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Point of View

Reflecting on my privilege

June 17, 2020

As my beloved country seethes in turmoil over the horrible and unjust killing of George Floyd, I - like everyone I know - have struggled to make sense of a senseless situation, and formulate some sort of coherent comments.

I’ve gone through shock, anger, motivation, fear, and depression. I fear I run the risk of completing the cycle by falling into the most powerless of emotions: resignation.

I can’t and won’t pretend to have any unique or profound perspective. If anything, I’m becoming more and more aware of how much I don’t really have a clue how justifiably helpless and frustrated many Americans of color feel.

I wanted to relay a small story that’s not mine about a person I’ve never met – but one that left a surprisingly deep impact on me. I’ve always been a pretty dedicated DIYer and am proud of being fairly handy around the house. There are few home improvement projects I’m not willing to tackle and a point of pride is being able to fix just about anything. I say “fairly” handy because I’m not the best at planning, so any given weekend of home repair has me making a good handful – if not a half-dozen – trips to my local hardware store. 

Because I’m generally knee-deep in a project when I realize I’ve forgotten some essential part or am missing some essential tool, I’m generally dropping things mid-progress and hopping into my car to head out to the store. And because I’m dropping things mid-project, I’m generally dressed in my sloppiest work clothes, rattiest torn jeans, dirtiest shirt with grease on my face.

Some time ago, my aunt was telling me the story of a friend of hers who sounds like my DIY spiritual twin – same independence when it comes to home improvement, same love for DIY and home improvement projects – except he just happens to be Black. And he shared with her that on any given weekend, when he realizes he’s forgotten some essential part or is missing some essential tool, he has to stop, shower, and put on fresh, clean clothes before heading to the hardware store because if he doesn’t do that he has to worry about how he might be treated at the store.

When my aunt told me this story, I remember feeling like I’d been slapped in the face. It had never even remotely occurred to me to worry about how I might be treated at a hardware store because of how I was dressed. Ever. And if someone who thought like I did, and enjoyed the same things that I did, with the same skills and hobbies that I had, had to strategically and carefully think through their actions on such a mundane task I never gave a second thought to because of the color of their skin, in what other aspects of their day-to-day life did they face a multitude of indignities, inconveniences or outright prejudices in ways that couldn’t help but suck away time, dignity, opportunity, and joy? 

And if these sorts of prejudices impacted even mundane life events, what hope could people of color have for a fair shake or honest shot at life’s more significant, extreme, and pivotal events?

Coming up with the right response after the George Floyd’s killing seems impossibly complicated and I worry about saying the wrong things.

As an older, white, professional owner of a business, I’m a walking, talking anachronism. It’s been easy to feel I’m not part of the problem, that, hey, I’m not racist. But I realize now I’ve failed to become part of any meaningful solution.

I’m proud of my profession as an engineer, yet it’s undeniable that those of us in the technical fields have failed to open up fair opportunities for diversity and inclusion. Through our biased educational process and our entrenched methods of hiring and advancement, we’ve robbed talented individuals of opportunities, squandered their potential, and missed chances for a fresh perspective and range of contributions that could have bettered society.

I’m also proud of the remarkable people I’m privileged to work for at my company. This week, I’ve sat quietly through a couple of emotional listening sessions as my anguished staff has expressed sadness, anger, confusion, and dismay at what’s happening. But no matter how good our intentions, my company doesn’t yet represent a level of diversity that makes us the example we aspire toward.

Beyond my own personal feelings, I feel a sense of obligation to use my position as the president of Delve to make a stand – not just for how I feel but for how we here at Delve collectively feel.

But I worry. I worry I lack the eloquence to say the right things in the right way. I worry my best of intentions will ring hollow and offend. I worry time will pass, wounds will scab over and scar as they always do, and we’ll go back to whatever it is that we’ve always been.

But I feel I have an obligation to share with others a recognition of my failure and my shortcomings – as well as a willingness to not give in to the sin of resignation.

This country, my parents, my background and, yes, my race, have conspired to give me a wonderful life with amazing opportunities and a multitude of blessings. Too many Americans have been cheated of these same things only because of the pigment of their skin. And that’s not fair.

It’s not the America we can and should be. Fighting for a better future for all our citizens is the moral, just, and right thing to do. And I think the most patriotic thing we can do as Americans is to challenge ourselves to be the best selves we can. To never stop.

Last year, my company adopted a commitment to diversity and inclusion. It was driven by a sincere passion within our staff that recognized diversity in background, skills, and perspectives is one of the most powerful of all design tools. We are not there yet, nowhere near our best possible selves. But we can and will do better.

I will try. I will try to help. I will try to listen. I will try to learn. I will try to lead. I will try to not stay silent. Forgive me when I fall short, but never stop holding me accountable. I want to never stop trying to become part of a solution that makes me, my company, my profession, and my country the best they can be.

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