As a white woman, I have lived a very privileged life. When people see me, they may acknowledge me by saying hello with a nod or a smile, or they may not even notice me and simply pass me by in a neutral fashion. But I can say with complete honesty and confidence that I have never walked out of my home and into the world worried that I could be killed simply for existing. If my skin were black, that would be my reality in the United States of America on June 3, 2020.
In August, 2004, I was sitting at an outdoor café in a plaza in Athens, Greece, having a late dinner (the Greek way) with some friends. We were all members of the Athens Summer Olympics sports massage team. Whenever people saw us out and about in our Olympic uniforms, they always gave us a second look. Our brightly colored uniforms identified us as official Olympic staff, but it was our very impressive Olympic badges hanging from lanyards with the long stream of multiple color-coded authorizations that identified us as major VIP’s at the Games.
We, the official sports massage therapists at the Olympic Games, had more access to move around within the multiple security layers that make up the International Olympic Games than almost anyone. We were right up there with the athletes, the elite of the worldwide media, and IOC officials themselves. We had gone through stringent vetting with every imaginable background check (remember, this was 2004 and we were in Greece, not far in time or space from Iraq, which the United States had invaded in 2003 and where there was an ongoing war).
The results of that vetting were plain for us to see as we moved through the streets of Athens or the venues where we provided treatment for the Olympians. Everywhere we went, people wanted to see who we were. And when they realized we were massage therapists, their eyes always lit up and they smiled. Every single time.
At the outdoor café on this summer evening, everything was bedazzling. I was feeling quite cosmopolitan and chic, enjoying the dream-like experience of the entire world celebrating the Olympics coming home to Greece. So, it was a shock to have a Frenchman walk up and speak to us in the following way.
We chatted graciously for a few moments and he discovered we were from the States. One of my fellow therapists with me was a black man. The Frenchman said quite casually, “We feel sorry for black people who live in the United States.” At the time, I admit I was quite offended. I didn’t want to hear that from someone who didn’t even live in the United States. My inner response was based on a misguided notion of loyalty. He burst my bubble on the glamorous, gracious evening we were enjoying in Athens.
Now, 16 years later, that French man was correct, and I was the one who was ignorant. I was ignorant of the reality of living in black skin in this country. In the discomfort of my reaction, which I shared with my friends after the Frenchman walked away, I was broadcasting my white privilege. I was announcing my ignorance of what millions of my fellow citizens endure every day, every single day of their lives.
Given the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd under the knee of a bad cop captured live on film in Minneapolis last week, I now rededicate myself to educating myself about the challenges of my fellow citizens who do not have the privileges, indeed do not enjoy the rights, that I do simply because of the color of my skin. I challenge every decent American, every God-fearing American, every white-skinned American, to do the work to learn what your privilege is and how your lack of awareness of that privilege is effectively maintaining a culture where black lives don’t matter. Be an advocate and defender for black lives, not just in your own behavior, but in the systemic sense. Become aware of systemic racism and how it diminishes us all.
I look forward to the day when people around the world look to the United States with admiration at the beautiful diverse equitable country that we have become. Will we reach that day? Get busy. Get active. In your life and family and community, be the change. Here’s an idea! I offer you an effective way to bring about this vision. Vote for me. Support my campaign financially. And become a volunteer for my campaign to help me win in November. We have a rocking campaign operation. We are all set up. We are firing on all cylinders. With your support, from our corner of the world, we will create a country where every person is valued for being themselves.
The Frenchman said quite casually, “We feel sorry for black people who live in the United States.”