For my entire life, I have surrounded myself with White people. Growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, I could count the number of my Black classmates on one hand. After watching the LAPD beat the shit out of Rodney King, I was not compelled to reach out to any of them.
When it came time to go to college, I chose an even less diverse place – a small Franciscan college near the Pennsylvania border. I did not care at all about Saint Francis. But I certainly cared about feeling comfortable.
Since then, I have chosen to work for five overwhelmingly White companies. Because I rarely heard racist things, I therefore believed these were non-racist places.
A year after Trayvon Martin was murdered for being Black and wearing a hoodie, I chose to move away from my hometown with my wife, who I adore and who also is White. I suggested Maine – quite literally the whitest state in America. I love Maine; the nature is gorgeous. But from the perspective of my awareness of racial injustice, this was like a caterpillar deciding against becoming a butterfly and lining its cocoon instead.
For the last 20 years, I have felt compelled to write about music, and a lot about hip-hop specifically. In 2002, I wrote my first-ever “column” in a local rag about why suburban kids like me love rap. Using the “family values” conservative and noted rap-hater William Bennett as a straw man, I wrote, “The more you try to hide a culture, the more we want to be a part of it.”
But I clearly never wanted that. As I write this, 18 years later, it is from that same deafening cocoon of White privilege. A place where opportunities fall in my lap. Where I never have to fear physical harm. Where I rarely see Black faces, but seek attention for writing about Black artists. When a Minneapolis police officer casually murdered George Floyd, keeping his hands in his pockets as his victim cried for his mother, I was getting buzzed on craft beer and enjoying a fire in my backyard – where almost all of my neighbors are White.
My racist preferences have perpetuated a racist system. I haven’t had to do anything to be complicit in this system, because it’s got centuries of fuel in the tank – a despicable legacy of murder, rape, and rank dehumanization. Black people have always known this of course. They’ve been pointing at it, screaming at us to at the very least acknowledge it.
So here I am, doing the very least. I wish I had some big reveal to share here. I have donated some money. I am pushing for antiracist policies at work. But I haven’t been to a protest. I remain part of the problem, no matter how much that makes me want to throw up.
I finally see the walls of privilege that racism has built for me. If you feel like giving me credit for this, please wait until I have burned them down.