One of the things that has stood out to me over the last few years is how, being White, I do not have to explain or validate my existence to anyone. I am allowed to just exist. I am allowed to go for jogs wherever I would like with relatively no consequences. But that is not the reality for people of color. That was not the reality for Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud was stopped during a casual jog by White people who demanded he explain and validate his existence to them. When he refused to do so, he was killed. He was killed for living and existing as a Black man in America because being a human is not enough of a reason to be allowed to live and exist in White America.
This thought was fueled not only by Ahmaud’s story but also by the many racist experiences my fiancé has shared with me. As a Black man, he told me about the countless times he has sat outside of his apartment in his car after coming home from work and the police knocked on his window to question what he is doing and demand he go inside or leave. He points out how I frequently drive without my seatbelt on and without my driver’s license, how I do not think twice before I roll through a stop sign at night, and do not notice the police car parked behind the building three streets up clocking drivers; I do all of these things with little care in the world because I am White and I unconsciously know that I am protected from consequences by my Whiteness. He tells me about how he chooses the lighter tint to put on his car windows and does not drive with his hood up or a hat on in order to minimize risk of racial profiling. I listened to a conversation he had with his 13-year old Black nephew during which he was educating him on all the ways to minimize his risk factors that come from being Black in America: make eye contact, dress well and be sure his hair is done, use “proper” words like ma’am and sir and use his “White” voice, do what he is told without questioning. The list went on and on. I realize that the examples I am sharing relate to police officers and driving, but his experiences are as just as discriminatory in other areas of his life: when placing orders at restaurants, on social media, and at grocery stores.
The more I hear about my fiancé’s stories and experiences, and even witness them myself as I am out in public existing as a White person with him, the more I realize that many White people hide behind denial and the excuse of, “Well it’s not happening to me so that means it’s not happening.” If I had White children, I would never have to give them lessons about how scary the world is and how to minimize risk factors. I would not have to explain to them that some people will not like them purely because of the color of their skin. I would not have to explain how institutional racism works and how he will have to work much harder than his White counterparts in order to be seen and validated in school and in his future career. My heart is in the pit of my stomach thinking about how I will need to have these same exact conversations in the future with my now 10 month old son. I am nearly in tears thinking about how he will ask me at some point, “Mommy, why are they so much nicer to you than to us and Daddy?”
I feel overwhelmed with powerlessness. Even as a White person, I do not feel like there is anything I can do to change the course of society so that I do not have to have these conversations in the future with my children and so that I do not have to worry about them going for a jog without the risk of being killed for just being. I feel powerless that my White colleagues will not be able to get passed their own biases and racial judgments to be able to even begin grasping the reality that people of color live on a daily basis. I would like to say that I am hopeful or even cautiously optimistic that our society can overcome racism, but every time I hear stories like Ahmaud’s I am overwhelmed with powerlessness and anger toward the unfairness and the injustice that so many people are comfortable ignoring. White people: Our Black community is tired of fighting to survive, it’s time for us to do better.