Yet I also know that as a white person in America it’s not only my responsibility to speak out against injustice and racism, it is my moral obligation. It is the moral obligation of every white person in America. The system is failing people of color. It’s not their job to fix the system. They can’t fix it without help. It’s a white system, it’s a white problem, and if us white people don’t fix it, it’ll never get fixed.
I have in fact been told to just listen—and listen I have since 2015. I also tried to be part of the movement in any way I could, which ultimately for me meant using my words. Words are more powerful and lasting than any weapon ever could be. The pen is mightier than the sword.
Recently, there’s been lots of advice printed about being a good white ally. You white people do this. You white people don’t do this. You white people are our guests, follow our lead. This is Black Lives Matter, black voices matter, not white voices. You white people just listen.
Okay, yes, I did listen. I listened for a long time. I listened until my outrage could no longer be contained and then I let my words rage out. I write to the detriment of my health, each word as if the jab of a blade. Words here mean hours of pain, hours where I can do nothing—and often days. That’s the cost for a person in such poor health.
But I kept saying this isn’t a black problem. This broken system is a white problem. White people are responsible for the broken system. And it’s my problem as a white in America—and so I spoke out again and again and again.
A really good friend of mine who is black read this article about my experiencing poverty in my childhood and said to me just because I had a tough childhood doesn't mean I know anything about being black, having a tough life has nothing to do with being black. She also said to me that having a tough childhood doesn't mean I know anything about racism. Granted, the title of the article is "Racism in America. Poverty in America. Working-Class America," but you'd have to read the article to know why it actually has nothing to do with being black or white or experiencing racism. Also, to be clear, I added the addendum to the end of the article afterward, because of what she said. We all see the world as we want to see it and we don't always see what's right in front of our eyes.
I asked a few journalist friends of mine who are black to look at this article I'd written about the history of police brutality in America, to help make sure I didn't make any mistakes or say something that might be considered insensitive or unintentionally inflammatory. These were journalists I had mentored when they were starting their careers and spent countless hours of my time helping over a period of years.
The original article as written included personal details about police brutality my family had experienced, including an incident we ultimately turned to members of the Washington state congress for assistance with and an incident involving another member of my family who was brutalized by three police officers after being pulled over for speeding, and I told them this. Yet these friends of mine told me one by one that they didn't have time to deal with it. I understand. What's been happening in America is overwhelming and the news cycles showing black people dying at the hands of the police over and over compound the horror. And so I cut down the article to what was published and later wrote this article:
After which, I was told politely yet again what the heck did I know about police brutality, racism, discrimination, etc, I was white. Yet the family member of mine who was brutalized by police and almost died is Asian American. My wife is also Asian American, my children are Asian American and I've talked with these journalists about racism they've experienced. Being in an inter-racial marriage beginning in the '80s, my wife and I experienced racism frequently. Admittedly, she got the worst of it, but it deeply affected us both. That kind of racism and discrimination has not gone away either.
Stationed in Japan in the '80's, I experienced racism and discrimination by Japanese against non-Japanese. Non-Japanese weren't allowed in certain businesses, restaurants and shops. These business owners openly displayed either Japanese-only signs or no non-Japanese signs. Either way, it was racism that meant non-Japanese weren't welcome and would not be served. Even some businesses without these signs would not serve non-Japanese. They'd just ignore you until you left their business or worse, scream at you and chase you away. Some businesses near military bases wanted our money, so they just discriminated against us by seating or serving us in different areas. Here, you'd have a Japanese area and an area for others, not just discrimination, but a form of segregation even if the areas weren't labeled Japanese / Non-Japanese.
Raising a special needs child, my family has experienced plenty of discrimination, hostility and inequity--we still do. During a recent trip to abroad, my wife and I were told by a restaurant owner where we were having dinner, that disabled were better unseen than in public and that we should go to Singapore where they could cure my daughter's Downs Syndrome. How the heck do you respond to that kind of ignorance? There are no words.
I grew up in a black neighborhood as I write about here, and on and on. Don't presume to know what anyone has experienced in their life, without having lived their life.
We all see the world as we want to see it and we don't always see what's right in front of our eyes. We may see friends as enemies because we hurt inside. We may see friends as enemies because they aren't us. We're very good at building fences, putting up walls, creating divisions. Us, Them. Them, Us. We humans aren't good at saying our, finding common ground, seeing our American future together. But we have to, now more than ever. The solution to the problem in America, the problem in the world, has to be multiracial, all people.
As I wrote about here, I’m not speaking out ‘just now’ or because it’s convenient, I’ve been speaking out my whole life. This is a fight of a lifetime that I hope is resolved in my lifetime. The best way to end inequality, racism, discrimination, injustice and all the other things that sicken our world worse than any pandemic is to shine a light on them, to keep shining a light on them even where there seems to be no hope. And so, I have shined a light, I have continued to shine a light even though I knew I may never be heard.
So what the heck do I know about discrimination or inequality or racism or intolerance or police brutality or poverty or what hard times are like for working-class Americans? Except that these things have touched every corner of my life for the entirety of my life? Nothing.
The system is failing people of color. It’s not their job to fix the system. They can’t fix it without help. It’s a white system, white people are responsible for the problem, and if us white people don’t fix it, it’ll never get fixed.
I urge you to do what's right, not what's easy. It's easy to just be quiet, especially when people who are speaking up keep getting shut down by those who say stupid things like 'old white folk should just shut up already' or 'celebrities just be making fools of themselves by speaking up in public service announcements' and on and on. Like it or not, old white folk hold much of the power in this country and they hold the keys to changing the system. Like it or not, celebrities have clout and are followed by millions and those millions include people who need to understand how important it is to accomplish real change right now.
We want all people to help change the broken system in America into one that works for all. If we don't get as many people as possible to speak up, nothing will change. If we don't let all supportive voices be heard, nothing will change. Forty years from now, we'll be right where we are now. I don't want to be right where we are now forty years from now. I want change to happen sooner rather than later. I hope you do too.
Be the positive change you want to see. Speak up, make sure you are heard. Everything is possible.
Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.