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A White Man in Recovery


This isn't easy to write. It shouldn't be easy to read. Early last week, a black man by the name of George Floyd was slowly killed by a white police officer in public by suffocation. A video displays this officer pressing his knee to Floyd's neck while Floyd is on the ground handcuffed. Why was Floyd being subdued? Because he had given a grocery store a fake $20 bill. We will never know if Floyd even realized that the bill was fake. Even if he did know, everyone can agree that such an offense does not carry a death penalty with it or anything close to it. As Floyd repeatedly pleaded for the officer to let up saying that he couldn't breathe, bystanders even began to shout at this officer to stop, but he did not. Now another black man is dead at the hands of a white police officer who, at the very least, was incredibly stupid and ignorant.

America became enraged when the officer and those other officers with him were not prosecuted immediately (though they were all fired immediately) resulting in protests and riots in several different major US cities. Our country is outraged and they should be. These officers have now been taken into custody and are being charged, but the damage is done.

All of this comes after a plethora of stories involving police brutality towards black people in our country. These stories date back over the course of decades and you could make a case that they go back centuries. How are we still stuck here? How have we made this so difficult and complicated? Since when is the golden rule something that we have felt we are so far from?

I'm not an expert in racism and I don't think that I ever will be for a number of reasons (the very first one is that I am a white male). However, I do believe that we have systemic problems of racism in our nation and in our local communities. I have learned that there are racial undertones to my own story that I am still, at the age of 32, learning about. At the risk of being labeled a racist, I want to share a part of that story and part of my journey and understanding in moving toward a shift in my own life and my own mindset in how I view people of color.

It was about seven years ago. I was working at a private Christian school in Houston, Texas as a campus minister, Bible teacher, and basketball coach. The school had a lot of ethnic diversity at the time. The student population was about 40 percent black, 30 percent white, 20 percent asian, and 10 percent hispanic. I was one of the assistant coaches on a basketball team that was very good (we would go on to win the state championship that year). Most of the players on the team were black, the majority of the students in my 11th grade Bible class were black, and yet, I was still dealing with racism in my heart without ever truly realizing or acknowledging it. I had just finished coaching a game and it was fairly late on a Friday evening. I only lived about a mile from the school and did not make enough money to afford wifi in my apartment and stream Netflix so I decided to go by the McDonald's near where I lived to rent a movie from Redbox before going to bed that night. I was still wearing my shirt, tie, and slacks from teaching and coaching that day. While picking out a movie, I noticed four black guys about my age walking into the McDonalds. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice one of them see me and start walking toward me. The others follow along. As I see them moving toward me, I then turn to face them. The one who walked toward me first was shorter, only about 5'8. Another was about 6 feet which is about my height and the two others were about 6'4. The shortest one begins talking to me,

"hey man! I've got something for you!"

I immediately start slowly moving backwards. My heart begins to race. I start looking around to see who could/would potentially come to my aid if things began to get violent. I start shaking but try to hide it. I was scared. I begin to try and respond but nothing really comes out of my mouth. I was caught so off guard and did not know how to respond. The guy continues,

"I think that you might like this stuff!"

He holds up some flat billed hats and tall tee shirts. I continue to shake and am finally able to mumble out some words,

"I don't want….."

I couldn't decide if I should say "those clothes" or "trouble" so I just never finished what I was saying.

It's at this point that the guy talking to me realizes that I am truly afraid. He stops and stares at me for a moment. He then changes his demeanor. He calmly changes his approach,

"Hey listen man. I'm not gonna hurt you. I'm just trying to sell you some swag and help your look. That's all."

He holds up the apparel again. I take a good look as if I'm trying to be interested, but I wasn't. I probably wouldn't be interested in what he had today because what he was selling wasn't the type of clothes that I normally wear. But at that time, I wasn't interested in what he had because I was scared of him and those with him.

"No thanks" I said and began walking toward my car. I never even finished picking out a movie to watch. I just left the screen open on scroll and walked off.
I just wanted to get out of there. As I began getting into my vehicle, the guy follows me from a distance and changes his message altogether.

"Hey man! You can't be thinking and acting like that! This is how problems happen! This is how bad s*** takes place!"

As he says this, I begin to notice my feelings change. I begin to feel angry as I get in my truck. He continued,

"I was just trying to sell you some swag and what you did wasn't right!"

His friends behind him start talking amongst each other while looking at me. I don't know what they said but it couldn't have been anything positive about me. The first guy continued on,

"This is why black people f*** up people like you!"

As I turn on my car and drive away, he continues talking but I can't hear him anymore. I feel rage boiling up inside of me. I was so mad at him. I couldn't believe he said those things to me when all that I was doing was minding my own business. I called my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and told her about what had happened. I told her how ticked off I was and asked who he thought he was to just walk up to me like he did and then tell me off despite the fact that I didn't say or do anything to him or any of his friends.


