I am a white man. I must confront my own racism

Opinion Aug 23, 2020 Hamilton Spectator

If you googled me right now, you’d probably conclude I’m a racist. I am a white male who grew up the son of a police officer in Hamilton. I have few Black friends and no first-hand understanding of what it’s like to be a person of colour.

Having said that, I fully admit that my disconnect with diversity has been wilful. I could have chosen differently — to pursue an understanding of these experiences, to take seriously the injustices voiced by immigrants and people of colour, and to accept these injustices were predicated on skin colour. I could have developed relationships with diverse colleagues and listened to them. I could have acted in some way to prevent racist acts. But I didn’t.

I’ve never participated in a riot, or taken violent action against anyone, but I have inflicted pain on people in other ways — by participating in my own “online riot,” so to speak. On social media, I have loudly and offensively made statements that were anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQIA+.

Furthermore, I’m an aerospace engineer, inventor and university lecturer, things which are important to note not for my ego, but rather because they highlight the degree of my wilful ignorance. Aerospace engineering is a difficult field to master. Reaching competency requires years of study and repeated failure. I could build jet engines, but I still had no idea how to express my grievances without scapegoating minorities.

Shamefully, a search of my name illuminates my scapegoating proclivities. When the team where I work presented me with my ugly internet presence, I almost vomited. As a result of my own doing, I was represented online as a racist. My colleagues were appalled. There was no way to justify it, and it became the impetus for some overdue self-interrogation. I was necessarily shamed by people I respect, and it is changing my life.

Speaking publicly about this is anxiety-inducing. I’ve seen what can happen to people smoted by “cancel culture.” I was not fired from my job, but I have been heavily demoted. I consider myself lucky.

Being cancelled in this way held me accountable, but it didn’t destroy my life or ability to provide for my family. Some people might interpret this as an invitation to cancel me further. I am willing to risk that because I think my experience offers a glimpse into how someone can evolve from sharing racist cartoons and arguing for the validity of white culture groups to publicly acknowledging that George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement have fundamentally altered my thinking.

So, how did I make this change? I started by recognizing that the emotions expressed by millions across the globe are the same I feel for causes I care deeply about. These causes have been swept under the rug by corrupt governments and kept out of the public discourse while the perpetrators received a slap on the wrist, if at all. The frustration I feel is not dissimilar from that now being expressed by the masses. By recognizing this, I have been inspired by the collective grief and outrage felt by countless victims of our collective inaction.

By engaging honestly with this moment, I have better understood how to authentically connect with people. Most importantly, I empathize with those most affected by the tragedy of Floyd’s death. This may sound like a meagre accomplishment, but I contend that empathy takes bravery. It makes one vulnerable to an uncomfortable array of emotions and experiences. Now consider that having empathy is a decision of your own making. It is merely an attempt at understanding the material pain and suffering of others. It is our minimum responsibility.

Politically extreme or racist perspectives will never create mutual understanding or authentic connection. I learned this the hard way. Instead of provoking dialogue, my behaviour drove people away, and forced them to disengage — the opposite of what society requires.

My statements frightened people close to me and did nothing to advance the ideals I hold dear. I’m horrified by my indulgent actions. I deeply regret and am profoundly sorry for my recklessness and the harm it has caused. It makes me sick to my stomach.

I hope that publicly declaring my errors in judgment can be instructive for those yet to pause and consider the events we are witnessing. I don’t expect to change people’s minds, but I do hope to plant a seed.

To the skeptics, I ask you to consider exploring your heart for understanding and emotional connection with people you would otherwise dismiss. Having the courage to engage with someone else’s pain can commence the process that’s needed to create change.

If your goal is to engender a better understanding of the real, systemic issues that underlie today’s protests, empathy is the minimum requirement.

Brian Petz is an aerospace engineer.

I am a white man. I must confront my own racism

On social media, I have loudly and offensively made statements that were anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQIA+. I was necessarily shamed by people I respect, and it is changing my life, writes Brian Petz.

