**I realize this is a highly polarizing and controversial topic. I am going to try my best to remain objective, and I apologize in advance if I offend anyone with what I write.**
I am a white man. As a white man, I realize that I am born with a lot of advantages in life simply because of my race and my gender. While I realize that my race and my gender are things beyond my control, I do not let them factor into the control I have over my thoughts and actions.
When I was twenty-two, I started a job working in various schools throughout North Philadelphia in which 100% of the population I worked with was Black or Hispanic. I assumed that there is no way I could ever be called racist, after-all, I had Black friends and I didn’t go around saying racist things. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized racism is deeper than that.
During my first year on the job, I had many kids, none older than 16 years of age disrespect me because of my skin color. Rather than get upset, I asked them why they disliked white people, and the answer I got really impacted me. The general consensus from them is that the only white people they saw were authority figures who put them down—judges, teachers, principals, and cops. Therefore, why would I be any different? To them, I was just another white person who was sent to oppress them. I took those words to heart, and have worked to be more understanding of racism as it exists in Philadelphia and the deep ways that it cuts through our city.
In my travels throughout Philadelphia, it is plain to see that Philadelphia is a very segregated city. Obviously it is not segregated by law (de jure), but it is segregated by practice (de facto). White people in particular fail to see how some of their words that they believe are innocent, are actually racist and offensive. Calling an area “ghetto” because of who is walking around and the way the neighborhood looks, that’s racist. Assuming that a man standing on a corner with his hood up is up to something nefarious, that’s racist, for all you know, he could just be waiting for the bus. Looking at footage of an inner-city school fight and saying, “Those kids just don’t want to learn.” That’s racist as well, and so is not funding their schools just because they might not do well on a test. When a 19-year old that I worked with at age 14 gets shot to death in North Philadelphia and it barely makes the news, but a white woman in Northern Liberties is shot and it makes the front page, that’s basically saying that white lives and white neighborhoods matter more than black lives in black neighborhoods. Lives are lives, Philadelphia is Philadelphia. In a perfect world, the Philadelphia Inquirer would have mentioned how the 19-year old man was a distinguished student at a school that didn’t have many, and was given a scholarship to Temple University. Instead it just said his name, age, and where he was gunned down. We don’t live in a perfect world, and for the Inquirer to have this double-standard simply because of his race and where he lived is unacceptable and disgusting.
Here’s why Ferguson matters: racism is deeper than words. It’s actions that oppress others, and elevate the power or status of another group. Racism is institutionalized through our courts, our educational systems, and our living patterns. It’s not my opinion, it’s a known fact that white people will say things like, “The neighborhood is changing,” and that’s code for, “People are moving in that are different from me and it makes me uncomfortable.” There are plenty of people who will be walking down the street, see people of a different race walking towards them, and conveniently think it’s time to cross the street. Everyone wants to try and oversimplify what is a complex situation. I’m not here to say, “Fuck the cops” or anything like that. There are certainly cops everywhere, including Philadelphia, that abuse their power and act inappropriately. There are also cops, including ones I have known in Philadelphia, who do their job professionally, are wonderful people, and behave with genuine care and compassion towards the neighborhoods in which they work. Rash generalizations about anyone or anything are wildly irresponsible and cheapen the dialogue we should be having about a serious topic, so please be careful with that.
College kids can protest or talk about equality and hold up a sign, but how many of them are actually doing something to change racist thought or practices? When Temple University destroys the housing of black people and adds blinding lights on all their buildings to make the white kids feel less threatened, I doubt any of those white kids talk about how it makes the predominately black community that surrounds Temple uncomfortable. When white kids go to UPenn, do they bother learning the history of how University City used to be a neighborhood called Black Bottom, and that it was destroyed by UPenn? I have serious doubts.
The idea of white privilege is a real thing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that. For the grand jury to discuss the facts of this case and not even bring Darrin Wilson to trial is insulting. Anyone who has lived in Philadelphia much longer than I have could tell you about the racism that has existed, and continues to exist in the hearts and minds of many Philadelphians. Certainly it’s different now, as compared to say sixty years ago when my grandparents were settled into their South Philadelphia rowhome and starting a family. However, it is my belief that until people start speaking up and actually proving through their actions that oppression of others is unacceptable, racism will still exist.
I do not have all the answers, nor do I claim to be perfect or have everything figured out. There are plenty of things I would like to say, but I know that I can’t because I cannot speak on such matters because only someone who has experienced such things could actually speak on them with honesty and genuine integrity. When someone says something racist, I call them out on it. If someone says, “Not to sound racist but…” I cut them off and politely tell them not to finish that thought. There’s no need to argue with each other over social media, or ride around the city on a bike with a Guy Fawkes mask holding up a sign that says #blacklivesmatter. There’s no need to throw around old quotes from Martin Luther King about peace and non-violence. Instead, use this tragic event as a means to dig deep within yourself, examine your actions, and ask if you are truly doing what needs to be done in order to break the cycle of racism and oppression that exists within our community.
Treat each other right regardless of race. Stand up for each other regardless of race. Watch what you say and how you say it. Treat everyone the same, and check yourself before you do or say anything that you know is inappropriate. Learn your history—study the Civil Rights Movement and know why Treyvon Martin and Michael Brown are such polarizing topics for people. Instead of defriending someone on Facebook because they disagree with you, have a conversation. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind no matter what they believe, but you don’t have to. Speak up if something is wrong, and work to make tomorrow better for everyone.