I will never know the experience of being a person of color in the world. I have, however, known the experience of being a minority, in prison.
In 2006 I was one of six white men in a sixty-four man housing unit. At times it was profoundly uncomfortable, mostly because of a particular individual who made his racism toward whites well known. It was the first time I wondered if this was how a person of color feels everyday in America.
I was the first time I realized even a fraction of the privilege I had lived with for my entire life. I had never once felt afraid or uncomfortable because of the color of my skin.
In 2007 I moved in with Patrick. He wasn’t the first black man I lived with but he was the first man I started to open my heart and my mind to on matters of race.
Patrick told me about his experience. He was black, he was also huge – 6’6, 260 pounds. I thought he must feel strong and powerful. I never suspected he had felt angry, afraid and ashamed.
Being big meant, as a kid, no one would fight him. They would hit him with a bat or jump him. Being big and black meant people locked their car doors when he walked down the street. White men and women would cross the street to not cross his path. Cops always drew their guns when they pulled him over or stopped him on the street. One woman threatened to mace him when he asked if she needed help with the groceries and stroller she was juggling.
Patrick invited me to the Pan-African group he attended. He wanted me to listen. He also wanted me to share. He said guys looked forward to talking openly with a white man about race.
I never went.
I called Patrick my friend but wouldn’t take an hour out of each week to listen and share.
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee I supported his right to do so, but it didn’t mean anything to me.
I thought not being racist was enough.
I was wrong.
I am sorry I didn’t take the time to listen and share. I am sorry I haven’t spoken up when faced with racism and injustice. I am sorry that by not being part of the solution, I have been part of the problem.