I am ashamed, so ashamed. I'm ashamed that I am part of what is being called "White Privilege" in our country. I am ashamed at what our once great nation has become in the last several years.....racists emboldened by leadership .......failure to acknowledge the wrong-doings of people in power.......greed.....the lack of respect shown to our neighbors.....the lack of love shown to those same neighbors.....I am ashamed and I am saddened.
I was fortunate enough to grow out of what could have been a terrible beginning to my life. You see, I come from a long line of racists.
There, I said it. Not all of my family mind you, but many family members had their hearts filled with absolute hate for anyone whose skin was darker than theirs. Growing up in the South, I'm sure that I am not alone. While racist vitriol was being spewed during my teenage years, I listened. I saw what was happening in the late 1960s with rioting and the fight for racial equality. At first, I held contempt for those rioters and protesters until I came to realize why they were doing it. My stance began to change and so did my attitude.
I imagine sports had a lot to do with it. When I traveled with the men's basketball team at Middle Tennessee State University in the early 1970s, I roomed with an African-American graduate assistant coach named Forest Thoms. We stayed up late at night on many occasions talking about life. Very seldom did we ever talk about race. I got to know him and he got to know me and we became friends. That's the way it should be and finding common ground, like sports, is a starting point for people, like me, who grew up in the culture of blatant racism.
While my stance on life was being shaped during my college years, I met and married a beautiful and wonderful girl from East Tennessee whose family was loving, caring and more accepting than I could ever imagine. Their neighbors across the street were black and they knew and loved the Wares as friends, not as "black neighbors." Shelia's father had a baseball team of young kids that was integrated. This was in the 50s. He never had a clue that he was doing something bold and brave. He knew them as just kids who wanted to play ball. As a result, we have tried our best to be inclusive and value all people and to stand up for the rights of people who were treated unjustly. We have tried our best to teach our children the same values.
None of this is to pat myself on the back for being a great white man. I am confessing that even with the good and bad influences in my life, I have to do better. We have to do better. We cannot accept or remain silent while mothers and fathers of black men have to have the "talk" with them. White privilege exempts us from that job. White privilege is real and I am ashamed of it. I have never been afraid to drive through an affluent neighborhood thinking I would be "suspicious". I have never experienced someone locking the car door as I walked toward them. I have never been told I couldn't play in this park because of the way I looked. But, I know people who have.
Unlearning things that have been part of your family culture for generations requires a lot of soul searching, but the first step is admitting the problem. If the guy who cuts your hair makes racial slurs, tell him you are offended. If your golfing buddy thinks the murder of George Floyd requires "more investigation", tell him you disagree and why. Talk to your family, your neighbors, your kids...speak up. If you worry that speaking up will offend them, just remember how offensive it was when a man was being held down on a dirty street, begging for mercy, crying for his mother. Think about the career Navy man who has experienced white people locking their car doors as he walks by. That's offensive...and much more. Examine who you are and what you value deep down in your soul....regardless of the color of your skin. Admit your biases, face them head on, and decide what your role is going to be in changing what is happening. By the way, you will play a role, either by your action or inaction.
We may have been raised in a racist culture. We may have racism practiced routinely by people we know. We may be guilty of our own ignorance of "how is that bad?" We all fall short, but let's make an effort, people. It starts with me. I want my grandchildren to be able to say, without question, that Grand Randy stood up for justice and equal rights. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world where George Floyd is treated like a man. I want my grandchildren to never know a decorated Naval officer was treated as a suspicious criminal just because of the color of his skin. Isn't that what we all want?
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com