I am at a Diversity and Inclusion conference and feeling out of place—which is saying something because, as a white man, one of my privileges is to not feel out of place in the world of business. From the few white men I see here, it may not be a feeling most white men deal with much in business.
I am moved by the speeches, and I want to make a difference, and so I am here to give my talk about dealing with my unconscious (and conscious) bias. I met Lamar, a 20-something black man who went to Selma with a group when he was in college. He met a white librarian there—“old,” he said, whatever that means—and he asked what they could do about racism. She told him, “I don’t know what you need to do, but I think white people need to be willing to be embarrassed more.”
In that moment I got it. That is what I am doing with my speech—being willing to be embarrassed by my knee-jerk racism. Instead of insisting I’m a good person because I never owned slaves, I am willing to see that I have been and continue to be part of the problem. And I don’t mean back when I used the n-word as a child. I don’t mean when I used to call anyone from Latin America “Mexican.” I mean even today at the conference, a few minutes after I had exchanged seats with Lamar, I asked if I had his water glass and thought with disgust, “Did I drink after him?”
Somewhere deep down, I remember taking a half-eaten hot apple pie out of Tony Bobbitt’s black hand only to have my dad slap it out of my hand: “We don’t eat after them.” My grandfather would not even sit at the same table with one. In the 90’s when my uncle’s maid sat down at the table, he headed for his truck. When I asked what happened, he said matter-of-factly, “I ain’t ate with a n-word yet and I was not going to start today.”
Am I willing to be embarrassed about that? Well, later that afternoon when I gave my speech, I used it as an example of my racism, with Lamar in the room, and apologized to him. My grandfather had a distinction called race, with a lot of meanings and actions attached to it. I am working one by one to eliminate that as a distinction in my actions, leaving that distinction all lonely in my thoughts. I am going to use a different distinction in my speaking and acting, and that distinction is Human Race.
To learn more about Gary’s speech on Racism, please visit our Speeches page.