Many of us are feeling fatigued from reaching thresholds of infuriation too many times to count. George Floyd, Rodney King, George Stinney Jr., Breonna Taylor, too many more and infinite terrifying Karens and Amy Coopers.
Racial injustice has been killing us for centuries – yet despite the civil rights movement, Juneteenth, desegregation and hope to create a paradigm shift through art, music and culture – we are still fundamentally where we have always been.
I was emailing my college professor, Dr. Harry Edwards – and he provided me with these horrifying stats.
“There is an average of 147 Black men, women, and children – 97% of whom are unarmed – murdered by police every year since 1968 (as opposed to 40 lynchings of Black people a year from 1882 and 1968). We must all be concerned about this situation – not just because of what happens to African Americans, but because of what happens to AMERICA in consequence of what happens to 40 million Americans who happen to be Black.”
For this reason, it was important to me to write on what we, as a people, can do to stop our nation’s systemic inequity and oppression, white supremacy and racial definitions.
BLACK LIVES MATTER :: WHAT SHOULD WHITE PEOPLE DO – PART 2
Last week, I published Part I of Black Lives Matter :: Now What Should White People Do? I interviewed my friend Kaara Kallen, a white Jewish woman from the midwest. She has been a witness to systemic racism but admittedly has been a life long recipient of the benefits of being born on the right side of our social construct. She could articulate the cultural, social and economic clues that told her she was white. Kaara discussed with us what her responsibilities are to us as a nation. And where she thinks we need to go from here.
Next week, I will interview Mary Morello, a former longtime schoolteacher, political activist and mother to Tom Morello, Kenyan American Grammy Awards winning political musician (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Prophets of Rage). She has been the recipient of hate and injustice for being a white woman protecting her Black son.
Today, in Part II, I have the fortune of interviewing my long time friend and taekwondo master, Master Mason Williams.
Mason Williams holds a demanding corporate job, is a 5th degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, a UC Berkeley graduate – and was raised in Los Angeles. As a Black man, he has suffered unquantifiable degrees of racism first hand, for his entire life, throughout varying American institutions.
He is a brilliant man and mind – and someone I feel honored to share ideas with — so it was crucial to me to hear his insight on how the people can remain an active voice and create real and long-lasting change. My fear is that when the news turns off, and the hype of the protests subsides, people will go back to their normal lives – some in safe and comfortable places – and others, not.
THE INTERVIEW – WHAT SHOULD WHITE PEOPLE DO?
My dear friend Mason. Thank you for doing this interview. As you know, many of these questions will be overlapping with the questions I ask in my interviews with Kaara Kallen (Part I) and Mary Morello (Part III). It was important to me to see the varying vantage points from those with varying degrees of backgrounds and experiences.
The nice white people holding signs in peaceful protests can be complicit too. How do we get out of it? How can we as a nation of white people proactively jolt the paradigm shift?
In some shape or form, we are all complicit in the way things are. Brands build themselves on the idea of fundamental “tentpoles”. One of America’s tentpoles is racism, more specifically, the subjugation of Black people as a marker of what not to be. We live in America; all of us are complicit by being here. We are separated by our ability to adjust our individual levels of being complicit. A lot of people holding signs have the ability to think and reflect about the levels to which they’ve been complicit. That is the definition of White privilege.
The ability to reflect is wasted on those who tended toward choosing not to reflect unless it’s out of societal pressure, inner-guilt, moral compass, divine intervention, bit by a spider, et al. Black people fortify the bottom rung on the ladder of being complicit. Opportunities to rise above the lowest rung and dictate the amount we are complicit are far less frequent, accessible. And if they do come we are less likely to be able to seize them. That is the impact of systemic racism.
If it takes a nation of White people to jolt the paradigm shift, then forget a shift ever happening.
But it does require people who hold positions of influence in companies to expand their recruiting strategies. Their employee development and retention strategies. And to actively invest in providing opportunities. On an individual level, “fall in line and join the army of Uncle Jam.” So walk the talk your sign says. We don’t need a rebranded “White Man’s Burden” reboot. The shift needs the “Right Man’s Burden.”
