people in the neighborhood.”
My incredulous wife exclaimed, “I am not white! Your children are not white!”
My wife is Filipino and our children are “half-Filipino”. (I still do not know the right way to identify the ethnicity of my children.) Many people in my extended family are people of color. I do not want any of them to experience the racism that is being revealed on cell phone cameras on a regular basis.
Fellow middle aged white men. I don’t want my children to have to wait for us to die off to make strides in equality, opportunity, and justice. Let’s face our racism (as unintentional, as passive, and/or as misinformed as it may be) and be a center for transformation rather than an anchor tied to America’s racist past.