07/26/2016 04:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

4 Ways I've Been A Jerk About Race In America


Like everyone else, I'm heartbroken at the violence of the last few weeks, from Baton Rouge and St. Paul to Dallas and back to Baton Rouge. I want to hug a black person; I want to hug a cop. Everyone's so scared. Thoughts and prayers (for real) and all that...

I've also had my eyes opened to a thing or two.

Thing number one: I've experienced white privilege.

Thing number two: I've been kind of a jerk.

Thing number one: I've had hardships in my life, of course, but none of them has been based on the color of my skin (or my sexual orientation or my economic status...) I don't know what it's like to be profiled--pulled over for no apparent reason, followed in a store, bullied, accused of "taking someone's spot" because of affirmative action, stereotyped. I haven't served as the butt of bad jokes--or worse.

I do know this: what most damages our souls is loss of dignity.

Do I try to treat everyone I encounter with respect? Yes. I'd go as far as to say I sprinkle in warmth and a dose of empathy.

But, I'm realizing, that's not enough.

Which brings me to thing two, the jerk factor:

1. Martin Luther King said "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." In general, there's been a lot of noise from white folk in the last few weeks, but the silence is deafening. We say things like all lives matter. That sounds reasonable, but scratch the surface and you'll find folly. Black Lives Matter doesn't mean white lives don't matter, but it does mean black lives are being taken down at a distressing rate. It means that while I don't get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see blue lights in the rearview mirror, I fear for my pride, not my life. Black Lives Matter means something is going on. It means, yes, all lives matter but--focus--we are talking about black lives right this second.

2. I live in a big, soapy, suburban bubble, and I do little to pop it. I feed my family, scrub my floors, play within a pretty homogeneous circle of friends. That's all fine and good, but it's probably not good for my soul to remain so sheltered.

3. Language is important. A low moment: I told an African-American salesman at hhgregg that I needed a refrigerator, and I needed an inexpensive one--a ghetto one. Now, this fellow could've grown up in a five-bedroom, four-bathroom, and not everyone who lives in the so-called ghetto is black. But. Describing a cheap appliance as ghetto is not a sensitive use of the term. I wanted to climb inside said fridge, stay there and die. I've since erased that word from my vocab.

4. I've asked the wrong questions. When the news reports are once again heart-wrenching, I say why? I say what next? When will this end? But I have a new question: What does love require of me? I'm all ears.

I'm glad we're talking. Dialogue is good, even when we don't all agree. But can I say this? It's time for non-blacks to err on the side of shut up and listen.

We like to deny there's an issue with profiling or racism or discrimination or whatever you want to call it in this country. That's the equivalent of There, there, it's all in your head, dear. We get dismissive and defensive. How can the brokenness be repaired if we can't even admit it exists? Instead many of us cite the steps forward, the progress. Our president is black, some of my best friends are black...

Truth is, I haven't walked a mile in those shoes. I haven't even tried them on.