A friend of mine, who is a big Bucks fan, suggested we go down to the protest that was starting at the Fiserv Forum earlier yesterday. I had a bunch of stuff on a list of things to do which would normally mean I would make up a reason not to go. I offered to meet him down there on a run (so I could multitask and knock it off my list), and he said he would run down there with me if I didn’t mind. We added my 9 year old daughter on her bike and made our way through the ghetto down to the Fiserv. It’s an odd thing, running in the ghetto. Halfway in to the two mile run to downtown I mentioned to him that I have never seen a white person running here that wasn’t a family member of mine. He was the first one. Like in 14 years I have never seen a white person running in our neighborhood that wasn’t also at Christmas the year before.
It doesn’t happen.
I am trying to put together a short list of things that whites can do to help aide in the racial reconciliation of America. Maybe it is overly simplistic, but if we learned anything from our handling of the Coronavirus, the simple solutions are sometimes the easiest for the masses to follow and have the greater likelihood of actually occurring. Stay home, stay 6 feet apart, and wear a mask. Almost anyone with a minimal amount of resources can figure that out.
In the same vain the first thing that whites can do to move the needle is overly simplistic, spend time in black neighborhoods. A white person spending time in my black neighborhood is going to quickly see the disparity in housing. Within 60 seconds you will see houses that are beautifully maintained and then houses that are a blight and an embarrassment. Both of those houses will be on the same blocks. If they are occupied, both of those houses will have people that want a safe, clean, and respectable place to live. For every house that looks like the owners are proud hardworking citizens there are 5 that are boarded up or should be boarded up. Most of the properties will be rented, especially the run down ones, and most will offer rates of returns for landlords north of 20% annually.
During the protest, the crowd repeatedly shouted black lives matter. I kept thinking to myself, if they really mattered we wouldn’t allow a system to exist that “forces” many of them to live in a substandard neighborhood, and we sure as hell wouldn’t let whites that live in a far distant suburb profit off of that system.
The problem with saying that whites should just come into a black neighborhood, is that there is really nothing for them to do. Which, I suppose, further proves the point that we are so segregated that we wouldn’t even know what to do in a black neighborhood. Maybe the reason it would be hard to find something for whites to do is that we have spent so much energy avoiding these places that we have no point of access into them. Even the most forward thinking suburban white could struggle to find something to do here. Because of that, Ill give you three ideas. The first would be to go for a run. If you are worried about safety, which is a totally different conversation we need to have, pick someplace with busy streets. If you have kids, go to a park and let the actually play at it. You probably aren’t going to enjoy it, because the social norms for park play are different in the inner city than they are in the suburbs. If you don’t have kids, go for a drive in the inner city. Attempt to treat the drive as if you are going there to learn something. Pick an alley to go down. Try to picture yourself living in one of the houses. Think about what you would get mad about if you lived there. What would bother you. Common courtesy and pride in your space are not racial issues. Imagine the conversation you would try to have with a neighbor or the landlord of a rundown property to try and convince them to take care of their house. If you wanted to go next level, image what someone with your income and access to the pathway that enables many of us to have a high paying job could do to that neighborhood. How much change could you affect. How could you use your gifts and resources to make this tiny part of the world a better place. The third, depending on how you count all of that, is to spend money at a non-chain store or restaurant. Or if it is a chain, like a Starbucks (good luck finding one of those in the ghetto) look for differences and think about if it is fair that those differences exist in the poor, black areas. Remember, poor areas stay poor without an influx of revenue. By us consciously or subconsciously avoiding black owned businesses, we are further diminishing the likelihood that those businesses will prosper. And, because of that, we are continuing to perpetuate the cycle of poverty, if even on a micro level.
Working toward redefining white privilege means we have to go beyond identifying that we have a base level of advantage over many minority groups. It would require us to internalize those advantages and the only way to do that is to compare the fruits of our advantages with the alternative, a concentrated area of poor, minorities. The point isn’t to feel guilty or ashamed of anything you or I have accomplished or accumulated. The point would be to come to terms with the fact that we got a little bit of a head start compared to another group. Then we can individually make decisions about how we want to work to level the playing field a little. However, it is impossible for someone to start leveling the field when they have no idea what it looks like for members of the other team.