Amid a global pandemic, George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer galvanized the movement for racial equality in the United States. Mass protests spread across the country and internationally, denouncing the often-violent treatment that people of color face when dealing with law enforcement. This led to a more general discussion and evaluation of racial inequality, with a focus on the Black experience in America. Individuals and corporations alike flooded social media with statements of support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
I am a middle-aged White male, so where does my voice belong, or should I even have a voice? I was raised in a middle-class White neighborhood in the Lower Mainland. There were maybe five families of color in the entire community. Growing up I repeated racist statements, told racist jokes, and was involved in acts of racism. I benefited from all the benefits that White privilege provided. I do not believe the children of those minority families had the same experience I did. In my town, White heterosexual Christianity with well-defined gender roles was the unquestioned norm. My parents were, by most accepted standards, good people who taught me to respect and treat everyone the same, but that is not the reality I lived. This is my background, which I cannot change; it is mine and I take ownership of it. While I feel I had a wonderful upbringing, I am not proud of the lessons I absorbed about race.
Like many of my peers, I identify as not being racist. During this time of reflection, is this enough? How do I make the journey to being anti-racist? For many, the idea of talking about race is problematic because doing so suggests that an issue exists in the first place. An ideal world is one in which race, gender, and sexual orientation are not part of the equation, but sadly this is not the current situation. If we as individuals do not change, no change will come. Therefore, starting a discussion seems like a reasonable first step. I cannot undo my background, but I can move toward a greater understanding of how decisions made mostly by older Caucasian men like me have affected society. I can be part of the change in encouraging diversity wherever the opportunity presents itself. I can denounce racist acts no matter how small and perhaps lead others to reflect on their behavior. I can monitor my language and remove sayings and terms that have a racist bent to them. I can learn from others who are more racially sensitive than I am, and follow their examples. I can listen to voices of color with compassion and seek understanding instead of being defensive and guarded. I can be kind, thoughtful, receptive, and open to change.
To be clear, I am by no means perfect and do not pretend to have the answers. I am simply looking for ways in which my flawed, middle-aged, White male physician voice can evolve for the better.
—David R. Richardson, MD
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