My dear Curious readers,
Over the last three weeks, I’ve been intermittent fasting from social media. Two weeks ago, I left the best job I’ve ever had and started a new one. I was writing a piece on lessons I learned in my four years at Vacasa (my prior company) when I got back online and read about the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
It took me a few days to begin de-prioritizing the projects I’d been working on and realign my focus based on current and historical events.
I’ve never been an activist, and I’ve tended to remain quiet in political discussions. The more polarizing a topic, the less I’ve participated in it. I observe, but I don’t delve in.
That ends now.
And if this has been you, too, don’t dwell on it. You can change at any moment.
I’m White. I’m privileged. I have a lot to learn. About my own privilege, and about the systemic racism of the U.S. and many other countries around the world.
I also have a voice. I am a leader. And remaining silent sends its own message. I choose to take the side of the oppressed.
While I’ve been reading and thinking about what I can do to make a positive difference, there are many great resources and suggestions out there for other white people like me.
Read. Educate yourself on the history of white supremacy in the U.S. “Knowledge is obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.”
Vote. For mayors, district attorneys, and sheriffs in your community.
Donate. Support organizations that you’ve researched, and are working to make a change.
Support Black-owned businesses in your community and elsewhere.
All of this is positive. If you can do any or all of it, do it. But I can’t help but feel that this isn’t all it takes to achieve long-lasting change…
I’ve been torn. I want to say the right thing. I want to lead well, be a supportive member of my community, as well as a friend. An ally. Yet I don’t want to say the wrong thing, or lead people astray. And I can’t be silent.
At the risk of “saying the wrong thing,” here are the ideas that I’ve been meditating on, that I believe will lead to true change:
Have the uncomfortable conversations. With people of all colors. With your parents, with your business partners, with your friends. Some examples:
Why do terms like systemic racism and white supremacy make us feel uneasy? What are examples of these concepts appearing in your daily life?
What does defunding the police actually entail? Does it make sense to do this? Why or why not? Are there other solutions to this end?
What signal does it send to a young Black person aspiring to get a job when a Google search of “unprofessional hairstyles” results in mostly Black people, whereas a search of “professional hairstyles” yields an all-White search result? How does this search result affect a White person, consciously or subconsciously?
Just as important as asking the question to begin the uncomfortable conversation, if not more so: Setting the environment to be safe, non-combative, and constructive. Pro tip: Try to avoid flat-out agreeing or disagreeing with what someone else says. Try to understand their point of view before proceeding with your point.
This is not easy, but it may be the single most impactful virtue of our times — to prioritize mutual understanding over being right.
Review your unconscious cognitive biases every day. Some (but not all) of the pertinent ones being:
The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one's prior personal beliefs.
The tendency to dwell on negative news/events more than positive or neutral events.
Fallacies of composition/division:
The assumption that a portion of a group is representative of the whole, and vice versa: that the group is representative of a portion of the group. i.e. “all cops are racists” or “all protestors are destructive,” just because some, in fact, are.
The tendency to emphasize more emotionally stimulating evidence over mundane evidence when both contain objectively equal facts.
The tendency to associate other people’s actions with internal flaws, while interpreting one’s own actions as just. i.e. “When other people do x, it is because they are, by nature, y… When I do x, it is because it is justified due to external factors.”
Focus on the core issue. Don’t shame others for how they combat racism. This takes the focus from the real problem! Revert the conversation to a constructive one (see point #1). Be us vs. racism rather than me vs. you or Democrat vs. Republican. The only people that should be shamed are racists, and even still… What if you could lead them to a different POV rather than pointing fingers and further polarizing yourself from them? “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinin still.”
Strike the balance between thinking for yourself and being genuinely open to hear other points of view. Don’t regurgitate statements that you haven’t fact-checked yourself. Don’t blindly repeat what someone else said, even if it’s someone you admire greatly, just because you share certain beliefs with them. Research statements and process ideas on your own. It’s 100% okay, and even expected, to agree on certain points and disagree on others with people of your demographic, political party, and community. It’s also okay — and even helpful — to agree on certain points with someone who holds a generally opposite belief as you. This is what thinking for yourself looks like.
Don’t let one area of disagreement throw off all progress towards resolution. Be open to have your mind changed. Focus on logic and keep marching forward, together.
I believe these acts will lead to true change because they are everyday actions, just like racism appears in the everyday-isms of our lives. The more I learn and discuss about this issue, the more I realize that racism is woven into the fabric of our society. With some obvious exceptions, it shows itself in brief flashes in a multitude of different ways over the course of one day in the life of a Black American… as well as in everyone else’s lives. You just may not be the recipient of it, but it’s still there. This is why we must hone in and change it at the every-minute-of-every-day level.
It doesn’t matter if it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel you have the mental or emotional strength. It doesn’t matter if you believe you don’t see color. You are not exempt from this issue. Justifying silence or exemption from the discussion is, itself, privilege. Black people have not gotten to hide behind that excuse, even if they do suffer from mental illness and trauma. Stand up and speak up for the oppressed — period.
For my last call to action: GET EXCITED. Do you want to see the world change in your lifetime? Better yet, do you want to be a part of that change?
Let’s be honest. This is pretty damn exciting. Intense — yes. But also exciting. There’s a monumental shift that’s starting to take place. We have the opportunity to join forces with that energy and actually be the change. We can participate in shifting the paradigm of society. We can lay the groundwork for a truly integrated world for future generations. Do not miss this opportunity — it’s here, jump in, get dirty!
Our ancestors abolished slavery. Let’s be the generation that abolishes white supremacy and systemic racism. Wouldn’t that be a cool story to tell your grandkids?
In the spirit of practicing what I preach, please note I am along this journey with you. If you read anything in this letter that offended or upset you, I sincerely apologize, and I would love to have a thoughtful discussion about it. I am open to changing my point of view.
Either way, I would love to have a thoughtful discussion with you. Reply to this email to get in touch if you’re so inclined.