On Sundays I reflect.
I didn’t drink alcohol this week. Next week will be a year and a half since quitting.
I did, however, book my next trip. Next month I’ll be traveling through Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. This trip will be about building community through face to face interactions with artists, collectors, galleries and shops. More on that coming soon...
Today, I want to reflect on a challenging subject: cultural appropriation and white supremacy. I’ve recently been educating myself in this area, and the things I am learning are not things I expected or understood as a white man of privilege before now.
When I was growing up I never fit in with my peers. There were many reasons for this, but I often blamed my parents strict regiment and my religious upbringing for my feelings of isolation. As a person who didn’t fit in and was encouraged to be myself, my fashion and style preferences were never “normal.” This took many forms, and in high school culminated in my decision to dread my shoulder length hair before a month long summer camping experience in which I would be backpacking in Colorado and Utah without access to a shower. My curly frizzy hair probably would have dreaded itself on the trip I figured, and I did not want to chop my hair that was so integral to my identity. I had met some kids with dreads while exploring a private Jewish high school, and with their tips and specialty dread wax I was a sixteen year old “Dreadlock Rasta.” My parents were less than thrilled, though they did tolerate my decision.
I was completely unaware of the concept of cultural appropriation at that time, and while I knew that people were giving me looks for my hair I didn’t realize how offensive I was being. I interpreted the looks I got to be a reaction to my non traditional experience. It never occurred to me that this was a part of another community’s culture on which I was uneducated. Later in life I came to realize that I was exploiting black culture for my own style to be “cool.” While this wasn’t my intention, it was a byproduct of my behavior. This hairstyle had deep cultural meaning to some people, to me it was just a politicized way for me to state my independence.
As much as I resisted “the system” as a kid, I also spent a lot of time seeking the approval of others. I didn’t want to care what they thought, but I’m human and I have feelings. It’s gotten easier to live in confidence with myself as an adult, but it was challenging growing up in the public school system being forced to behave certain ways and interacting with not people I chose, but the people who were in the same school based on wherever our parents settled down.
Segue way into the predicaments I am currently finding myself that are rooted in two examples that have recently troubled me: 1) A relationship that I've had with a particular individual that started twenty five years ago more or less disintegrating and 2) A recent interaction with this individual's partner that ended unfavorably and unresolved, inevitably affecting the relationship between my friend and I.
I diminished his partners feelings when I questioned her reaction to a racist interaction, and I was out of line. Upon trying to fix the situation via dialogue, I was insensitive to her need for space which exacerbated the tension between us. Ultimately, at her suggestion I read the book White Fragility which explained a lot of what I experienced in a way I had not prior thought about. Even though there was a positive outcome for me in becoming more educated on this sensitive subject, it came at the expense of my friend's partner and for that I want to apologize. The book explains why providing other people the space they need, and this person has asked for space from me which I respect. By expecting a woman of color to explain white supremacy to me, I am perpetuating white supremacy. I’ve learned that it’s my responsibility to educate myself, despite this seeming contradictory to me at first.
This puts me in a situation where I cannot apologize, and also can't do anything else to make things right except to maintain respect for that space until the person is ready. This has been a great challenge for me, in that I want so badly to be able to make up for my behavior. The experience has forced me to put another person's needs before my own, and I hope when that person is ready that I can apologize in a way that has as significant an impact as the pain I caused.
This is a very difficult subject to navigate for me as a white person of privilege. I’ll never experience what it's like for a woman or person of color to experience discrimination, racism and sexism. Despite our relationship to religion, I grew up in a progressive home. My father is a Rabbi, a Jewish religious leader and I was raised following all kinds of Jewish laws that isolated me further. Along with these laws came ideological education. One of the most important tenants of my upbringing was social justice and philanthropic work. My parents raised me to be “color blind” and not to judge people based on the color of their skin.
I am Jewish, and have experienced being marginalized as a minority. Once in middle school another student ripped off my yarmulke (Jewish head covering) and threw it on the ground. I feared for my safety at my public school simply because I was Jewish. Despite this experience, my skin is white and I pass as the white cultural majority and therefore while the discrimination I experienced was scarring and painful, it’s not the same. This doesn’t diminish my experience but simply puts in into a different space.
After the incident with this individual's partner, I began to educate myself and learned that this “color blind” attitude is not politically correct for the current climate of our time. It was my understanding that "color blind" meant to treat everyone the same but this model fails to address that not everyone is treated equally in this society, and can lead to glossing over the value in the traits that make us different and make us who we are.
The individual's partner suggested I read “White Fragility” by
Robin DiAngelo is that racism is systematic. Racism can’t happen against white people, but discrimination can. I learned that when I expect a person of color or another marginalized person to educate me on white supremacy, I perpetuate white supremacy. I said something that diminished how my friend's partner felt, and as a white man of privilege diminishing the feelings of a woman of color I am perpetuating a system of inequality. This system is not my fault, but it is my opportunity to change the status quo by recognizing and addressing these patterns.
We are living in an amazing time. It is very hard to be politically correct in a system which was designed by white men in power.
While we are not responsible for our own programming, we can still question why things are the way they are. There are many systems in society that are supposed to help us understand the world in a certain way, like mainstream media, family traditions, religion, and school systems, but it requires much deeper exploration to understand our own roles within society.
As the owner of a brand, I face many challenges regarding these ideas. I try to be conscious that the content I put out represents all cultures and identities. As a straight white man, I think about the world through my own set of lenses. My view is different than that of people who are different than I am, but I want my brand to be inclusive of all people. As we’ve begun creating lifestyle content, I’ve struggled to find models that represent diversity. I live in an area that is not diverse and remotely located which makes these challenges increasingly expensive and difficult to overcome. I’m committed to getting past these obstacles and expanding my brand beyond a white heteronormative identity, but it takes time, energy and a great sense of awareness.
I’m grateful to friends of mine that have shared their own perspectives and experiences to help me bring the brand to this point. Specifically, my graphic designer J. Cost, my photographer Reda and my buddy Josh Jenkins. These people have helped me develop a direction for our content that will be inclusive and intersectional.
Much of our marketing content adopted the “sex sells” model and may have portrayed the objectification of women. We recently removed an image of a flask balancing on a female model's backside, on top of her bikini in the pool. It was brought to my attention that images like this, despite our lack of control of our viewers' actions, can have the potential to solicit comments from our audience that we consider to be in bad taste. While this objectification was not our intent, the image invited those comments and we decided it was better to remove the image than continue to perpetuate this behavior.
History is written by the winners, but there is always another point of view. I’m trying to expose myself to other points of view in order to better relate to the world I’m living in. Sometimes I'm not the most graceful in the way that I communicate with people because of the socialization I've experienced throughout my life. Despite this, I am actively putting myself beyond my comfort zone exploring a topic that makes me question my previous behavior.