I’ve thought about all the things I am learning from Thrive Global and taking Microsteps. I am seeing the change to my own well-being in giving myself time to focus on the important things and rekindling the passion to make a difference. I’ve realized the same approach to action through Microsteps is important to make sustainable change in inequality. We can’t change the world overnight, but we can take steps to move forward. Small gestures can have big impacts.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve continued to realize that you don’t have to look very hard or very far to find racist views or feelings. I am taking the Microsteps to look for one situation every week where I can influence to make a difference. This month, I’ve continued to have conversations that challenge racist undertones like calling out someone for lowering their voice in conversation when saying the word black. My husband and I have decided that we are not exchanging gift with adults, instead we are “adopting” black families that have been impacted by COVID or other hardships. We hope that removing the anxiety and concern of not being able to provide their children a happy holiday will show we are moving forward. I found an opportunity to support a black colleague to elevate his voice in visible strategic discussion. I applauded a friend that took a brave step to show people in his life that there is zero tolerance to racism in his life and there are repercussions to that are racist. It occurred to me this month, that these steps are not “extra” actions, but simply just replacing other effort that was not as important.
I am continuing to be a vocal ally at home, at work, and in my community. I hope to continue to make progress in my fight against racism the same way that I am making progress in my own wellbeing through Microsteps.
One of my Microsteps is to continue to share my own story. As I’ve talked about my views on racism and inequality, a few questions and comments have come my way that I feel need to be shared and discussed.
“What makes you qualified to talk about racial issues?”
“You have a reason to be passionate about this since you are raising a Black child.”
“This is an uncomfortable topic. What is OK to discuss?”
“Aren’t you afraid of what people think?”
We are all responsible and you don’t need to have a reason other than “racism is not OK and equality is important” to be passionate and take action.
I am using my voice to engage in conversations to influence perspectives and behaviors. I am increasing my volunteer work (I am interviewing to be on the volunteer board of a non-profit), my family has decided not to exchange gifts for adults for the holidays and instead we are “adopting” two black families, and I am just had a call last night with a local charity in Westchester to provide support to displaced refugee children.
Many think that my story and my actions started with becoming the father to my son, but it started much earlier. It started with understanding how it felt to be the target of a stereotype and bigotry.
Merriam-Webster defines a stereotype as “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.” When we use the word stereotypes, we most often think of the negative.
I have had my fair share of prejudice throughout my life. Some that may not be as obvious as others. As a gay man, yes. I’ve been attacked verbally and physically and even received backhanded compliments, like “Oh, wow, that’s great that you know how to do construction work. Aren’t gays supposed to be a bit more girly?” I wasn’t into sports as a kid and that automatically made me “queer” – a word often used by my uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, mother, and father toward me – and some even more vulgar versions of that word. But this is not the stereotype on which I want to focus. I want to focus on one that is maybe less obvious.
A small, conservative lower-income town in West Virginia wasn’t always an easy place to grow up, but I had advocates in my grandparents that changed my life.
Growing up in a very small town in West Virginia, I was born to impoverished teenage parents who had four kids by the time they were 22. I was eventually “given up” because I “was always more their (my grandparents’) kid anyway”, and was eventually officially adopted by my maternal grandparents. Before that, I knew what it felt like to struggle, to feel hungry, to feel neglected. I remember looks and comments from strangers. Looks and comments that I know now were looking “down” on me for being poor. With my grandparents, I was raised in a modest, lower-middle-class, but loving home. While my parents and brothers lived with us on an off, they ultimately lived their own separate lives.
As my siblings and I aged into teenagers and adults, our lives took very different paths. Each of my brothers (facilitated by my birth parents) were detained and incarcerated at various times for various reasons as children, teenagers, and adults. And the stereotype for me was born – “You’re their brother, you must also be a bad apple.” “They are your parents, you’ll never amount to anything.” I was treated as though I had done all the things that they had done – though I never did. The family I was born into and the last name I carried was considered synonymous with “can’t be trusted”. Living in that small town, my own personal actions, behaviors, and values were not what created the opinions of me. Yet, I had my grandparents to help me realize that those judgments are not what defines me.
It was not until I left that small town in West Virginia that my own actions and behaviors formed others’ basis of how I was seen. I thought stereotypes were a thing of my past then. Not even close. There were no Black or brown people in that small town and my direct exposure was limited. What I saw in Pittsburgh continued to open my eyes to stereotypes and the dangers and damage they represent. I could walk out my “new” door and my family’s past was not on display and I was not immediately distrusted. That wasn’t true for my Black friends. I watched them be followed in stores, I watched them be passed by taxis, I watched doors be open for white women and let close on black women, and I watched them struggle and work harder to advance in their careers when it felt to be easier for me.
You may ask why I am telling this story. It is not for sympathy. I am telling it because being treated as an outsider or as less than equal does not feel good to anyone. We’ve all probably felt that way at one time or another in our lives. Maybe it’s been when starting a new school, a new job, moving to a new town or country. Now imagine how that might feel each and every day as a Black man or woman. That’s what I think about and what I might do to help change it. What makes me qualified to talk about race? Nothing more than being human.
My own personal experiences only give me more and different perspectives. My son is only one reason why I am passionate about equality. I have said in previous blogs that I have accepted living the rest of my life being comfortable being uncomfortable. I am going to ask you “What are you doing to be comfortable being uncomfortable?”
Am I afraid of being judged? No, not anymore. My fellow humans that do not look like me are judged every day. Why should I have the privilege of not being judged?
I want to leave you with a few questions. Will you be willing to challenge the racist actions and views of people in your life? Will you be willing to listen, learn, and reflect to take small steps today?
I am an ally! I am an advocate! Will you be?