Jeff Martin 2020

Jeff Martin

Several weeks ago, unsubstantiated social media rumors of possible protests in several of Montgomery’s “nicer” neighborhoods were the cause of panic for some. My phone rang non-stop with concern. I heard voices filled with anger and fear. A lot of “us” and “them.” Some fled to their farms and lake houses and others hunkered down with shutters drawn and guns loaded. As for me, I sat solemnly on my front porch grasping how much work remains for blacks to achieve equality. There were no protests.

I read somewhere that if the Supreme Court has never had to decide if you have the same rights as others, you are the epitome of privilege. My privilege comes from my straight white Christian American-born non-disabled parents, who passed their privilege to me and my siblings. But I’m unable to pass the privilege of my white skin to my daughter Olivia. Since the inception of slavery, it has been established that your skin dictates your privilege and it remains so to this day through systemic racism.

Truth told, Olivia doesn’t yet know what it’s like to be black in America any more than I do.

She has yet to see the world through the lens of a black person, but the day will come when she will. She is being raised by her mother and me, both white. She is growing up in a primarily white neighborhood, attends a predominantly white school and most of her friends are white.

When asked recently what box she would check if asked her race, she gave a puzzled look and proclaimed the one that said Person. She isn’t even aware these boxes exist.

Olivia, like former President Obama, is biracial. I have no doubt she will succeed at whatever she aspires to do in life, but she will do so in a society whose policies and practices are decided by whites, just one of the many obstacles she will confront because her skin is brown.

I’m unapologetic that she managed to make it to her teenage years unaffected by racism. But her mother and I will have failed her if we don’t impress on her the challenges she faces as she gets older.

And there most assuredly will be some. She is already keenly aware of the racist, divisive rhetoric that comes from President Trump, and on any given week you only have to turn to the society pages of this very newspaper to recognize some of the social barriers she might face in the next few years.

Racism didn’t cease to exist when slavery ended or when blacks were given the right to vote. It didn’t stop when the courts struck down segregation, or when the laws changed allowing blacks and whites to marry. And it hasn’t gone away since the world witnessed the death of George Floyd.

I had a moment of awareness not long ago while exercising. I like to do intervals. I’ll walk a couple of blocks and then sprint a few blocks through the neighborhood. Most of the time I’m wearing my Airpods, completely deaf to my surroundings, especially anything behind me. This particular time I took off running shortly after passing someone checking their mail, and it struck me that what might be ordinary and safe for me might not be for my 14-year-old biracial nephew, or any other black male. You can use your imagination. Ahmaud Arbery quickly came to mind.

I’ll close with a plea that we all strive to do better. To be better. I know I’ve stirred up the white fragility in some of you, a range of defensive moves triggered by even a small amount of racial stress. My own soul searching has proven to be uncomfortable as I continue to educate myself by reading, listening and discussing racism more openly with my black and white friends. Make the effort with me. Black lives really do matter.