Next month will mark my 20 years as a blogger. It’s an anniversary I have been looking forward to for a long time, and something for which I thought I could rightfully be proud. I’ve used this blog to chronicle my Peace Corps service and to reflect on my family, to organize events and to continue my education, to refine my tastes (in food and music, at least) and to detail my observations of the natural world. It’s my writing on my space on the web about my place in the world.
But, this week, spurred by the national outrage about the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and so many other persons of color, I searched my mistersugar archives (15 years of my blog) for the word racism.
There is not a single instance of the word.
News sites these last weeks have shown historical photos of police dogs terrifying African Americans, and the man who occupies the White House gleefully threatened to be just as aggressive and horrible.
So I searched the archives to see if I’d ever written about a certain incident early in my life when I witnessed racism up close. As a six-year-old boy, I was playing outside the Phoenix apartment building where my family briefly lived. I heard a dog begin to bark ferociously, and I looked around to see a German shepherd running straight at me. Petrified in fear, I watched it come closer and closer, louder and louder…but then it raced right by me. I pivoted my head to see the dog chasing a younger black boy; luckily, the boy made it to his doorstep and just inside before the dog could snap. I pivoted my head back around to see an older white boy, who’d let the dog loose, laughing. I was still frozen in place, but my brain registered the naked racism.
That memory isn’t in my blog.
I searched the archives again, remembering my few, mundane encounters with police.
Had I written about that incident when I was in my early twenties and working on the John Carroll University campus over the summer? One evening, I was out for a run through the University Heights neighborhood when a patrol car slowed down and a voice told me to stop. An officer rolled down the window, told me there was an ongoing search for a robbery suspect and while I didn’t match the suspect’s description, he had some questions. I didn’t have identification on me, but I told him I had memorized my Illinois driver’s license number. He was amazed, or amused, I think. A few minutes later, background check complete, I was back on my own, free to keep running. I was aware of the deep racial disparities in Cleveland and its suburbs, but safe in my own skin. By the time I graduated from JCU, I knew that a friend of mine, also a JCU student, had opposite experiences with campus security and local police—he was often harassed simply because he was black.
Not in my blog.
Nor was my memory of my very first day at JCU. I was in an elevator in a nearby department store, and when I glanced over at an older woman, I noticed a concentration-camp number tattooed on her arm.
I searched the archives for a mention of the playground slurs, aimed at the children of Mexican immigrants, that I heard in Idaho.
I did find my Northern Ohio Live innovations column from August 2001, Dealing with our differences, which opens with this:
When Cincinnati erupted in social unrest last Spring after the police killing of an African-American suspect, Marlene Feder was prepared to make a difference.
Suspect was not the right word then, or now. Timothy Thomas should not have been killed in 2001, just as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor should not have been killed in 2020.
I had been a blogger for a year when I wrote that article about what others were doing to confront structural racism and an inequitable justice system. And in the 19 years since, regardless of my past memories and current knowledge of how real and entrenched racism is, I’ve been silent.
That’s my white privilege.
It makes me complicit.
I’m ashamed by this.
In 2015, for my last post over at mistersugar.com, I defined my creed:
To be kind to others. To stand up, stand tall, and stand for something good.
This I still believe. But given all that I didn’t find in my blog archives, and all that is still not right in this world, such a passive creed is simply not adequate for my next 20 years. I expect more from myself.
I intend to keep living and keep blogging, and to make both matter.
I swear now to make this blog reflect not just my memories and my family, and the books I read and meals I eat, and the narrative initiatives and community events I organize, but also the protests I will join, the bystander training I will take, the justice I will advocate, and the racism we will defeat.
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