I was eleven years old and it was the first night of Chanukah. I wanted to run back into the burning house to get my presents. I remember with such clarity the last night I spent at 7041 E. First Ave in Gary, Indiana.
The heat from the flames that engulfed our home kept me warm until there were only embers. I stood alone, grateful for the heat. I only had the blanket from my bed. I’m Jamie Beletz, it’s not about me.
We lived in a more affluent part of Gary, Indiana called Miller Beach. They said it was arson, a crime seldom seen in our part of the city. Most of us were white and we were privileged. Unlike most of my African American friends, I sat in class with and played with after school, I went home to a nice home, a safe home and my parents didn’t worry about making the rent or putting food on our table.
All that changed prior to the night of the fire. It changed when my mom decided to be a Co-Chair of the Richard Gordon Hatcher campaign for Mayor. It changed when some of our neighbors decided to support him too. Suddenly, my dad’s business was threatened and he spent late night’s sitting in his office with a shotgun in his arms. There were the death threats, the graffiti and the flat tires. And then came the fire.
The election was so contentious that the FBI was at every polling location until it was over. Hatcher became Mayor of Gary and the first African American mayor of a major metropolitan city. I was so proud of my mom. I was so happy for my friends. It was 1968 and it took another 40 years before we elected the first African American President. And in those 40 years and since, as white people we still enjoy our privilege while others live in less than nice homes, unsafe conditions to play and live, sometimes with only a blanket to keep them warm just because of the color of their skin.
I am a white man with privilege. Although I have worked hard all of these many years, I have benefitted as a result of conscious acts and historic inequities toward people of color. I have benefitted because of systemic racism in our government, our businesses, our schools and in law enforcement.
I have come to recognize and understand white privilege in relation to race. I cannot remain silent any longer. I must lend my white privilege to people of color until there is no more white privilege. When I see harassment by law enforcement or bigotry directed toward individuals because of the color of their skin, I cannot remain silent.
I’m Jamie Beletz, it’s not about me.