Opinion Aug 23, 2020 Hamilton Spectator

If you googled me right now, you’d probably conclude I’m a racist. I am a white male who grew up the son of a police officer in Hamilton. I have few Black friends and no first-hand understanding of what it’s like to be a person of colour.

Having said that, I fully admit that my disconnect with diversity has been wilful. I could have chosen differently — to pursue an understanding of these experiences, to take seriously the injustices voiced by immigrants and people of colour, and to accept these injustices were predicated on skin colour. I could have developed relationships with diverse colleagues and listened to them. I could have acted in some way to prevent racist acts. But I didn’t.

I’ve never participated in a riot, or taken violent action against anyone, but I have inflicted pain on people in other ways — by participating in my own “online riot,” so to speak. On social media, I have loudly and offensively made statements that were anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQIA+.

Furthermore, I’m an aerospace engineer, inventor and university lecturer, things which are important to note not for my ego, but rather because they highlight the degree of my wilful ignorance. Aerospace engineering is a difficult field to master. Reaching competency requires years of study and repeated failure. I could build jet engines, but I still had no idea how to express my grievances without scapegoating minorities.

Shamefully, a search of my name illuminates my scapegoating proclivities. When the team where I work presented me with my ugly internet presence, I almost vomited. As a result of my own doing, I was represented online as a racist. My colleagues were appalled. There was no way to justify it, and it became the impetus for some overdue self-interrogation. I was necessarily shamed by people I respect, and it is changing my life.

Speaking publicly about this is anxiety-inducing. I’ve seen what can happen to people smoted by “cancel culture.” I was not fired from my job, but I have been heavily demoted. I consider myself lucky.

Being cancelled in this way held me accountable, but it didn’t destroy my life or ability to provide for my family. Some people might interpret this as an invitation to cancel me further. I am willing to risk that because I think my experience offers a glimpse into how someone can evolve from sharing racist cartoons and arguing for the validity of white culture groups to publicly acknowledging that George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement have fundamentally altered my thinking.

So, how did I make this change? I started by recognizing that the emotions expressed by millions across the globe are the same I feel for causes I care deeply about. These causes have been swept under the rug by corrupt governments and kept out of the public discourse while the perpetrators received a slap on the wrist, if at all. The frustration I feel is not dissimilar from that now being expressed by the masses. By recognizing this, I have been inspired by the collective grief and outrage felt by countless victims of our collective inaction.

By engaging honestly with this moment, I have better understood how to authentically connect with people. Most importantly, I empathize with those most affected by the tragedy of Floyd’s death. This may sound like a meagre accomplishment, but I contend that empathy takes bravery. It makes one vulnerable to an uncomfortable array of emotions and experiences. Now consider that having empathy is a decision of your own making. It is merely an attempt at understanding the material pain and suffering of others. It is our minimum responsibility.

Politically extreme or racist perspectives will never create mutual understanding or authentic connection. I learned this the hard way. Instead of provoking dialogue, my behaviour drove people away, and forced them to disengage — the opposite of what society requires.

My statements frightened people close to me and did nothing to advance the ideals I hold dear. I’m horrified by my indulgent actions. I deeply regret and am profoundly sorry for my recklessness and the harm it has caused. It makes me sick to my stomach.

I hope that publicly declaring my errors in judgment can be instructive for those yet to pause and consider the events we are witnessing. I don’t expect to change people’s minds, but I do hope to plant a seed.

To the skeptics, I ask you to consider exploring your heart for understanding and emotional connection with people you would otherwise dismiss. Having the courage to engage with someone else’s pain can commence the process that’s needed to create change.

If your goal is to engender a better understanding of the real, systemic issues that underlie today’s protests, empathy is the minimum requirement.

Brian Petz is an aerospace engineer.

