I can breathe and it’s made me numb

I am white and I am privileged. Until recently I had not given it much thought. I heard the expression once in a while and didn’t disagree but the reality of it never stuck. It’s to normal. I don’t know what it is not to be.

Photo by ksh2000 on Pexels.com

Frankly, it’s difficult to grasp what it means and to sit with the fact that many people so close to me are experiencing a very different daily reality. At an intellectual level I can understand the words and the concept. But if I’m being honest it has mostly remained just that, I concept.

I can’t breathe” were George Floyd’s last words as his life was taken from him by a white man. A man who shares my skin colour. A white man crushing him with his knee while George lay there unarmed, handcuffed, and unable to help himself.

You see, I can breathe and it’s made me numb to the reality that for many in my own society and in my own neighbourhood and in my own circle of friends, “I can’t breathe” is symbolic of a life made more difficult simply because of their skin colour. I breathe freely while others wake up in the morning with the knee of a broken system applying just enough pressure to cut off some of the air supply.

I’m not just now waking up to racism. I’ve known it’s there and I’m not a racist. Yet for the first time I see that the words “I am not a racist” can be empty of meaning. Distancing myself from those who are but never really doing much about it. It’s like police officers standing by and saying nothing while the other is killing an innocent man before their very eyes.

The image is revolting.

It’s not as though I’ve been telling myself not to do anything. It’s more that I haven’t been telling myself anything at all. It is what happens and what continues to happen when we sit back and watch it as though it was taking place on another planet that we could not touch.

To simply say “I am not racist” is not much better than Pilate saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility!”

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

Matthew 27:24

I’ve taught my children not to discriminate and not to treat people differently simply because of skin colour. I’ve taught them to value and respect the lives of others just as their own. I’ve not been able to go much deeper than that.

I see my ignorance a little more clearly now and unfortunately it took horrifying images to snap me out of my numbness. Yes, I will educate myself as it has always been my privilege to do. But then what?

It starts with simple steps and writing about it is one. I had many excuses for why I shouldn’t write. I don’t understand the issue enough. What if I use the wrong words. What if my intentions are misunderstood. Who am I to speak about this issue in the first place! My words are worthless in the grand scheme of things so what’s the point?

Excuses are easy to come by when you are privileged and relatively untouched by the issue. It seems this is the decision many of us are making. Acknowledging but remaining mostly silent.

I will do better and I hope you will to. The first step we can take seems small from an individual perspective but collectively it is significant. Talking and writing about it. Not falling back into silence once the dust has settled on the current events. This time, the dust must not settle until things change.

I am white and I am privileged. I will educate myself and I will do better with what I have so I can see the day when white privilege is no longer a thing and instead replaced with human privilege, equality and justice for all.

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