It started with a run.
A lot of thing in my life start that way. Ideas, creative moments, thoughts, life changing decisions. So, it seemed like the only way to find a little perspective, ascertain some honesty, and take a hard look at my inner wabi-sabi (a term I am obsessed with).
8.46 miles. One for every minute that George Floyd lie on the ground dying under the knee of a racist cop.
8.46 miles to think. 8.46 miles of self-reflection. 8.46 to figure out my part in all of this. 8.46 miles to own my shit. 8.46 miles to discover how to be part of the change.
I haven’t run over 5 miles since some time back in 2019, the prospect of going 8.46 seemed daunting and was inevitably tough but seemed like the smallest act of support and change I could give, especially when my ignorance started with a run.
People can do it. It is hard. Requires a lot of work. Requires the want, need, and ability to take a good long hard look in the mirror and want to change the things you aren’t proud of, the ugly you see looking back at you in the reflection.
George Floyd wasn’t the first, likely won’t be the last, hell- he probably wasn’t even the most recent. But for the city of Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota, likely the country … he was the wakeup call.
I have watched our city, a mere 30 miles from our house burn. Not only in actual flames, but with the anger of people who have asked calmly, politely, peacefully for change and have seen nothing for their efforts. They have watched while white folk complained about not being able to get their hair done and were rewarded with salons opening up, nothing more than a vanity request and it was honored. In return, they ask for their lives to be spared, to matter, to not be judged on the basis of their skin color, and to not have someone kill them by kneeling on their neck and we respond that we “will look into it but it is a big ask”. Where is the humanity in that?
Now, before I go telling people we need to change, first I need to own my side of the street. A side I am not proud of, one I am ashamed of, and one that over the last few years has haunted me.
I am a privileged white person, in every sense of the term, minus maybe the fact that I am a woman. I grew up in a middle to upper class white community, had mainly white friends, and was able to know not only where my next meal would come from but also had a car to go get it if I so wanted. I have never been scared of cops, except for the fact that I might get a ticket and my parents would be upset. I don’t have to wear bright clothes on my runs (though I do only run during the daytime-again- woman), and I am 100% positive that the color of my skin has never played a role in how someone judged me… I am sure I have given them many other reasons too but that has never been one.
In 2015 I decided to run the Twin Cities Marathon. I only had one other marathon under my belt, had not been in love with my efforts and decided I wanted to participate in the race that puts Minnesota on the map as a great running town. I trained for 6 months, went on God knows how many long runs, gave up family time and friend outings to get into the best shape I could. I endured injuries, mental barriers, and countless other things along the way that made this a hell of a challenge for me. Me… looking back now it is so obvious that I was so short sided and selfish, Hindsight is 2020 (literally).
As we neared the race date, Black Lives Matter threatened to interrupt the marathon and protest the death of Philip Quinn, who was fatally shot by a St. Paul police officer on Sept. 24. The week going into the race, the media was all a twitter with what was going to happen.
Were they going to cancel the race?
Pray it doesn’t happen?
Anxiety filled my blood as I refreshed my Twitter news feed hourly watching and waiting to see what was going to happen. The anxiety turned into anger. I began to think “How dare they take this away from me… I have worked so hard for months. Find somewhere else to do this. Somewhere that is less disruptive.”
In a moment of obvious privilege and anger I fired off a blog post entitled “All Lives Matter”, in which I aired my grievances and condemned them for trying to ruin an event that people work so hard to accomplish. The irony of it now hurts my heart to even type. I had missed the point of their protest completely and instead turned it into a mockery, flaunting my white privilege yet again. I overlooked their years of fighting and put my months of training ahead of it. I compared my struggle to theirs and deemed it ok to also be upset that I too was being let down. It truly disgusts me now that I was even capable of this kind of exploitation, this kind of blinders behavior that allowed me to enjoy my privilege without ever thinking about how it was allowing me a different kind of experience than others.
I posted it, asked others to re-post, and watched as my other white friends agreed with me, further validating my stance.
It wasn’t until my brave cousin had the courage to call me out on my inability to see the bigger picture. She said “I am sorry, but I can’t share your post. I don’t think what they are doing is wrong. I hate that this may interrupt an event I love so much but if not there then where? They need to be seen. This needs to be heard. It may be difficult, but it is necessary.”
