I like to think I’m pretty smart, but the smartest thing I know is having the wisdom to acknowledge the things I don’t know, and I don’t always get it right.

Sometimes my ego gets in the way. Sometimes I want to look like I know what I’m talking about because I feel like I’m going to look stupid or weak if I admit that I haven’t a clue.

I know I’m not the only one that does this. I see it happen all the time. We want to wrap our life conundrums in nice packaging and feel proud and be done with them.

Having to say, “I don’t know the answer to this, but I sure wish I did” is excruciating. Especially if the problem is something that might call for us to break out of some comfortable habits or perspectives.

As I have considered the recent race-based struggles we have been going through, this need to understand that there are things we simply do not know has come to mind.

On Tuesday evening I participated in the “Say Their Names” demonstration that took place in downtown Rome. The premise was simple: make signs in honor of the many African Americans killed by law enforcement across the country and pick a spot in which to display those signs from 7:30 to 7:45 p.m. People were scattered all over Rome, including some simply lighting candles in their homes.

The idea was to document our presence and share it to the event page and all of the small demonstrations would be compiled into one video showing Rome’s support for our friends of color.

The event was a huge success. My friends and I stood at the Bridgepoint Plaza parking lot entrance right at the spot where people come off the Second Avenue bridge headed towards Broad Street.

We got lots of honks and waves and peace signs as people drove by and it felt good to know that we were connecting with so many people in support of those who are suffering in ways that we cannot imagine.

We white people truly cannot know.

At one point, I was holding a sign my friend had made showing a list of names of black people killed by law enforcement while unarmed, and a truck pulled up next to us, exiting the entrance to the lot.

“What is the point of this?” the driver asked me. I explained we were trying to bring awareness and show support and he asked who the people on the sign were, and I told him.

He proceeded to say a lot more things to me but, sadly, I couldn’t really hear him over the traffic. I would have loved to talk to him at length about it, he clearly had a lot to say on the subject.

When he finished talking, the young man sitting in the passenger seat announced quite emphatically, “There is no such thing as systemic racism in America.”

I couldn’t help but think what a bold statement that was for a young white man living in Rome, Ga. I just grinned and said OK. We certainly weren’t going to solve any world problems under the circumstances, but I sure do hope I get the chance to talk to the two men again.

There are a lot of things I would like to ask them both. Which study showed them that racism doesn’t exist, for one thing.

The study that I looked at, published in 2019, was conducted by professors from three universities using verified data from 2013-2018.

Their calculations showed that roughly 1 in 1,000 black boys and men will be killed by police in their lifetime, while white boys and men land at a rate of 39 in 100,000. Of course, if you set those up to equivalent ratios, that adds up to 1,000 in 100,00 for black males. Their ultimate conclusion was that African American males are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by cops, and likewise African American women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed than white women.

I have seen it said on social media that there are more white people killed by cops than black people. This is, in fact, true. But it stands to reason, considering that whites are about 62% of the American population, while blacks make up just 13%. What is also interesting to note is that black victims are more likely to be unarmed when killed.

I lay out all of this data to show that, while we are all perfectly privileged to hold our own opinion on the matter, I think it’s important to consider how little we know about the perspective of others when we speak.

When you look at these numbers, it is pretty clear that blacks are experiencing a very different reality than we whites are, and whether you believe it is a problem or not, perhaps we could at least acknowledge that we really don’t know what they are experiencing.

I do not believe that all cops are bad. I know too many good cops to believe that, and I think that we are pretty lucky to live in a community where more than one cop car drove by and honked in support of what we were sharing on Tuesday night.

One thing that I do know is that a part of our population is hurting, and the worst thing we can do for them is draw conclusions based purely on what we experience.

If ever there was a time to say, “I don’t know what you are experiencing feels like, but I want to understand it better,” it is now. The simple act of saying, “I don’t know, but teach me,” could be all it takes to begin to open our hearts and minds to a new way of thinking that is safe and happy and healthy for all. I don’t know, do you?

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

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