Fellow white people: It's OK to feel deeply uncomfortable

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 10, 2020, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

I'm kind of tired of people referring to these as "extraordinary times," but I'm not sure that there's a better word. We've never seen anything like this pandemic in our lifetime. We're also witnessing the largest protest movement in American history as racial inequity continues to haunt us as America's greatest failure.

These two serious crises, if I am to observe the nation through the lens of the Internet, seem to make a lot of people deeply uncomfortable. More specifically though, they seem to make white people really uncomfortable. We all deal with things in our own way, but what's disturbing is the way people simply create their own reality as a way to avoid the feelings of discomfort. Please, fellow white people, embrace the discomfort, because the reality is reality whether you want it to be or not.

Covid-19 is going to be with us for at least six months to a year, and that's assuming that the vaccines actually work and can be produced in enough volume to get them in people. Hope will not make it go away, or make it less dangerous, or make it less contagious. Of course you want to minimize the economic damage it's causing, as we all do, and we can all help do that with limitations by social distancing and wearing a mask in public where we can't avoid people. These mitigation strategies are uncomfortable and inconvenient, for sure, but they're so simple. What do you hope to achieve by throwing a tantrum in Trader Joe's? This is not political, and it's not about your freedom (which is often confused with entitlement). Where one person's freedom starts, another's ends, so the only way we coexist with this virus is to take care of each other with these simple tactics.

Systemic racism, you didn't start that, and I didn't either. But it's there, and we can't let generations of failure continue. If your instinctive reaction to this is, "All lives matter," then you are fundamentally failing to listen. If you feel like you have to defend yourself just because this is a topic America is hell bent on reckoning with, why? Racism has been codified into our society in hundreds of different ways, and every one of them is going to be challenged. It's OK to feel deeply uncomfortable about that, because your whole value system, which you likely inherited and did not choose, is being challenged. If you feel judged, it's not because you're uncomfortable, it's because of how you choose to react. I think the more you listen, the more you're willing to understand, the easier that empathy will come to you. And let's be real: people of color asking for an equal footing and a general acknowledgement of the two-America problem will not fundamentally affect you in a negative way.

I usually don't like to compare my life to others, because the things that are hard in my life are hard to me. It isn't usually useful to keep score in this manner. However, while we all have our challenges, as a white male, I've never had to worry about driving while black, jogging through an affluent white neighborhood, how my resume might be viewed because of my name, whether or not I can get a loan because of my ethnicity or address, if my child is getting the education he's entitled to compared to white peers and I've never had to worry about whether or not I'm paid fairly relative to other white men. This doesn't mean that I haven't worked hard professionally, it only means that I haven't had to deal with the severe and real impediments that systemic racism cause.

So cool, this all makes you uncomfortable. I would be surprised if it didn't. It's not a reason to push back, it's a reason to listen.


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