Monthly Archives: June 2020

What I Don’t Know About George Floyd

What I Don’t Know About George Floyd

Let me tell you what I know after nearly 67 years on this planet. I do not know very much, and I certainly don’t know everything. In fact, most of what I THINK I know, I don’t know. Doris and I have been married 42 years. I think I know her more than any other human being alive. But there is more about her that I don’t know than I do. For example, I have never had a baby, (Shocking isn’t it?) I don’t know what that feels like. I have had a really bad stomach ache. It probably feels a lot like that. (I know!) I have never been through menopause. (I’m not saying she has, I’m just using this as an example.) I know more about my wife than any other person in my life but I don’t KNOW everything she is feeling or thinking.

As I have watched our nation come apart at the seams over the last week, after the senseless killing of George Floyd, I have had that thought over and over again. I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what to do. And I certainly don’t know what black Americans are feeling and thinking right now. I can agree or disagree with their words. I can be supportive of or alarmed by their actions. BUT I DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE FEELING! I have to start there.

That doesn’t make me bad or good. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. It is, however, the necessary starting place for me. Admitting that I don’t know raises up in me a commitment to learn, to listen, to engage, to try to know, as much as I possibly can.

So…yesterday, I phoned a friend. (That’s what you do when you don’t know on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) Actually, not a friend but an acquaintance that I respect and admire. Sumatra Drayton is the principal of Holloway High School. It is an amazing alternative school in our county. They take the students that the other schools have given up on and love them, encourage them, guide them to graduation when, most assuredly they would not have made it anywhere else. The kids that Ms. Drayton watches over come from places that I don’t know. They face challenges, have experienced things, have feelings and fears that I don’t know about. And without her, and her staff, they would end up…well, I don’t know where they would end up.

I called Sumatra (She said I could call her Sumatra) and asked if I could visit her in her office and ask about the things that I don’t know. She is African-American. She is smart, articulate, accomplished. And she has felt and does feel things that I don’t know. We had a great hour together. We laughed. We teared up. We leaned in. And I tried to LISTEN. Not to try and impress her with my compassion or challenge her with my opinions. JUST LISTEN!

Let me let you know about one moment in that conversation. There is much more that I will try to express at a later date, but this one moment. Ms. Drayton was telling me about watching the video of the death of George Floyd. She said she resisted watching it for a while. She has seen plenty. Experienced a good share. But she finally watched it. She said, “I was most shaken, not even by what was happening to him, but by the crowd of people (mainly black people) that were standing around screaming at the cops, begging them to get off of George Floyd.” “They were helpless,” she said. “They knew that they could not intervene or something worse would happen. The police could open fire on them.”

When Sumatra Drayton said that to me, for the first time I knew something that I had never known before. I leaned in and asked, “Is that how you feel? Do you feel that helplessness that something needs to be done but you can’t do it?” And my new friend, a respected, influential black woman in a fairly accepting, compassionate community in Middle Tennessee, just said, “Yes.”

Now, I don’t know about all of that. I don’t know even how her helplessness affects her. My guess it affects people differently. Some withdraw into their own little circles and isolate from anybody that is not of their tribe. Some redouble their efforts to fit in, be accepted, learn the white man’s ways so as not to rock the boat. And some break windows and burn cars and steal flat-screen TVs. I may deplore their behavior BUT I DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY FEEL. This I do know, if it is helplessness then I cannot stay silent. I can’t sit on the sidelines and let them try to work it out. If they feel like they cannot be heard because of the color of their skin then I need to, as a white man, who has never felt what they feel, I need to try to be a voice for them. And for any class of people that feels helpless and unheard. I do know that I have to try to speak on behalf of Sumatra, and Marlena, and DeJuan, and Bone, and my good friend Ron on the picture above, people that I love and THINK I know, but really do not.

What do I say? Well, I don’t know. In order to figure that out, I need to listen more. I need to keep my big mouth shut, put my own opinions and impressions on the back burner for a minute, get off of FaceBook, and sit down with people that look different from me and get to know them. I need to hear so that I can know what I do not know. And I need to ask my white friends to join me in that endeavor. Will you?

Oh, one other thing. I need to know how to get back on Doris’s good side after that menopause crack.

note: For those of you that follow my podcast, “What Difference Does That Make?” I hope to air a special edition in the next few days that contains a part of my conversation with Ms. Drayton. You can download it wherever you get your podcasts.