“If you could snap your fingers and make it happen, what would you want white men to understand about racism?”
That’s a question I asked several of my black friends. Their answers were among several factors that motivated me to write this book. My heart breaks for the black men and women in my life. They are my friends and loved ones and when they hurt, so do I. These are issues of right and wrong—justice and injustice.
As a white male, I know in my heart that I must do whatever I can to help.
Here are some of my friends’ answers:
1) For them to just realize it exists. Most white people do not think racism exists today.
2) White people like to say, “I cannot be a racist; I have five black friends.” They see good blacks and bad blacks. The good blacks are their five friends; the bad blacks are all the rest of the black people.
3) My 17-year-old son wanted to go out on Halloween with his white buddies. I told him no, he could not go. I was afraid if they did some mischief and he was running away, he would be shot. When he goes out at night, I do not worry about him being in an accident, I worry about him being pulled over by the police.
4) The KKK marched in our Christmas parade and showed up at my youth football games. I have been pulled over by the police for no reason and followed. I graduated from high school in 1997.
5) Empathy is the key to all of this—the ability to imagine one’s self in another’s place and then asking the questions: Is this okay? Is this acceptable? And if the answer is no, then have the courage to change it.
6) To recognize that privilege and bias does exist in society. It is not the fault of all whites that privilege exists. It’s systemic and it has festered in the fabric of our society for decades.
7) To realize there can be two different experiences for whites and blacks in many different situations.
8) Many of your black employees are exhausted, scared, crying in between meetings, putting on a performance, and mentally checking out.
9) The work to end racism in America is not someone else’s problem. It is an American problem and to address it is just as patriotic as the flag is red, white, and blue.
My friends, this book openly discusses racism. I am primarily addressing relations between white people and black people in the United States. I’ve chosen to use those terms—white and black—for race because in my experience, those are the terms most often used by people in everyday life.
The purpose of this book is not to outline a systematic plan for eradicating racism from our society. Rather, the purpose of the book is to encourage us to think—to reflect more deeply on the issue of racism. I hope to inspire all of us to examine ourselves and then actively work on our own hearts. My ultimate aim is to get us all thinking about how we can do more in our daily lives to help address the problem of racism—step by step, little by little.
Much of what I say will be universal truths that can apply across various races and locations, but other parts of the book may not apply as directly. And while other people may have interest in reading this book, the primary audience I’m targeting is white men. So please allow me to address white men directly for a moment here in the introduction.
If you are like me, you have used the phrase “I am color blind” when referring to your approach toward racism. Please join with me to stop saying that, because you and I both know it isn’t true. Race matters. Color matters. Gender matters. Age matters. All of these things matter, and we know they do. They are part of who God made us to be.
“Before I made you in your mother’s womb, I chose you. Before you were born, I set you apart for a special work.” (Jeremiah 1: 5 ICB)
All of us are unique. We have our own special identity. Part of that identity is race, color, gender, age, and a multitude of other things. Maybe you are a veteran, a musician, an athlete—all part of the package that makes up your identity.
So we all have multiple factors that make up our identity, but we typically only select a few to build our self-identity, meaning how we see ourselves. This self-view can change depending on our situation. If I am at a gathering of chemical engineers, then my identity as a chemical engineer oozes up to the surface. Later that day, when I go to a church meeting about prison ministry, my identity as a chemical engineer slips down on the list. My identity as a member of my church goes up a few notches.
Outside of any specific context, when I consider who I am on the whole, being white is way down on the totem pole. My gut feel is that this is the same for most white men. Yes, I am a white male, but that’s not something I often consider. Is it different for people of other races? If so, do we need to consider this in our relationships with people of other races?
My wife, Linda, asked me why I was writing this book. “Because I think God told me to and I want to be obedient.” Linda thinks I am crazy. However, I choose not to self-identify as crazy.
If I had to guess why God chose me to write this book, I would say it was due to my perspective—which might be somewhat unique to discussions of race taking place in this country. Most of the books I have seen on racism are written by liberals, women, pastors, or academics. Does the ordinary white male relate to their perspectives? Do terms like white privilege, white supremacy, and institutional racism resonate with the average white male? Probably not. In fact, those terms probably do more to alienate the average white male, pushing us further back into a shell of silence and inaction.
That’s not what any of us should want. Instead, our goal should be to work together to end racism in all its forms. If each of us can increase our awareness concerning racism and take some concrete action steps, we can begin to truly deal with injustice. This will lead to a more equitable, peaceful, and loving society—and that’s something we all should want.
Chapter One: Albert
“Something here is wrong. I know you do not understand. Perhaps one day you will. Maybe you will even try to bring some justice and make a difference. You seem like a nice kid. Do you know that just pausing a second to gaze into your eyes in a loving manner could bring me harm? No, you don’t. However, your mom also seems nice and I doubt she would bring harm to me—I don’t think. Farewell young man, whatever your name is. If we meet again, it will be on the other side. Bless you.” – Albert
Albert was a thin black man, about 45 years old. He was dressed in a white dress shirt, blue dress slacks, and black shoes. He was of medium height, and I can recall him bending over slightly to look into my eyes. Although he had a somber and melancholy demeanor, I was not afraid. I remember that I liked him. Later on though, I did learn that something was wrong—very wrong.
