Baggage claims

In the flurry of activity following the announcement of Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL, I made the mistake of reading the comments that followed several of the articles. Yes, I know better, but I did it anyway. Unfortunately.

Here we are in 2022 and we’re still dealing with the same attitudes and beliefs that have plagued us for centuries. It doesn’t matter what you think about the lawsuit or whether you even know about it; that was only the springboard that plunged me into the mire. Let’s forget about the details of this or any particular issue and address some core misconceptions.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t matter if you have a Black [insert any race, ethnicity, or group label here] friend, coworker, boss, employee, family member, or anything else. You can still be hold racist [ethnist, xxx-ist] beliefs. SO STOP SAYING THIS.

We all carry inherent biases, whether we have actively nurtured them or they insidiously affect us as a product of our environment. We may not mean to be or want to be or even know we’re biased, but lots of subtleties along the way work themselves into our being. We are products of our culture, whether on a micro or macro level. (Please read my earlier post, What Color Are Your Glasses, to understand what I mean by this.)

Let me be clear: THIS IS NO EXCUSE.

Denice Frohman’s quote says it better than I can: “Your baggage may not be your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.” In other words, the why is not as important as what we do about it.

That’s just the way I am…it’s the way I was brought up…I don’t see color…it’s not my fault…I can’t help it…it’s what I was taught so it must be true… All those responses just tell me you aren’t open to any way but your own. You aren’t willing to do the hard work of self-examination and continuous improvement.

Don’t ever believe that I think I’m perfect. I have biases, just like everyone else. Most of the time, I try to identify them and address them. Some days go better than others, and sometimes it takes awhile for a new idea to sink in, so “most of the time” seems more honest than “always.”

There’s an author I love whose novels often deal with controversial topics. She has a special way of creating relatable characters who present contrasting perspectives that I can’t ignore. When I’m done reading, I’m better for it. Whether I’ve changed my mind or simply better understand why I hold a particular viewpoint, I find myself more empathetic to others who stand in conflict. Shouldn’t our real conversations be like that, too?

You don’t have to agree with everyone, but listen to the people around you. Try to see things from other perspectives. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to imagine what they feel and why. Why are we so categorically opposed to the idea that someone like Brian Flores may have been the victim of inherent racism? Why do we react before taking time to understand? And why do we think that ONE experience we may have had rings true in all cases? A person can have a Jewish friend and still hold anti-Semitic beliefs. A person can have a family member with a disability and still hold ableist beliefs. A team can hire a black coach and still operate within a racially-biased system.

We all have baggage. Don’t make someone else carry yours.

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