Systemic Racism and I

This topic is not easy to write about and come to terms with. As an elderly white man, my values were formed over decades. Before I became an adult, it was influenced by the social environment I grew up in and the guidance I received from my parents and family members. Since then I’ve managed to thrive as a functioning and contributing member of society.

The response by NBA players and others to the dramatic and shameful treatment of a black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin prompts me to write this today. It’s long past time for white society to pro-actively respond to the systemic racism experienced by those not part of my ‘white society’.

On an intellectual level, for many years I’ve given lip service to the need to integrate all humans such that they have equal opportunities to survive and thrive as their lives play out. On a visceral level, I’m aware I’ve not made a sufficient effort, both internally and externally, to help make that happen.

That systemic racism exists in this country is beyond obvious. I’ve long written about income inequality and the existential threat it poses to our lives in this country. I’m aware of and sensitive to the achievement gaps in education between white society and non-white society in the community I call home. Left unattended, it will eventually result in economic chaos.

I’m unsure what I can do to promote a ‘healing’ of what is clearly a fundamental disparity among those of us who claim citizenship in this country. I can support the NBA ‘strike’, I can write and publish in the limited forum I have access to, and I can express my fears and wishes for a quick solution.

However, the forces at work that result in systemic racism will not be excised from society overnight. They harken back to days when we lived as tribesmen protecting our families and livelihood from ‘others’ who were not like us.

Growing up, I lived for two years in India. When I was there, it had recently achieved independence from the yoke imposed by the British Empire. The ‘natives’ were seen and treated by us as lesser mortals. That observation is colored today by the realization that within Indian society at the time, there were local elites who viewed the same natives as lesser mortals. I describe that today as brown vs brown and not just white vs brown.

It’s disturbing to me to recall expressions I used in my youth that today would be clearly described as racist. At the time, it seemed ‘normal’. Over the years, my values have evolved but I have no illusions about having my psyche fully cleansed. All I can assert is that I’m doing all I can to make amends.

Where do we go from here? Centuries of mistakes will take time to reverse. My hope and expectation is there is a profound effort underway to bring closure to racial disparities. But I suspect it’s going to take more time than many of us are prepared to accept. Just as I’ll never be able to rid myself of a profound dislike for certain sports teams.

That last is also a failure on my part. To wit, attempting to equate the raw pain felt by members of the black community with disdain for a competing football team. There is no easy remedy for solving systemic racism in our society. But all of us must be willing to look inside ourselves and become proactive when it comes to finding solutions. I promise to do what I can.

Tony Kendzior, Gainesville, FL \  30 Aug 2020

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