I disagree with the framing of “nice White people” in this question. Right now, we are seeing a diversity of people White to Black, and all in between, begin to see the pernicious and pervasive nature of the specter called racism. Hold a flag. Say “Black Lives Matter”. Go get punched in the face in the name of Black people if that’s what it takes. Huff some tear gas for Meek Mill or Gucci Mane if that’s what it takes to feel activated for Big Floyd or the myriad of others who you are just now coming to realize, Sarah. Those images sadly carry the same weight as lynching videos now.
Those who are assuaging their own personal feelings of confusion and newly discovered guilt under the veil of “standing with Black people” are still good optics for the cause. But if those same people lose their vitriol and their passion in 5 weeks we will know the real truth. I appreciate younger folks pushing the front lines and coming together in more encompassing Crayola box standing together. We need change within the predominantly Gen-X folks who now hold prominent positions across the majority of industries to drive systemic change. The people you and I went to college with. The people who can affect hiring and the pipelines of talent and cultivation of diversity at the earliest levels.
That’s who I keep a keen eye on.
I’m at an age and career state where I sit amongst the folk mentioned above. I’ve seen some genuine onion layers being pulled off of their unbeknown ignorance to the true nature of racism’s power. A majority of my conversations with these folks have been positive and uncomfortable, and I see potential to affect change. I’ve also been approached by some real bozos, and to them I waste not one thought.
How has race shaped your life? What overt racism did you witness in school, taekwondo, work — and how did that shape your experience?
My race is my life so much so that I don’t think about it anymore. It’s the given in the hypothesis of how to survive as a Black man. Overt racism is easy to document. Here’s a bullet point list with dates.
- 1985 – called “Smigger” by classmates of all colors other than Black in predominantly White school. This is a clever smear because the Smurfs were popular at the time. They were small. I was Black and small. Hence..Smigger.
- 1987-1990 – Multiple fights with a crews of folks who spit stupid shit in my direction.
- 1990 – First time being punched and hurt by cops
- 1990 – 2000 – Rinse repeat (pulled over, harassed, hit twice, pistol whipped twice, detained, et al)
- 2020 – Three weeks ago questioned if I “lived up there as I was pulled over driving my daughter home”
My grandfather talked to me before my first Black Belt test in 1985 and told me that he and my dad had been working to weaponize me since I was very young because he believed that we must be “extraordinary to be considered ordinary” before we would even be acknowledged.
My focus is covert racism.
I’d rather be called a nigger and told to go home than be denied access to growth at every opportunity. Unless I, or any other Black person, was undeniably four times more qualified and valuable than my competitors of other races. Outing covert racists as overt ones is a strong strategy because everyone looks at the person wearing an American flag bandana while his sloppy lady friend sports jeans shorts and a Confederate flag bikini as being a complete buffoon. That’s what overt racism looks like. Foolish as fuck. Exposing covert racism as the equivalent, both morally and socially, to overt racism is a huge weapon.
A weapon that is more readily available to all of us because of the interconnectedness we share through data and platforms.
My grandfather talked to me before my first Black Belt test in 1985 and told me that he and my dad had been working to weaponize me since I was very young because he believed that we must be “extraordinary to be considered ordinary” before we would even be acknowledged. He was the first Black school psychologist in the LAUSD in the 1960s and earned his PhD from USC while driving a bus. My father graduated from USC undergrad the same year as my grandfather. In fact, they were eclectic guys. My grandfather practiced and tinkered the methods he thought would reach the Black kids in the schools he worked with on me every weekend. He taught me how to take tests, saying that it was all a game and we could solve it.
I took the SAT for the first time in 7th grade and did very well. He would interrogate me and I’d have to write speeches and essays for him. It was rigorous, but he made it seem so fun and loving. At the same time, my father was teaching me Taekwondo starting at five years old. I trained four days a week at a minimum from 5 to 45, which is as we speak. My grandfather said he and my father “weaponized” me as best they could.
