I'm a white liberal and I'm part of the racial inequity problem
#BlackLivesMatter. I write the below not as someone who has figured it out, but as someone who is still early into a lifelong journey
Looking beyond the inexcusable and devastating murder of George Floyd, it has been inspiring to see the surge of protests across America (even the world) and solidarity with Black Americans flooding every corner of the internet that I participate in from my quarantine.
Though at the same time, I've been hit with a wave of dubiety. What is different about George Floyd's death from the numerous other Black Americans police have murdered? Why is this time the wake-up moment for us white people and not before? And after more weeks or months have passed and new current events beg for our attention, will today's level of engagement persist?
I worry about how much of today's energy being spent on overt solidarity with Black Americans comes from an inevitable and ephemeral sociological pull to virtue signal, versus how much of it is here to stay. I worry that too much of today's energy is being spent pointing fingers at "those other racist white people who are the problem in this country", when we should also be pointing that finger at our own complaceny.
I am a part of the problem
I want to acknowledge:
I benefit fully from white privilege in America. Much of my success is due to a system I was born into that lifts me up just for being white and disadvantages others who are nonwhite
Our country has normalized the all-white boardrooms, all-white media, all-white teaching staffs, and all-white neighborhoods that have been a part of my life. This is inherently comfortable for white people but leaves people of color with insufficient role models in positions of power
Being Jewish has had effectively no discriminatory impact in my own life, despite Jews being victims of much discrimination in other eras and geographies
I have done nowhere near as much as I should to proactively combat racism around me. I practiced color-blindness in hopes that that would help the cause, but I now view that approach as insufficient
I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since early childhood. Growing up here has always been a source of gratitude and pride for me, in particular due to the diversity of our population. I always thought growing up here normalized race and made me more accepting and proactively engaged with all the different cultures around me.
Looking at my life now, though, I worry this mostly manifested in superficial ways. While I may have had the fortune of having exposure to a diversity of restaurants, grocery stores, local businesses, etc., my core social circle was always entirely white. Being the son of Israeli immigrants and moving here as a toddler, the community that I was raised into was entirely Israeli, Jewish, and white. In middle school I joined a Jewish youth group that consumed all of my social energy, and while it had profoundly positive effects on who I am today, my focus on that community also means that now my best friends who I have 10+ years of history with are all white.
And this is before even mentioning that "diversity" in the context of Bay Area suburbs largely excluded exposure to Black Americans.
When I started college at UCLA, I explicitly made the decision to seek community based on commonalities other than Jewish identity. This led me to spend lots more time than before with people based on proximity (dorm floor), hobbies (music), and career goals (tech and entrepreneurship). I met amazing people from a variety of backgrounds and of a variety of races, many of whom I still consider close friends today. But despite that, I didn't end up spending meaningful time with a single Black person, as the social groups I chose to join were still devoid of that community.
Further still, looking at who is closest to me today, who is most integrated into my life, the crowd is mostly white. My best couple of friends who will be standing beside me as groomsmen one day will probably all be white. My group of close friends generally, who will be at my bachelor party, is also mostly white. And I could only say I've developed a strong connection with one Black American, who I only met last year through my partner.
Beyond my personal life, looking back on my career thus far, I see so much more that I could have done to be a strong ally to my Black colleagues. I thought my role was to give space and act on my consciously held belief that everyone around me was equal in aptitude and potential regardless of race. In doing so, I was complacent in a system exogenous to my or any other individual's actions that actively prevents upward mobility for my Black colleagues.
There is so much more that I should do.
Looking to be a part of the solution
Improving my understanding
One of my biggest lessons of late has been to more overtly talk about race. I am a white person in America, and that produces real outcomes for me and others around me that should be named.
Throughout my day-to-day, I'll make sure I'm more aware of how racially inclusive the communities that I'm a part of are. What % of people on my teams at work are people of color? What % of people I interview for roles at my company? How about people who I refer into the company from my network? People I mentor? People I recommend for promotion?
Participating in required diversity and inclusion training at work isn't enough. I will proactively further my learning of the history of racial oppression, learn of likely biases I've been socialized to harbor, and will seek feedback from people around me to find blind spots as I go.
Demanding better representation and access
In every place my work touches people, I will audit how well the group we engage with represents the group we want to serve.
Interviewing new candidates for my team or company? A representative % of the pipeline should be people of color. We're running a user research study or training a machine learning model? A proportionate % of the users and data points should represent people of color.
Outside of my job, I will seek to support more professional communities of color. A meaningful and proportionate % of the people who I coach should be people of color. As I start to invest money into founders' ventures as well, I'll make sure a representative % of the teams I evaluate are people of color.
In my white community, both at work and socially, wherever I can help point out to others opportunities to expand their understanding and change their behavior to be better allies, I will do so.
Fostering a more diverse future for my children
I want my future kids to grow up in an environment where they are exposed to a racially diverse community, where their teachers and peers are representative of the holistic community they are a part of. And by fostering an inclusive environment and educating my children about race early on, I hope they will be encouraged to join social groups where they are exposed to a diversity of races, based on similar interests rather than a similar identity.
The start of a long journey
I'm sure there is plenty I'm missing in the above. There is so much that I do not yet know. I have a lot to learn, and a long way to go. I look forward to the journey and to learning from all of you.
Thank you to my many friends who read early drafts of this and generally helped me to think through these issues. This is an ongoing journey and I'm always happy to talk with anyone about what reactions they had from reading this.
Resources I've found useful in my education:
More resources on my list to read:
I'll be adding to this as I continue my education. I'd love more recommendations!