For the first time in my life someone pointed out my white privilege and I didn’t like it. It sat too low in my stomach, made my skin feel a little too tight, left me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to deal with it, so I shoved it back down, went about my life, tried to pretend it wasn’t there. Ran the marathon. Noticed the protestors, looked away, kept running, letting my stomach churn with the knowledge that my words had added to the problem. I lowered my head as I ran by them, the shame of my actions deep in my heart, beginning to ready itself to meet my soul.
A couple months later I heard Dax Shepard explain white privilege in a way that finally broke me open. He wasn’t the first one to say it, but he was where I first heard it.
“White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it means your skin tone isn’t one of the things making it harder.”
For the first time yet again, I realized that I had made it all about me. White privilege wasn’t the condemnation that I was making it into, it was an explanation for the unspoken judgment and racism prevalent in our country every day. It was never about me, not even close. It was about people like me becoming aware of the advantage we were born into. It was our choice how to use that benefit. We can use it for evil; hold ourselves higher, look down, judge… kneel. Or we can use it for good; stand up for people, fight back, call out, and demand change.
I tried to find my 2015 post on the internet, wanted to read what I had so selfishly written, and apologize for every word. I can’t find it and it is likely better for everyone that way, but it is still out there, haunting me. The thing I can’t take back. The words that are spoken or written are there forever, on the paper, on the internet, and never forgotten in the back of our minds.
Five years is a long time. Time enough for someone to take a very long hard look at themselves and see that while I may not have been outwardly racist, I was definitely part of the problem, not the solution. I wielded my white privilege around like a sword, using it as it suited me, never bothering to think about where I was swinging my weapon and at who. Assuming since I was never actually hurting anyone directly with it then it wasn’t a problem. But the truth is that using power you were given to do anything but affect change is the problem. If you never bother to stop the swinging motion long enough to realize that you may be using your sword to fight the wrong battle, then you are only at war with yourself.
I am not going to sit here and pretend that I am some born again activist out there in the streets fighting for justice. I am not. But I am here, a very changed human, trying to use my privilege for good. Trying every day to teach my children tolerance, acceptance, and that everyone deserves the same rights, liberties, freedoms, and benefits of this country regardless of race, sex, who they love, where they came from, and what their story is. Everyone deserves equality. I promise every day to be part of the solution and not the problem in ways that I can. I promise to help rebuild our city, fight for justice, and demand change. It may not be in the same way that others do it, but I promise I will be fighting.
We have a long way to go. Blacks, women, immigrants, minorities, LGBTQ, and many others are not given the same freedoms that white men are allowed simply because of the color of their skin. I know it all seems sad, scary, tragic, and maybe even too much to handle right now. But I know this… CHANGE IS POSSIBLE. I know it because I am not the same person, I was 5 years ago. It is hard work, requires the need, the want, and the pressure from everyone around us to ask, demand, and force it… but it can happen. I was all of those things; sad, scary, tragic, and too much to handle. I am still a lot of those things but the other thing I am is changed.
I am sorry.
I can do better.
I want to be an ally.
I want to raise our young daughters to be allies. I want them to fight for themselves and those you are not treated equally.
I want justice to be served.
I want change.
It is only possible if those of us who are part of the problem, are on the periphery of the problem, or who up until now haven’t even been aware that there was a problem are willing to change.
Open your eyes.
Open your hearts.
We can do better.
They deserve better.
As my watch blinked 8.46 miles and I pressed stop, bringing my pace to a walk, the sky above me opened and raindrops began to fall. Slowly at first as I walked the last couple hundred meters to my cabin, but as I drew nearer, and the rain fell harder I felt water fill my eyes. A metaphorical cleansing of the shame I still carry. The guilt I feel for the ignorance I held and put out in the world. A shame I will always find in the back of my mind. But under the heavy rain drops, with tears in my eyes I tilted my head to the sky, closed my eyes, and vowed from here forward to be part of the change. Part of the good.
Part of the informed. I promised to never again take my privilege as permission to stick with the statue quo. I promised to fight even when it makes me uncomfortable.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
It is time for us to find power in our lack of comfort and love in the release of our privilege.