Some of my best friends are white.
As my city attempts to heal after the most recent police brutality incident — another unnecessary murder of an unarmed African American, a man named Terence Crutcher—my thoughts turn back to color.
I can be extremely thick sometimes. Start over. I am extremely thick most of the time. I’ve been like this all of my life. I am diagnosed as dyslexic and ADHD. I have always been a slow learner. I always will be.
Before I moved to Oklahoma, I spent my early years growing up near the foothills of the Rockies in Meridian, Idaho. What a beautiful place to grow up. I have wonderful childhood memories. I remember driving up into the Sawtooth Mountains towards Redfish Lake and McCall, Idaho. Oh, the sweet scent of pine. Along the way, my mother would show me the dams and bridges and other WPA projects her father helped build as a returning World War I veteran.
What I don’t have memories of growing up in Idaho, though, was everyone being white. The fact I cannot recollect seeing a single person of color as a kid, I can tell you there was at least one African American in Idaho in 1969.
How do I know?
From the time I was probably four-years-old, my mother has recanted a story about how I needed a blood transfusion right after I was born and that the only person in St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, that matched my blood type, was an African American woman. She willingly donated her blood so that I might live.
My mother, a living saint who has spent her entire life living with chronic pain, knew no stranger. I cannot count the number of homeless people who would join our family at the supper table. And despite the lack of diversity in our community, or the over-abundance of whiteness I should say, she instilled in me a love for all humankind, especially those souls who look/sound/think different than me.
Before I would leave home for college, she and my father would adopt a brilliant teenager from Uganda and treat him no better or worse than me. She loved him as a son. I loved him as a brother.
Don’t laugh, but for years, I felt partly African American. Even after the second grade when my family relocated to Rockford, Illinois, and I attended a public school that was more black than it was white.
My very first record I bought with my own money? The Commodores. I loved Michael Jackson but then again, so did everyone. When I turned 16, I was that white kid blasting Run DMC in my father’s Oldsmobile. I wasn’t trying to be black. I was just being me.
When my family suffered several traumatic events in my early teens, my Jesus was a black man from Montgomery, Alabama, who could sing like a bird. His name was Jerome Williams. First he was my pen pal. Then he would become a mentor and friend.
The truth is, I didn’t have a clue what it must be like to be black until my best friend’s twin brother died of cancer in High School. He invited me into his life in North Tulsa and I began to face the reality that I would never truly know what it is to be black in America.
Having a South African roommate in college helped me begin to understand what it’s like to be black under the Apartheid government. As I look back over my career, it’s so obvious how these early experiences and relationships have shaped my worldview.
Now, here is where my thickness and view of race collide:
It didn’t hit me until my early forties that I was a “white guy”. On the evolutionary chart of human progress, and sadly, human destruction, I found myself on the wrong side of history. Of all the bad dudes recorded over the last few thousand years… the worst of them were “white guys”.
You don’t have to dig very deep. Hitler. White dude. Jeffrey Dahmer. White dude. Bernie Madoff. White dude. And tragically, the list continues to grow.
Am I responsible for women earning 70-cents on the dollar for each dollar I earn?
Am I responsible for why girls get discriminated against in math and science?
Am I the least bit responsible for Taylor Swift and Beck beating out Beyoncé and Kanye?
God, I hope not, but I’m not sure either.
I do know this:
I am white. I am a “white guy”. I have three beautiful white children.
I know that “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean “Only Black Lives Matter”. I know it doesn’t discount the fact that all lives matter. I also happen to know that the organizers chose a name to represent the color of people most affected by this horrible string of preventable police brutality.
Like most organizations, they risk having a few extremists ultimately taint the mission of their cause. That said, I believe this cause is a righteous one.
I am trying to teach my children to seek first to understand before trying to be understood. Attending Lee Elementary, Carver Middle School, and Booker T. Washington High School, surely helps. On top of that, I’m trying to convey to my daughter that she is an equal to her brothers and if she chooses to get married, she will be an equal to her partner. We are all to be equal … none of us are any better or worse than all of God’s creatures.
I am teaching my sons to respect girls as their equals and to show respect to all woman and not just those in authority. Their principals (all three are amazing women), coaches, teachers, bus drivers, school counselors, cross guards, cafeteria servers. You-name-it. We respect all women.
And may I say, in all of my brokenness and white maleness: white guys have problems, too. What I have achieved in life and in my career has not been easy. Nothing was given to me. I had to work terribly hard to earn all that I have. That said, you must know I am incredibly cognizant of this one truth:
If I and my family members were not white, our struggles would no doubt be all the more difficult to face and I can only pray we would have the strength to overcome those challenges as gracefully as all my heroes of color.
I’m looking at you, Nate Waters.