To Heal a Country

Before I begin, I must give this incredibly important disclaimer.  I am a straight white male.  I can never do this topic true justice. 

Three years ago a movement began in response to the acquittal of a white man fatally shooting an unarmed black kid.  #BlackLivesMatter.  Shortly thereafter a new movement cropped up. #AllLivesMatter.

#BlackLivesMatter began as a way for a specific group of people to spread the word about a specific problem in this country. It wasn’t only Trayvon Martin’s death which brought this about, it was an ongoing issue people of a certain skin pigmentation felt existed with how they were treated, specifically by the police.  That last note is important, because George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon, was not a police officer.  He was simply a small part of a much larger problem.

The #AllLivesMatter response, which was intended to say that police die as well, ignored the very valid plight that #BlackLivesMatter highlighted.  Whether or not it was intended, #AllLivesMatter said, “So what?  Black people shoot cops sometimes, too!”

There is a very real issue to identify in that police officers put their lives on the line every day.  There are many men and women who put themselves out there and many who are killed while simply doing their jobs.  We should recognize the hard working men and women of the police forces for who they are.

But they choose to put themselves in danger.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recognize and remember their deaths.  But it’s not the right way to respond to a group of people alerting the world to the very real danger they feel they are  in every day by just being alive.  Not because of who they are or what they do, but by the color of their skin.

All lives definitely do matter.  But in this case, we responded to a call for help by saying, “We’ve all got problems.”

America is a country of an incredibly storied past.  Historically, we’ve actually been the country to break a lot of barriers first when it comes to acceptance of other people.  Heck, most of the people who first came over here from Europe came over because they weren’t accepted there.  We began as a country of outsiders.

But that doesn’t change our long history of oppressing people because of their skin or genitals or religion.  We are a country founded on freedom who didn’t allow those without penises to vote until almost (not quite yet) a hundred years ago.  Side note: Strom Thurmond was 18 years old at the time.

But we have come a long way since we became a country.  We can no longer own other people (at least not legally), we can no longer discriminate against other people based on race, age, or gender (again, not legally), and we’ve stopped that whole considering certain parts of the population to only be three fifths of a person each.

So when you, as a straight white American male, hear that people are still up in arms about racially insensitive conversations, perhaps you could be forgiven when you reply with “How long will I have to pay for people who looked like me owning people who looked you?”

The answer is…we haven’t actually started paying yet.

We still, today, continue fighting over some of the most basic rights for citizens.  But, considering those battles are still in progress and many of us may not realize what we’re doing, let’s look at recent history.

1964.  That’s when the Civil Rights Act came into play.  Until that point, we still had people drinking from different water fountains based on their skin tone, had to use different bathrooms, and–let’s just say that until the federal government forced this on America, things weren’t moving very quickly toward equality, even though the Emancipation Proclamation had happened over a hundred years prior.  Side note:  The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the few moments on this list where Strom Thurmond wasn’t alive.

We’re currently sitting at 52 years since our country officially said we’re all equal through its legislation (although there were still exceptions), finally matching the sentiment we used when we told England to suck it approximately 200 years prior.

1967 was when black and white people could finally, nationwide, get married to each other.

1974 was when credit card companies finally couldn’t make decisions based on your color or religion or genitals.

jumping forward a bit…skipping over a lot of history here to keep things short…

1996 (20 years ago, if you’re counting) was when women were finally allowed to attend school at The Citadel.

And 2003 is when Strom Thurmond, senator for South Carolina who wrote the initial draft to the Southern Manifesto (a document fighting the outcome of Brown v. The Board of Education), finally left politics.

Thirteen years ago is when one of the main political opponents to having black and white kids in the same school finally left office, not because he was voted out, but because he decided to finally not run for office any more and then died six months later.

I also feel the need to highlight the even more forgotten Native Americans, whose Civil Rights Act didn’t actually get put in place until 4 years after the actual Civil Rights Act.  Do you know what this provided? It consisted of our Bill of Rights…now applicable to *Indians* too!

Oh, and there’s that whole thing with the North Dakota pipeline that if you don’t already know about it…you probably should.  Seriously, just give those words a quick google.  I should probably note that this is current events, just to make my point clear.  Honestly, I should focus most of this article on the Native Americans, but I’ve only got so much space in which to make my point.

And we, the straight white males of America, have the audacity to whine about how long we’ve been “paying” for the crimes of the past.  We’re still oppressing everything.  Today.  Right now.

We’re still paid more for doing the same jobs as our non-white/non-male counterparts.  We’re still the ones holding most positions of power in most corporations around the world.  We still hold the money, the politics, and the all-around everything.

And we’re mad that people are mad at us?

We don’t understand how people can be outraged that a man like Donald Trump is elected into the highest political office, but the problem here is that the way he talks, the way he acts, the way he looks, is just like those same men who have held a majority of our nation back for its entire history.  The problem with Donald Trump isn’t as much that he’s an evil man as it is that he is a man who obviously does not understand the perspective of the minorities of this country.

We’re still “paying” for the slave owning white males of the past because the conversation hasn’t even come close to being over.  We’re still grasping wildly to our power, whether we realize it or not.  Just fifty years ago black people were not allowed to sit next to white people on a bus because we still saw them as something lessor.  And last week this was painted on a dugout in New York.

The signs of the inequality in our nation are blatantly obvious today.  This is why so many in our country are mad, sad, and/or angry at the results of this past week’s election.  Not because Hillary lost.  But because the man who won reminds them of the type of man who has oppressed so many for so long.  The type of man who doesn’t find himself responsible for the inequality in our nation because he employs people of non-white descent.

The type of man who doesn’t feel the need to say he is sorry.

And that’s something I  think needs to happen today.  Something that has yet to happen.  An outright admission of fault.

And I’m here to start.

Not purely because I’m a straight white male.  I can’t help that.  Being at fault simply because of my race, gender, or sexual preference does (as many straight white males like to point out) have the same problems of all racism.  It’s stereotyping based on things out of a person’s control.  I’m not at fault because I’m a straight white male.

I’m at fault because I have allowed for the system to continue to favor me over you.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for all the straight white men who have made you to feel anything less than an equal.

I’m sorry for all the straight white men who have raped you, have used insensitive and/or hateful language toward you, have profited off you, have abused you, have oppressed you, have used their power to gain something more than you simply because they are a straight white male.

And I’m sorry because as a straight white male, I have done nothing to correct this.

As a straight white male, I have profited through the acts of other straight white males.  I have been allowed a certain privilege because of their acts that I may or may not be deserving of otherwise.

And most importantly, as a straight white male, I have the power to do so much more.

And I haven’t.

And for that, I’m sorry.  Terribly sorry.

And I’m sorry because I know apologies aren’t enough.  Apologies don’t change history and they definitely don’t correct the path for the future.

It is simply a first step.

But after years of not taking any steps, I feel proud in making it.

And I assure you it won’t be the last.

The time is past for pointing fingers.  Now is the time to own up to what we’ve done.  All of us.  And only until we’ve done that can we truly move forward.  No longer should we be saying, “But they did it too!”, but simply, “I’m sorry.  How can I make it better?”

And then the next step, of course, is to actually work to make things better.

To work together.

As one people.




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