It was around 1955 in Oakton, Virginia. Oakton is located in the northern part of Virginia, and at the time, it was only a small rural community. Oakton was named for an enormous oak tree that once stood tall in the heart of this little town. Though not without its flaws, Oakton was a picturesque environment for a little boy to grow up in, learn about life, and explore the world around him. There were quaint neighborhoods with plenty of other kids, a source of constant companionship. Nearby there were woods to play in, creeks to cross, and a great deal of trees to climb.
There was just one problem. Until I met Albert, I had never seen a black person before. I was seven years old, and he was the first black person I had ever laid eyes on. What happened that day has bugged me on and off for about the last three decades.
Later on in the day, I asked my mother why all those black people were coming to our house. All I know is that it had something to do with registering to vote. The details are unclear, but I know that my mom was getting paid, apparently to administer some kind of test.
My best guess is that Albert did not pass the test, and therefore was not allowed to vote. However, he did cast a lasting vote with me.
As I write this, the date is May 20th, 2020, putting my encounter with Albert around 65 years in the past. Yet, that day still comes to my mind every so often, much more so in the recent past. Around two weeks ago during my morning prayer time, God hinted that he wanted me to write a book on racism. I thought, “Seriously, God? You know I’m an old white guy who lives in Alabama, right? You must be thinking of someone else.”
When it became clear that he wasn’t mistaken, nor was he joking, I realized I was going to need a lot of help. At that point, I began to ask the Lord to help me understand my experience with Albert. Was it a divine appointment? What was the purpose? Why does it still come back to my mind, all these years later?
As I pondered those questions, I decided to go out for my morning walk. Willow and I go for a walk most every morning, much of which is on the Tall Pines Golf Course in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Willow is my two-year-old German shepherd. While on the golf course, I sometimes let her off the leash. She’s always incredibly grateful as this gives her the opportunity to chase geese, eat goose poop, and be on the lookout for one of her many canine pals to play and romp around with.
During this time, we were well into the initial stages of the Coronavirus Pandemic. It had been a stressful time, but also a time to deepen one’s faith and become closer to God. The Bible teaches that if we move closer to God, he will move closer to us. One common effect of getting closer to God is that he may ask you to do something, or as my pastor likes to say, “You might get to do something.”
“So I get to write a book about racism?” I thought to myself, while walking Willow and continuing to ponder my experience with Albert.
It was a beautiful morning. I’ve never seen an ugly golf course, and at 6: 30 in the morning, there are no golfers. It’s a wonderful forum for God to reveal important truths and impart his wisdom to me. As Willow was busy sniffing around for goose poop, I soaked in the beauty of the nature surrounding me—a pond, a stream, green grass, tall trees, and birds of all kinds. That particular day, God used my morning walk to reveal an important truth about issues of race.
Though I now work as a business consultant, I am an engineer by training and education. So I do a lot of geeky stuff in my daily life. For example, with my morning walk, I have it mentally divided into seven sections. Not only that, there are actually subsections too. Some might label me a bit obsessive.
At section 1.5, there is a bridge over the creek. That is always where we make our first stop. While Willow explores the area, I normally lean on the bridge and watch the water. A little stream flows gently out from the pond, producing peaceful rhythms and little sparkles of light. That morning while Willow explored and sniffed around near the pond, I continued to play the incident with Albert over and over in my mind.
Suddenly, I looked up and saw Robert, a tall black man in his 80s. Robert was waving to me, but he was also keeping his distance. He wears a dust mask for allergies even when there is no pandemic, so lately he’s been decked out in something that more closely resembles a hazmat suit. But he did come close enough to shout, “Good morning!” and then to ask about my family.
At that moment, something important dawned on me. Something I had never noticed before. Other than the golf course, I typically only see Robert in one other environment—the Belks Community Center during election days. Robert is always sure to vote, and so am I. My guess is that we vote for different candidates, but what matters is that we both vote.
That would make Albert very happy.
So what is the big truth that I felt the Lord was imparting to me? While we have a long way to go on issues of race, we have already come a very long way. A black man and white man cross paths most mornings at, of all places, a golf course in Alabama, happily greeting each other and discussing life. No one is suspicious or resentful or fearful of anyone. And the other place we’ve repeatedly encountered each other is at the voting booth.
Compare that to my experience of having seen a black man for the first time ever, those 65 years ago. Albert had anxiety about simply talking to me. He was afraid even to look at me for very long, lest his intent be misinterpreted. And he walked away that day being denied his God-given right to vote. Just during my short lifetime, that’s a profound amount of change. And it gives me hope that we will make it all the way.
All the way to the destination of total equality, unity, and harmony among races. We have a long way to go, but God cares deeply about this issue. That means He stands ready and willing to help us. And if we can come this far, why can’t we make it the rest of the way?
I believe we can, and with God’s help, we will.
You’ve reached the end of the book preview for Don’t Do Anything Stupid: A White Man’s Guide to Racial Harmony. The book is available on BarnesandNoble.com, Apple Books, Google Play, and Amazon.