Friday is officially becoming a day I both relish and dread. I hope for the chance to engage with people who happen to catch a glimpse of my weekly shirt slogan choice. (This week is “Hands up Don’t shoot”) But I also despair at how few people willing respond in any meaningful way. Yes, I have been stopped on the street and had photos taken. And I have been questioned in the supermarket. But most Fridays show the need for a campaign like “Wear out the silence” because it is increasingly apparent to me that one of the things we white people are good at when it comes to racial issues and the issues of equality or equity is SAYING NOTHING.
Today a coworker looked at my Royal blue long sleeved “Hand’s up Don’t shoot!” shirt and simply made this statement as he passed by on his way to something else around the work place. He said, “Love that shirt.” Now I know this man and have a good working relationship with him and I know what he meant was that he really liked that it was made into a shirt and that I was wearing it and that he was endorsing both of those things, me and the shirt. I believe he even liked the message as far as he understood it. To his credit I do consider this white co-worker to be a reasonably enlightened person and believe he really is supportive. But as he said the words “love that shirt” it hit me like a shot to the back of an unarmed man that I “HATE THIS SHIRT!”
I hate the fact that because Michael Brown was killed and there was some disparity in the story around the testimony of him having his hands up and saying “don’t shoot” people have called it the biggest lie of 2015.
I HATE the fact that since the time of this becoming a rallying cry for black American’s that countless unarmed people have been shot and killed by police, one in particular shot while trying to help and mental patient and laying on the ground with his hands in the air being more than 20 feet away from the officer who shot him. I HATE the fact that I even need to wear this shirt to try and provoke people into waking up and at least pretending to care or to start having some uncomfortable honest conversations. I HATE IT. But you know what? I get to go home, take off my shirt, stay white and have it all just suddenly disappear because I am not black and the thing I HATE most of all is the idea that black people in my country have to wonder if they put their hands up and say “don’t shoot” that those words may be the last thing they ever say before being murdered by a police officer at his or her racist worst.
Full disclosure. I am a ‘Racist In Recovery’ you might say. I grew up in rural america surrounded by white people who were afraid of things hey did not understand and that mostly meant anyone who didn’t look, talk and act like they did. So like them, I held all the normal negative stereotypes of minorities and women. It has taken me a while to even become aware of some of these ideals and continues to take deliberate effort on my part to change the way I see the world and all the people in it. But each day I hope to make some small progress in my understanding of other people and how important other views and paradigms are. By the way, here is an example of someone taking my idea of racist recovery a few steps further
Today as I am taking off the shirt I wear one day a week to remind myself that things in America are not the same for all of us, I wear it to remind myself that I as a human being can do something even if that is only to get people to start thinking differently, to support those who want the same things I want; opportunity, purpose, safety, love, fun, success in all its forms, family, life and maybe more than anything, respect. If you are not sure of your racism as you read this or if you are in denial I invite you to get real honest with yourself and see if there are seeds of racism burred deep that you may need to deal with so you can help make the world and in particular our nation – the one many people believe is something that we are simply lying to the world about – a better place. And if you have been awakened to seeing the world in a new way in the wake of protests and injustice and want to start doing something about it. Go here and like me you can go all in. I’ll be there right along side so you won’t have to do it alone.