It’s been a tough week. I’ve got a GREAT podcast review of an amazing podcast to share, but it feels TONE DEAF in light of everything happening around us, so it can wait. When I first heard the news about George Floyd, there was a “pain echo” inside of me… my immediate thought was “Oh God, NOT AGAIN.” In the next moment, it felt like someone just sucker punched me in the gut. I had this pain, sadness, and a sick feeling in my core, and a feeling of complete powerlessness over doing anything about it.
I’ve put a lot of stock in personal development in my life. I’ve bought into the idea that if I don’t like my current situation, I can change it, and yet, I can do all the personal development I want, and it’s not doing a damn thing about black people continuing to be targeted by whites (It’s not just cops, y’all). I was reminded yesterday in a brilliant TED talk by Baratunde Thurston about how blacks have had the cops called on them for pretty much ANYTHING. BBQing, napping, sitting, playing golf too slow… the list goes on… by whites. The effects of mass incarceration of predominantly black men is well documented in the book “The New Jim Crow” by legal scholar and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander. I began reading this book in 2018, and literally couldn’t finish it, it was so upsetting (cue the white fragility). At the current rate – despite whites committing more drug crimes than blacks – the American prison system (already the largest in the world) will imprison a third of the African American population in the United States. The research is clear. We target black people at a disproportionate rate. It’s not up for debate. In her book, Alexander points out that after the Civil War, what we DON’T read about in the history books is all of the successful attempts after the death of Lincoln to roll things back in response ‘progress.’ It’s happened all over again in the United States since the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s, and I’ve done nothing about it.
Now, as a straight, white, Christian, cisgendered middle-aged American man, I’m pretty much sitting on the top of Privilege Mountain. So, my M.O. has been to honestly keep my mouth shut. “Nobody wants to hear from YOU, Tim.” I literally was told when trying to speak at a medical conference, “The last thing they want is another pale male from Yale.” Now, to be honest, I thought that phrase was funny, because I love a rhyme, and I certainly didn’t think I had the right to be upset, because frankly, they were spot on. They should have one of MY heroes in music therapy, Dr. Deforia Lane, an African American female music therapist (87% of our field is female) on their stage instead.
Then one day during a conversation with a friend, I asked her (this was during the #metoo movement), “How do I speak out? I represent the problem!” She said, “You take your platform that your privilege has afforded you, and you ‘hand the microphone over’ to someone without privilege and let them speak on it.’ So this week, I’ve been curating content on FB from my brothers and sisters of color and sharing THAT, rather than ‘what I have to say.’
But, I do have a voice, and I do have a platform, and so here’s what I have to say:
I didn’t do ANYTHING to deserve my place in the world. I literally came out the right shade of skin color, in the right country, at the right time. I started ‘the hundred-yard dash of life’ like 50 yards ahead of EVERYONE else on this planet. What I do from yard 51 may be up to me, but I got a 50-yard head start (The gap is actually MUCH larger in certain situations).
Now, that’s not anyone’s fault, so it’s not for me to get upset, defensive, or self righteous about. It’s just a fact. Like the fact I have brown eyes. I can choose to be grateful for the genetic roll-of-the-dice that landed me in the white-colored-male-meat-suit that my spirit currently inhabits, which is pretty much all I’ve done to this point. However, I can ALSO choose to reach back to the starting line and help everyone else catch up – not so one of us can beat the other – but so everyone can enjoy what I’ve had all along… through NO EFFORT ON MY PART.
I think we live in a culture that is so engrained with the idea of self determinism, that we forget that systemic power imbalance trumps self determinism by the numbers. Sure, you get your unicorns who ascend despite adversity, but please stop pointing at them saying, “See!? ANYONE can do it!” It’s just not factually true. That’s your privilege clouding the actual data.
To my brothers and sisters of color, please keep sharing what is like for you. This past week, three friends of color have done that through FB lives, FB posts, and poems, and it has helped me to get out of my ivory tower and see the world through your eyes. You continue to inspire me. PLEASE tell me. Tell those of us with power and privilege, what needs to be done? What can we do today?
For my part going forward, I see my job is to not let my white discomfort stop me from working in some way to help people of color have what I have… a country to live, work, and raise my kids in where I feel safe. If you don’t think that’s worth a little discomfort, too, then what is?