My White, Blissful Ignorance

Proud Parenting Moments

Shortly after Kobe Bryant died I was in Los Angeles with my family for the February 2020 Gatsby company gathering.

My family was at a restaurant and my son points at a man at the bar and says “That man looks like Kobe Bryant”.

I look to the bar and the only man I see is a 40-something white man with facial hair. I ask my son to clarify. “Which man looks like Kobe Bryant?”. And he points again at the same man. I pull up my phone and show him a photo of Kobe Bryant to make sure he knows what Kobe Bryant looks like. He confirms and says, “ya, he looks like Kobe because they’re both tall”.

On the same trip, my kids met my colleague Hashim Warren, a Black man. Hashim, wearing a blue shirt, offered to watch our kids one of the evenings so that Rachel and I could participate in some of the team activities. In the car ride back to the hotel, my kids asked when “the blue guy” was going to watch them. To this day, they still refer to Hashim as “the blue guy”. To them, his Blue shirt was what made him unique, not his skin color.

My children don’t see people around them as different because of skin color. To my children, a person’s height and color of their shirt is what stands out as a differentiator.

To me, these were proud parenting moments.

The reality of being “colorblind”

I was raised to be “colorblind” and not treat people differently because of skin color, and I’ve been proud to be raising my children this way as well.

When I was a child, some of my best friends were Black, Vietnamese, Hispanic and Iraqi. I don’t treat anyone different because of skin color.

It feels and sounds “right” to treat everyone equal regardless of skin color, right?

When racial issues arise in the media, I’ve largely ignored them because I think it’s “other” people that need to change. I think to myself, “I don’t treat people poorly because of their skin color, I’m not part of the problem“.

After reading many stories of folks that have converted from shouting “All Lives Matter” to becoming vocal “Black Lives Matter” supporters, it’s been clicking for me.

For 33 years, I’ve been “colorblind” and treated everyone as equal, as if that’s the “right” thing to do.

I was wrong.

The sad reality is that we’re not equal.

I’ve never been followed in a department store. I’ve never been handcuffed after being pulled over. I’ve never been arrested for robbing a bank just because I have the same skin color as the person that did commit the crime.

The dream, of course, is that one day we will actually be equal.

Growing up, I ignorantly thought that day had already come. It hasn’t, and by treating everyone as equal, I’m part of the problem. There’s a large equality gap that needs to be filled.

The Lightbulb Moment

This image was one of the things that’s helped make it finally click for me.

My life isn’t the house on fire. I fortunately face very little adversity. I have very little fear or risk when interacting with police officers.

I’m the epitome of White Privilege.

Being “colorblind” and going about my day thinking “everyone is equal” is blissful ignorance.

Black people all around me are the house on fire. They’re the ones at risk. They’re the ones living in fear, being followed in department stores, being handcuffed when pulled over, or worse. And I’m over here with my fire hose of white privilege and I’ve not been using it to help put out that fire.

For 33 years I’ve thought that “not treating people worse based on skin color” is “good enough”.

It’s not good enough.

Taking Action

I don’t know what all I can/should do to make a meaningful difference, but I know I can no longer be a passive bystander.

I have a lot more to learn, so I’m starting by picking up a copy of “How to be Antiracist”, as recommended by Madalyn Parker (and many others).

I want to take action. Now.

I have a bit of a following with the WPGraphQL brand that I’ve built over the past few years. I’ve used that to make make an explicit statement that “Black Lives Matter”. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Something that’s bothered me about US culture for a long time, is that our justice system targets minorities and is setup to make it nearly impossible to escape the system. The US makes it nearly impossible to re-integrate into society after being released from prison. It’s difficult to learn new skills in prison, and many companies won’t hire if you have a criminal record. If you can’t get a job after prison, how can you stay out of prison?

The answer is, you can’t.

According to the National Institute of Justice, nearly 83 percent of released prisoners return to prison.

In addition to being nearly impossible to escape the system, the chances of you getting into the system in the first place are much higher if you’re Black. According to the NAACP, “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites”.

I largely feel helpless in addressing these issues, but doing nothing doesn’t feel like an option anymore.

I’ve applied to be a volunteer instructor for The Last Mile, an organization that teaches Web Development to prisoners. I want to do something to actively make a difference and change the narrative in our society.

I’ll be looking for more opportunities to actively make a difference.

Black Lives Matter.

Posted by Jason Bahl

Principal Software Engineer at WP Engine in Denver, CO. I love problem solving and working with WordPress. I'm the creator and maintainer of WPGraphQL. I'm passionate about Open Source software and the web. When I'm not writing code, you'll find me spending time with my beautiful wife Rachel and my 2 sons Andrew and Blake. I also enjoy playing and watching soccer.

One Reply to “My White, Blissful Ignorance”

  1. Thanks Jason for sharing this. A time of humility + figuring out how we can participate in the solution and not the problem for many of us.


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