The weaponization was not in the name of anger, revenge, or fear of war. It was the weaponization of the potential of positivity while being prepared for the aforementioned actions.
Taekwondo and I are best friends.
We met a long time ago and we’ve known we’ve needed each other for almost as long. I’ve experienced prejudice and bigotry in the art since day one. I must proudly say my father began studying in 1970 and eventually became the first Black Belt under Grandmaster Jun Chong, who saw through the ugliness of prejudice from day one until today. In fact, our families remain family and I continue to serve Grandmaster Chong to this day.
That said, I’ve had several instances of prejudice, not racism. Racism implies power to thwart me and my people. Prejudice is anger and idiocy mixed in a cocktail of ignorance dipped in assholes. My experiences the world of Taekwondo required the “extraordinary to be ordinary” mettle that everything else did. In some ways it was easier because I could literally fight back. The emotions from instances of prejudices I feel over my 40 years of studying never revealed themselves because of the relationship I have with Taekwondo itself. I prefer to think of the 2000+ people of all sorts that I’ve helped achieve their Black Belts. The 100s of college and job recommendations I’ve written for my students. And the fact that my Grandmaster says that I’ve done more than he expected.
We can’t do this overnight but what I want to know is What Can White People Do? What can a nation that favors rich, educated white people do to fight for justice, equality?
I won’t limit my answer to White people. White mentality is my focus. Folks spanning the Craylola box of hues carry a mentality strictly built upon the idea that it’s better to be White than it is to be Black. So, to folks who rock a White mentality, here’s a list.
- Listen, then ask, and don’t preface (I’m 43, white, live in yada yada…) when talking to your Black friends or the one Black woman you may want to randomly apologize to in Fresh Squeezed Juice Bar.
- Continue the conversation in your own circle and amongst those you know will disagree with you and maybe say some dumb shit. That’s how progress is made. We must find comfort in our discomfort.
- Read the “Revolt of the Black Athlete” and anything by Franz Fanon. Listen to Parliament’s “Chocolate City,” Miles Davis “Live-Evil,” and Mos Def’s “Black on Both Sides.”
- Be proud to be who you are and reflect how easy that comes. Many of us struggle to be proud. Black women are told that they aren’t beautiful from an early age. When other boys and girls are having symbolic rights of passage into adulthood, many Black youth’s right of passage is via pour first interaction with the cops.
- Drink a lot of water. This is a long fight and y’all need to stay hydrated. A lot of these folks in the streets aren’t built for it. Stay hydrated.
Are we about to embark on a revolution – or are the American people going to lose interest if we don’t act fast.
This is not a revolution. This, at best, is a step toward the hope of some progress in the name of evolution. The needle has moved, but we are fighting an immense glacier that cannot be melted with a bunch of us finally holding up our lighters to melt it. Sustained heat. Sustained commitment from individuals, to schools, to communities, to businesses, to industries, to public service, and so on and so forth. This is not a revolution. But we should act with urgency because we are in a moment where true momentum exists.
How do you plan on educating your daughter?
Day by day.
Should Colin Kaepernick be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?
No. That award holds no weight in this struggle and giving it to him 4 years later is the Whitest shit that could be done. Just salute him when we see him, and those who spit hate and vitriol in his direction should genuflect at the mention of his name. Kaepernick took a strong stand and opened some eyes that hadn’t been reached before. What is happening now is not a direct result of his decision to express and represent. A lot of people who despise Kaepernick for kneeling are the same people having to explain to their newly “woke” children coming home hopped up on Reddit and memes calling them “the problem.”
Give the “Temporary Interim Jr. Associate Nobel Peace Prize” to those who stood strong together at the time of George Floyd and in the name of what’s right. Then, promptly strip that title away if there is no action or sustained commitment from said folk.
++ Mason Williams is a lifelong martial arts teacher and Angeleno who has spent 20+ years working in the toy and gaming industry. Issues of race, opportunity, and equality have always been at the forefront of his experience and his focus.