Today we ran 2.23 miles in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man of 25, gunned down near his own neighborhood simply because he was black. We are supposed to say we ran in solidarity with him, but I am grieved to admit that I should have been running in solidarity with him so he wouldn’t be gunned down by 2 white men who simply could.
We are raising 4 young white men. These boys, who range in age from 6 to 16 are just beginning their athletic journeys with running. I honestly have never once considered their safety especially once they reach adulthood, or even as teenagers. The fact that I have never thought about it save for them getting hit by a car is the definition of white privilege. My boys belong to the most privileged social group in the world. White men. This group rarely need worry about where they run, what time of day they run, or who they run with or if they run alone. As a woman runner this is a constant concern, and I had been trained at a young age to always run in the daylight, in well populated areas, and if I couldn’t run with someone, at least tell someone where I am going and when I expect to get back. I’ve run with keys sticking out between my fingers and pepper spray in my hand. I could be jumped, but I run with confidence that I will not be run down and shot dead. Still, this pales in comparison to being a young, black male going out for a jog.
I feel confident enough in my work as these 4 boys’ mom that they will not grow up to be the sort of men that would hunt down a person because of their skin color and shoot them. I know they are growing up in a loving and educated enough home to not become those men. I cannot say with as much confidence, however, that they will grow up to be courageous enough to stand up for their peers of color when they see or hear about injustice. This is another example of white privilege. We often stop at the comfort of knowing we won’t be raising boys that kill. But do we take the next step? Are we confident our boys will grow up to be the men who stand in the gap? Stand up to their coworkers telling a racist joke? Hearing a classmate say the “N” word as a “joke”? Would they demonstrate courage on a bus riding home from school and stand up to the white kid saying racist things to a black boy?
Will my boys become the men who investigated this awful story and did nothing because they knew the killers or they didn’t care because it was “just” a black man? Or there must be more to the story because white men wouldn’t just kill a black man for no good reason? I believe that is why this is only NOW coming to light. Ahmaud was shot over TWO months ago and the majority of the US is just NOW hearing about it. Had I heard the original story would I have thought in my white privilege, “Crazy, but I bet there was more to the story. No one would really chase down a black runner and shoot him if he wasn’t really doing anything wrong.” THAT is white privilege thinking. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen anymore, right? There’s got to be more to it.
While I completely and desperately crave justice for this man and to lock away these evil men forever, what strikes me more than the 2 men that chose to do this is bigger, scarier. What is more disturbing, nauseating, gut-wrenching is the good old boys who did nothing to bring justice. They heard the white man’s story and did NOTHING. Several people did NOTHING. Sadly I believe that had a disturbing video showing a different story not come out and gone viral, this story would have ended there. Sadly this keeps happening. Sadly this happens daily to black men on a lesser scale. Getting stopped while driving. Getting followed in a store. Getting “randomly” searched in airport security.
I am just beginning my journey and awareness about white privilege. I know enough to start to identify it. I can recognize it on the larger scale. I can admit I have it. I can admit 4 out of 5 of our children will grow up to be the most privileged people in the world, with our daughter trailing close behind. I can start to see that I’ve never thought about it for my children.
Last year in our little town of Cheyenne, at one of our son’s Jr High, anti-gay and racist fliers had been hung around the school. They were quickly taken down and the boys who instigated them were found. However the principal eventually was brought to light for downplaying the events and trying to sweep them under the rug. It took some time but justice, at least punishment to the principal who tried to make it all go away, finally prevailed. Recently I read a FB post from an Air Force spouse in our town, on our base whose son was called an “N” word on the school bus which serves the military base. She spoke up and the next day several of the children on the bus stood up to the bully. I am saddened these events are even still happening at young ages, as they are learning it somewhere. The stories of others standing up for justice are tiny, hopeful sparks of light in a grim cultural dynamic.
I know running 2.23 miles and making some post on FB won’t do much, but I can tell you we have opened up this topic to all of our boys. Pointing it out is not much but it’s certainly the place to start. Talking to our boys until they understand that saying “BLACK LIVES MATTER” is the start of understanding and the start to changing future generations. Black lives do matter. For those of you reading this with a “Don’t all lives matter?” are missing the sentiment. Of course all lives matter. But here’s something that’s helped me begin to understand how serious this still is. Try adding “as much as white lives” to the end of that statement. It makes a lot more sense.
I know I have so much learning to do and I want to learn more. I don’t want any mother in the world to have to raise her son and worry that he may get shot even when he heads out the door to improve his life, one mile at a time.