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A Message To My White Friends

Law enforcement officers amassed along Lake Street near Hiawatha Ave. as fires burned early Friday morning May 29, 2020, in Minneapolis, MN..] DAVID JOLES ??? david.joles@startribune.com Latest on the death of George Floyd.

Earlier this week, a white friend that I grew up with in suburban Minneapolis started an email dialogue with me and a few other white friends with similar upbringings about the events that have transpired in our hometown. I wrote the below response, which I’ve adjusted a bit for context. Although it isn’t exactly what we normally discuss here at NHLtoSeattle.com, I hope that it will encourage you to have similar dialogues with those in your own respective communities. 

Although I’ve been away for the better part of fifteen years now, I still feel like I am a Minnesotan at heart. I still love Minnesota sports, and I still knowingly speak with a slight Minnesota accent. I also still brag about all the great things I remember from growing up in a place where you could spend every winter day skating for free in practically any suburban park, and every summer day floating in one of the state’s beautiful lakes.

Since moving from Minnesota, I’ve lived on both coasts. When I lived in New York, I felt like there was always something to keep you on edge. I was there through Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. I remember riding the subway the morning after news broke that a Brooklynite had been diagnosed with ebola, and feeling fearful for my life when the man next to me coughed. I also remember locking down the hotel I worked in – which was conveniently located across the street from the site of the worst terrorist attack in history – due to a suspicious package found just outside, as the world was on alert following the attack on the Bataclan Theatre in Paris. When my wife and I left New York, I felt a temporary sense of relief to get out of that bubble, but now living here in Seattle, we have the fear of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, none of which even have the courtesy to give you notice of their arrival the way that a simple little northeastern hurricane does.

And yet, looking back on my youth in Minnesota, I don’t recall many days of feeling genuinely fearful, save for the weeks that immediately followed 9/11, and that didn’t even happen anywhere near Minnesota. Even today, I imagine that if something bad happens wherever we happen to be living, we can just go back to good old MN, because nothing truly bad ever happens there.

But what happened to George Floyd was truly bad. What happened in the Twin Cities this past week was truly bad. I now believe that there have been truly bad things happening there and here and frankly everywhere in our country since its inception. I was just blind to it, surrounded almost exclusively by other privileged white kids like myself, who never had to deal with truly bad things.

Seeing my hometown burn from afar, while my family ignored the risks associated with a pandemic to huddle together in fear that looters may make their way out to the suburbs is not something I anticipated seeing in my lifetime. Meanwhile, chaos erupted here in Seattle on Saturday, when protests turned violent, innocent people were hurt, and hundreds of downtown businesses were destroyed, with the closest being about ten minutes on foot from where my wife and I live. Since then, protests have moved even closer, and although they are mostly peaceful, we are within earshot of the flash-bang grenades that SPD has deployed on a number of occasions. Knowing that proceedings remained peaceful on Wednesday is a huge relief and gives me hope that real change is happening in Seattle. It gives me hope that we can be an example for the rest of the nation.

I’ve cried a lot this week. I want it all to stop. I want everyone in the world to look at each other and say, “I respect you, and I’m happy to share this Earth with you,” and I want the constant feelings of uneasiness to go away.

But I think that uneasiness may be exactly the point for people like us. We are so incredibly lucky. There are things in the world that are scary, and those things that we fear are the things that scare everyone living in the same region, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, or their sexuality. But if you were to change the way we look, then we would also have to layer on the fear that we could be stopped, arrested, beaten, or even suffocated just because we’re physically different and no longer have the same privileges that we all take for granted.

I look back at my youth and my college days, and I’m so disappointed that I participated in activities and used language that would be so hurtful to so many people that I now love. This is what happens when you surround yourself with people like yourself, though. You never understand those who are different than you, until you get to know them, and you truly listen when they let down their guard and try to express to you what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

I believe that the feeling of uneasiness this week has been a very small taste of the way that people of color feel every single day living in our society, and that devastates me. I hate feeling uneasy like this, but I believe in humanity, and I believe that this uneasiness will pass, and that change will finally come for those who so desperately need it.

When that happens, I will be glad to have felt the uneasiness.

Featured image taken by David Joles, photo journalist for the Star Tribune/Associated Press. 

Darren Brown
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