This is Joyce, one of our most active members. She is black, lives in Detroit, and is in her 80s. We asked her to send us a quick note with her thoughts on the current situation:
“Being black and in the early years not so proud (going from ‘negro’ to ‘colored’ to ‘black’) can stretch a person’s psyche and leave them wondering who they really are … thanks to my parents and family, we were well grounded in black lives mattering.
Then, as now, there was a tale of two cities (separate and unequal as far as the eye could see) and you learned from the cradle to the grave in which you resided … (for almost 84 years, come June 12). Recent health issues and getting through this pandemic have just about unhinged me. All I can do right now is support the people I love. I’m sort of sitting this one out — if that’s at all possible.”
I have been asked by AGEIST members to speak out with solutions and statements around race. This is a huge and knotty subject and one, as a white male, I am not really qualified to speak about, but I will try my best. Change comes about by sharing experiences, ideas, and solutions. By having a conversation. My hope is that we can all have that conversation, expand our awareness, our strength, and work together for positive change.
Race influences everything in America. It is the background of our lives. Age is also there, but race is more powerful and has greater consequences. To deny this is to deny reality, a reality that has been with us for a very long time. We all have stories around race, and this is mine.
My grandfather, a cop in Akron Ohio, was a racist. 100% full-on prototypical white, racist cop. As a young kid, I understood there was something inherently wrong with him. My brother and I, we were maybe 6 and 8 years old, had secret nicknames for his bigotry, which we would whisper to each other. I strongly disliked this man. In my teen years, I was sort of an outlier; I didn’t really get along with the other kids in my small town, as they just seemed on another wavelength from me. I got teased, picked on, and bullied. Maybe because of this, I have an affinity for the “other,” whatever that “other” is.
We Need Diversity
During my career as a photographer, my crew and staff were always diverse. I didn’t need more people who looked, thought and talked like me. The worst offense in my world is to be boring. I wanted people around me who were interesting, who had something different to bring to the table. If you were similar to me, what could I learn from you? As a result, there were no white American guys on my crew or my staff, ever. This was not an affirmative action program on my part, it was entirely selfish. Even today, check out who our staff is, who our contributors are, and you will be challenged to find more than a couple of straight white American males in that group. This is not me being racially accessible — it is about me wanting to have the most interesting people I can find.
We are an issue-oriented publication and our issue is age. We try our best to bring as many non-white faces to our covers as we can, and we are at about 20% of our covers, (some represented here in this article) but truthfully, it is quite challenging. We almost never have a white person or an Asian person decline our invitation, but maybe 8 out of 10 black men we have asked decline, maybe 5 out of 10 black women decline. If someone could hip me up on why this is and how we can improve, it would be most appreciated. My guess is that there is something cultural about what we write about that we just don’t get as it intersects the black community. This is a blind spot that I need to understand better. Any help on this would be appreciated.
Cops Need to Be Better Than Us
I regard racists as being mentally ill — they have a repulsive disorder. There is something deeply wrong with them, a mental illness of some kind, and I shun them. Having the experience with my grandfather, I know there is probably nothing I can do to change these people — they are deeply damaged in some way, and they should not be part of normal society. Unfortunately, these types seem to be attracted to careers where they can actuate their disorders. Cops have a very tough job, and the ones I have seen dealing with the homeless in LA are extraordinary in their compassion. But they also wield enormous power. To combine that power with racism or any other sort of mental incapacity is explosively destructive. Cops need to be better than us, the bar needs to be high. Why this is not the case, I have no idea. As I have heard it said, we would not want sub-par airline pilots who only occasionally crash planes.
Enough Is Enough
I do not claim to have a tight circle of black friends, I don’t. It was less the case when I lived in NYC, but LA is a highly segregated place. There are people in my larger circle that are black, and we have talked candidly about the conversations they have to have with their kids about how their relations with the authorities are very different from mine. This is very real, and very scary. At the end of these, we are both left with a “that is so messed up” moment, that neither of us can really act upon. It is exactly this feeling that comes back to me when I see the protests. There actually is something that can be and is being done about it. People of all backgrounds, ages, and races are coming together to say enough is enough.
What else can we do? My mind is under my control. Yes, I vote, and yes, if I see someone being treated wrongly I say something. The big societal stuff is outside my expertise. There is so much I just don’t know about and have no basis for an opinion on. I am an expert on people our age, I am not an expert on race. What I can absolutely control is my brain. My outlook is my responsibility, what I focus on is my decision. In the bigger world, I have almost no control over anything except my thinking. That I can control. I can choose to remain open, curious and optimistic, or choose to be a fossil. That is entirely my choice, and it is your choice too. How we manifest our thinking is also our choice. Big changes come from a lot of small actions, and some of these small actions are things we have control over. Enough people doing enough small things moves the needle.
Empathy Is a Superpower
Empathy is a superpower, it is rooted in strength. Racism is rooted in weakness, it is about fear. Helping others is not diminishing of ourselves, quite the opposite. I am thankful for the protests, and for the prodding I have received to speak out, as laziness is also often fear-based.
This is what we are doing:
-Increasing our reach-out efforts to increase our visual diversity, especially more black faces.
-Listening and, most importantly, asking. It is good to make a space to listen, but it is also important to provide an environment where people know they are being heard.
-Bringing in more variety of voices to contribute to AGEIST. We do ok here, but we can improve.
-Educational advantage is real and is far worse now than when we were young. Rich white kids are spared no expense, whereas others are left to their own grit. I have been presented with an opportunity to help mentor in an LA high school, and I have accepted.
-Sharing on our social media feeds stories that promote greater understanding and a wider perspective. Our feeds are majority white people our age who are hungering for more points of view, and we will provide that.
-Whenever possible, pointing out the tremendous contribution to all of our lives from black artists, black culture, and black critical thinking. We as a society would be impoverished without it.
This is a hugely complex subject that has grown out of centuries of horrific behavior. This article is not perfect, and I am not perfect. My hope is that we can have a conversation. We need to recognize this is not some small issue that we can put a program on and make it magically disappear. Behavior changes when thinking changes, and thinking changes through changing behavior. Racism is a huge historical problem that has and is causing great pain. This week, we made some progress. Thank you to the people in the street who have expanded my awareness. We need you all to keep reminding us.