Week 212 in Detroit. This week the entire post is a reaction to the killing of George Floyd. I did not want to write about the pain and deep inequity in how Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color are treated then simply say “in other news” and include my typical commentary. In fact, the entire problem is how this keeps happen over and over again without any real change or even a real admission that something should change.
I don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to trying to address this. I barely have a sense for how I feel. The experience of People Of Color in America is a pain, horror and suffering I’ll never know. As a white man in this country, I am in a position of privilege, one that affords me the option to choose the degree of my involvement in this crisis. I do not live with a daily fear for my life.
So I spent time this week reflecting on my privilege and what it means to be responsible to values I believe in. It’s not enough to simply say it; I have to take action. Today that means contributing to causes that support racial equality and opportunity, reading and learning about systemic racism, standing or marching with my friends and supporting women-, black- and brown-owned businesses. I have to start even without fully knowing how to talk about it.
My Saturday Cup of Joe has been incredibly fun — starting the first Saturday that I lived in Detroit — I have maintained it week in and week out. The posts are a celebration of the adventure, an appreciation for the city, and a challenge to be curious and find the interesting insights all around us. It’s not enough, not nearly enough.
It’s not enough because while writing about business, career growth, innovation and housing is a good thing, it’s meaningless if it distracts me from what I can do to contribute to raising the standard, raising the expectations of my community. Of myself.
Not on social media. Not just words. Words are not enough, clearly.
Part of the reason that I say I don’t know what I’m doing is that language fails me. This entire week I’ve been unable to find the words to even begin to learn, to act.
At one point this week, I almost called how I felt helpless, but that’s insulting to George Floyd. That’s insulting to Ahmaud Arbery. That’s insulting to Breonna Taylor. It’s insulting to how Black men and women feel every single moment of every day. Simply walking down the street is fraught with danger. Shopping in the store, a grocery store for food, is tense. Driving in a car carries myriad risks that I’ve never known and will never know.
I’m not helpless. I’m also not helpful. Not helpful enough, not nearly enough. I saw one social media post that said “what are you doing to raise your child not to kill me?” What an incredibly low standard being asked of us…We’ve stopped being asked to treat others with dignity, respect and equality. We’re simply being asked not rationalize hatred and not to downplay murder. This is the starting line. This is incredibly sad and true.
Let’s please start somewhere.
This week I started where most of us start anything — Google. I visited the website for the BIPOC Project. On the homepage, it says “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” — Audre Lorde.
Recognition caught me as a particularly apt word.
Being able to recognize the ingrained, implicit ideas in how we interact, how we talk, how we view the world is a start, of sorts.
And I saw this…
And I heard this…
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.” — Dr. MLK Jr.
And I read it again…
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
And I reflected on this…
“Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.”
And I thought about this…
“Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
And I felt this…
“Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” — Will Smith, at least according to attribution also on Instagram.
And then I went to Twitter.
Funny thing, Twitter. It’s in the news for other reasons this week, reasons that I might be writing about, in fact, if the First Amendment didn’t come second to … “LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but it does. We can’t even get to the First Amendment if we cannot guarantee equal opportunity to life for human beings with whom we live, work and spend time with in our homes, in our communities, in our country.
On Twitter, I did, however, see this:
“Our country is totally fractured and, with our weak leadership in Washington, you can expect Ferguson type riots and looting in other places” — Donald J. Trump, November 25, 2014.
I left Twitter and I started with the next thing in my life — this weekly post.
As I write this, Detroiters are marching on Michigan Avenue chanting “I can’t breathe” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” I’m struck and inspired by another Dr. Martin Luther King Jr quote, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Attempting to raise the standard, raise the expectation and save lives will only happen if we’re united against racists, racism and systemic inequality. I understand the last part — systemic inequality — is the hardest part to see and therefore accept.
We need to address the fundamentals of systemic inequality. We can start with the next thing first — racism. Change has the power to save lives. Change is, quite obviously, hard.
Dan Gilbert once described the opposition to change as “horizontal gravity.” Opposing “hands” on your chest pushing you back from progress or achieving your goal. He said when the pressure gets the most intense is when you are on the brink of change.
If that’s true of entrepreneurship, the feeling of opposing hands pushing you back from a breakthrough. Systemic inequality is the actual boot on your neck. You thought not hitting numbers this quarter was pressure. Not coming home from a jog in YOUR neighborhood because you are black is beyond any pressure, that’s racism. Systemic inequality is how assumptions or implications lead to mistreatment. Evident in the treatment of a mass shooter versus a man selling loose cigarettes on the street.
Even in that moment, we fall into a trap. The trap of comparison. The President of the United States does this as almost second nature. It’s brutal. As if someone else’s failure (or perceived failure) excuses his own. We all do it. My racist tendencies aren’t as bad because mine are only cultural appropriation or mine are only a joke.
It happens A LOT in moments like Thursday night. Rioting is compared to racism. Well, they broke glass and burned buildings. Key word — they.
As a cis white man of privilege, I want to recognize and identify systemic racism. I know that I cannot see or feel what it’s like to be Black, Indigenous or a Person of Color. I cannot compare anything I’ve experienced or think I understand to what it’s like to live as a person of color in today’s America. As soon as I start to try to put it in context or compare it is where systemic inequality meets racism.
So, what’s next?
All I can do. Take action.
Read and learn.
Meredith, my wife, sent me the website for the Antiracist Research and Policy Center. Much of the support suggested online from friends and allies has been supporting social justice and equality policy efforts. This is one that we’re looking into.
Ask questions — not of my black and brown friends, expecting them to educate me, but of myself, of you.
Take action. Not on social media, but taking action in my city and in my community. Another quote that comes to mind in this moment is Pablo Picasso, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Taking action — in the streets — or taking action — in our communities — is the foundation of change here. I cannot write that we’ll be successful. I can only work for change.
I worried that the Saturday Cup of Joe from Detroit would not be up to the standard of participating as a place to start. It feels like action, any action, is a step toward change, but it’s been 53 years since Dr. King’s “The Other America” speech quoted above. So it’s going to take much bigger action, but we can see that it has to be action. Thoughts & Prayers are not enough, not nearly enough.
When I wrote earlier that I don’t know what I’m doing in this space or how to start, I trust that my attempt here while sincere is also just the start. I’m just trying to answer well.
Continued success and please answer well,