I am a white man. I must confront my own racism

On social media, I have loudly and offensively made statements that were anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQIA+. I was necessarily shamed by people I respect, and it is changing my life, writes Brian Petz.

Opinion Aug 23, 2020 Hamilton Spectator

If you googled me right now, you’d probably conclude I’m a racist. I am a white male who grew up the son of a police officer in Hamilton. I have few Black friends and no first-hand understanding of what it’s like to be a person of colour.

Having said that, I fully admit that my disconnect with diversity has been wilful. I could have chosen differently — to pursue an understanding of these experiences, to take seriously the injustices voiced by immigrants and people of colour, and to accept these injustices were predicated on skin colour. I could have developed relationships with diverse colleagues and listened to them. I could have acted in some way to prevent racist acts. But I didn’t.

I’ve never participated in a riot, or taken violent action against anyone, but I have inflicted pain on people in other ways — by participating in my own “online riot,” so to speak. On social media, I have loudly and offensively made statements that were anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQIA+.

Furthermore, I’m an aerospace engineer, inventor and university lecturer, things which are important to note not for my ego, but rather because they highlight the degree of my wilful ignorance. Aerospace engineering is a difficult field to master. Reaching competency requires years of study and repeated failure. I could build jet engines, but I still had no idea how to express my grievances without scapegoating minorities.

Shamefully, a search of my name illuminates my scapegoating proclivities. When the team where I work presented me with my ugly internet presence, I almost vomited. As a result of my own doing, I was represented online as a racist. My colleagues were appalled. There was no way to justify it, and it became the impetus for some overdue self-interrogation. I was necessarily shamed by people I respect, and it is changing my life.

Speaking publicly about this is anxiety-inducing. I’ve seen what can happen to people smoted by “cancel culture.” I was not fired from my job, but I have been heavily demoted. I consider myself lucky.

Being cancelled in this way held me accountable, but it didn’t destroy my life or ability to provide for my family. Some people might interpret this as an invitation to cancel me further. I am willing to risk that because I think my experience offers a glimpse into how someone can evolve from sharing racist cartoons and arguing for the validity of white culture groups to publicly acknowledging that George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement have fundamentally altered my thinking.

So, how did I make this change? I started by recognizing that the emotions expressed by millions across the globe are the same I feel for causes I care deeply about. These causes have been swept under the rug by corrupt governments and kept out of the public discourse while the perpetrators received a slap on the wrist, if at all. The frustration I feel is not dissimilar from that now being expressed by the masses. By recognizing this, I have been inspired by the collective grief and outrage felt by countless victims of our collective inaction.

By engaging honestly with this moment, I have better understood how to authentically connect with people. Most importantly, I empathize with those most affected by the tragedy of Floyd’s death. This may sound like a meagre accomplishment, but I contend that empathy takes bravery. It makes one vulnerable to an uncomfortable array of emotions and experiences. Now consider that having empathy is a decision of your own making. It is merely an attempt at understanding the material pain and suffering of others. It is our minimum responsibility.

Politically extreme or racist perspectives will never create mutual understanding or authentic connection. I learned this the hard way. Instead of provoking dialogue, my behaviour drove people away, and forced them to disengage — the opposite of what society requires.

My statements frightened people close to me and did nothing to advance the ideals I hold dear. I’m horrified by my indulgent actions. I deeply regret and am profoundly sorry for my recklessness and the harm it has caused. It makes me sick to my stomach.

I hope that publicly declaring my errors in judgment can be instructive for those yet to pause and consider the events we are witnessing. I don’t expect to change people’s minds, but I do hope to plant a seed.

To the skeptics, I ask you to consider exploring your heart for understanding and emotional connection with people you would otherwise dismiss. Having the courage to engage with someone else’s pain can commence the process that’s needed to create change.

If your goal is to engender a better understanding of the real, systemic issues that underlie today’s protests, empathy is the minimum requirement.

Brian Petz is an aerospace engineer.