I wasn't able to admit it at the time, but I was being racist. I was scared because I thought that these four guys were going to hurt me because I was white and they were black and they could. Had those four guys been white, I probably wouldn't have responded the way that I did. Looking back on my feelings from that night when I left, I don't think that I was truly angry with the guy who called me out. Deep down, I was angry with myself. That guy was justified in calling me out for my response and he was right about what happens when white people look at black people with fear. Fear causes people of all races to do bad things to each other. He called me out on my racism and he was right for doing so.

Now I could make excuses for my behavior that night (and I used to). I could make the excuse that I was about a quarter of a mile away from one of the worst apartment complexes for crime rates in all of Houston. I could make the excuse that you weren't allowed to solicit anything outside a McDonalds. I could make the excuse that you don't need four guys to sell three or four articles of clothing. I could make the excuse that it was getting late, that I was tired, and just wanted to be home alone by myself. The problem with all of these excuses is that none of them have anything to do with the color of those guys skin and that's what scared me, that's what triggered my response.

Looking back, the thing that is still crazy to me is that I worked at a school where I was around plenty of black kids all day every day. I never had any problems with any of them outside of the typical teenager stuff that all teenagers of all ethnic backgrounds have. I feel like I should have been able to respond differently than I did, but I didn't. I never told any of the faculty or students about what happened that night. I think I might have been too afraid to. I have no legitimate excuses or justifications for acting the way that I did. I am truly sorry for responding in fear. I will never have a way of contacting those four guys to apologize to them. I wish I did. I would admit to them that I struggle with racism and that it was engrained in me, not by my parents or relatives or friends, but by a system that taught me to see people differently based off of the color of their skin and I grew up around people who thrived in the system so I assumed that this was how the world functioned. How wrong I was.

Since all of this has taken place, I have talked with numerous people of color whom I know and trust. I have even asked some of them to read this before making it public. I have shared that I can do better, I want to do better, and I must do better. I have admitted that I will never truly see the world like they do. I have admitted that I have taught my son a different lesson about police officers than what black men teach their sons and that those black men are doing the right thing by teaching them this lesson. I have heard stories from several different black friends of mine who have experienced racism on a variety of levels.

The reason that I share my encounter at McDonalds is this: the first step to fixing a problem is admitting that there is one. You won't find hardly anyone who knows what happened to George Floyd and isn't affected by it. Pretty much everyone is going to say that it was wrong, horrific, and outrageous and they are all correct in saying so. All of these things are true. However, through the years with these kinds of stories surfacing again and again, I can't help but notice people saying that it is bad and wrong to be racist, but almost no one is admitting to actually struggling with racism. Yes there are white supremacists and we all want to point to them as the culprits and the enemies of so much of the racism that takes place, but they are the ones who are simply open about how they feel. It is those of us who have racial undertones that we deal with in our lives (even subconsciously) and never truly admit that we think how we think because we don't want to get labeled as a racist, because we think that this would be the worst possible scenario imaginable for us. That's not true though. The worst case scenario is more people hurting and dying from racism. So as white people, in the name of protecting our reputations, we talk about how we aren't racist and we justify that by talking about how we have black friends, we think that the KKK and Nazis were wrong and cruel and horrible human beings, and we claim that we "don't see color."

None of us want to admit that we tell our kids to play on the other side of the road from the black man who lives two doors down because "well we just don't know him." None of us want to admit that we tend to try to place our families in neighborhoods where almost everyone is white but that there are "some black people" when in reality there's about 2 families out of 100 total. If nothing else, it's obvious that we have a race problem when the only time that we want to talk about race is when something horrible like this happens and the media makes it incredibly easy to point fingers and cry out for justice.

If we want for this problem to go away, it isn't gonna happen overnight because this problem didn't arrive overnight. This is going to take a culture shift and culture shifts take time. It's going to take
us (white people) admitting that we do indeed have a problem, that we are deeply sorry for it, and that we want to change and be better. It is going to take giving black people the voice and power to stand and speak truth about the wrongs that we have committed and continue to be committed (both intentional and unintentional) and this means that we take our stand and our voice and simply give it to someone else. Relinquishing power is hard, but so is culture shift and I think that they go hand in hand.

Since I have come this far, I might as well start off.

I am sorry for the racists things that I have thought and said in my life. I have been racially insensitive and ignorant for far too long. I am sorry for justifying my thoughts. I am sorry for dismissing voices from black people who cried out to me about the injustices in their own lives. I am sorry that I never made the attempt to see the world through the eyes of my black students. I do believe that I can do better, I most certainly want to do better.

I ask for black people to teach me where my words and thoughts are going astray. I genuinely want to see and understand the world that black people live in though I also know that I never fully will. Teach me how to cry out for justice so that justice can be delivered and oppressors may be overcome. Teach me to love like I have never known before. Love me even when I don't deserve it, especially when I don't deserve it and in this way, you will teach me what it truly means to love like Jesus.

A white man in recovery

--Casey Lankford