Lost and Found: Thanks to Time and Privilege

For years, I've spent hours upon hours therapeutically releasing my thoughts onto a screen with a keyboard like Van Gogh holding an oil brush over a canvas. With each sentence comes a new stroke and with each day a new color - dependent on the mood of my thoughts. I never could decide whether black was the presence of all colors and hope, or the absence of light and ambition and as we sit here today, black has always been so much more than a color. As it says in my biography, I'm a 33 year old White Male, who grew up in a household full of privilege - to loving, compassionate, and incredibly successful parents. Both unique and talented in their own ways, and both dedicated to providing me with every opportunity possible to succeed at the highest level. I was far from a perfect kid - I struggled to find my place growing up inside the classroom and out. I felt that the structure of school was not set up for a child like me to succeed. I struggled mightily with ADHD, and the structure and style of teaching at that time was not suitable for the way I learned. Despite that, I had parents committed to helping me; I went to learning centers to help improve my reading speed and comprehension, something I struggled with mightily as I skimmed through pages quickly losing focus as a young child. Centers whose techniques I'd argue, were far from perfect and did not improve me in the ways they sold my parents on at the time. I had private tutors and a college preparation counselor as well as an ACT coach. Despite my continued failures in the classroom, my parents continued to support me and my future every step of the way. Despite all the support and assistance, I conned my way through middle school and high school - barely "graduating" as I would argue today - only to be admitted to Illinois State University because my ACT score was higher than the average kid. It was never my ability to learn and retain information and knowledge that was the problem, it was my desire to do so that held me back. Still yet, I was admitted to a school over kids I knew personally that had great high school grades; athletics; clubs. One of those kids was a close friend of mine, and I vividly remember thinking at the time that it was so unfair for him; I was not at all deserving, yet as a child I was the one complaining about school being unfair to me.


I attended Illinois State University in 2005, and by 2006 I was politely told to leave campus because my GPA better resembled a lethal BAC level than an acceptable GPA. I had written my parents countless promise letters over the years, and even more apologies, but the E-Mail I wrote after hearing that news still haunts me to this day. I had failed them again only this time my future was really in question... this time, it cost big money... this time, there may not be a next, but did I really know what anxiety was? Or fear? Or desperation? At the end of the day, I always had a safety net; always in the way back of my mind, tucked away behind my pride, my silence and inability to ask for help are my parents. My struggles in academia made me feel like a failure each and every day, and it was all my fault. I had been given every single opportunity, grew up in the right zip code, went to great schools, had wealthy and successful parents, and my skin was white. I am the image of privilege personified; I am at the core of America's issues, and it's not because I didn't deserve all that help; it's not because I didn't deserve the loving parents, and tutors and learning centers and second and third and fourth chances. It's because everyone does. This September, I am heading back to school to complete my degree and pursue a Masters Degree in Data Science. I am 33 years old, and I'm doing this because I'm ready and because for the past 11 years I've been allowed to spend time finding myself through a lot of jubilation and pain, but never true hopelessness, because no one ever gave up on me.


I was in the grocery store today when I overheard a conversation (ADHD Perks) on the phone between a black man around my age and his sister; they were talking about the fourth of July, and what the plans were for the weekend. I love the fourth of July. For years my entire family has been getting together to light off fireworks on the beach in Michigan, and recently at the golf course my parents live off of in South Haven, Michigan. Year in and year out, it's been one of my fondest memories with my family, and one of the days I really look forward to every year. During this conversation, I overheard the man say, "with Corona, it has been hard not to see ma, and I know everybody is going there this weekend but I don't feel comfortable bringing my son to 72nd and that neighborhood this weekend. There has been so much violence. I don't want her to think I don't miss her and love her though, you know, and I don't want her to think I'm embarrassed of her home or anything like that, I'm just concerned about my son, I don't know what to do."


::PAUSE::


It has been a tough year for a lot of people. For the first time in a lot of white peoples lives, they've felt uncomfortable; whether due to the protests driven by decade upon decade of systematic oppression and racism or because of the virus in their rear-view fast approaching, 2020 will surely be a year that no one forgets. I lost my job for the first time this year; many people did, and the uncertainty about the future has caused many to be overcome with anxiety and fear. Sleepless nights are not something I have much experience with, but I watch my wife wrestle with it often. The brain with no off switch is like a Formula 1 car with no brakes. If idle hands are the devils workshop than a restless mind is its canvas; infiltrating the subconscious with exhausting negativity, grinding down any hope or ambition by overwhelming rational thought like a DDOS attack on a server. There are many people out there like my wife; my wife is a 27 year old Colombian immigrant. She came over to the USA via the AuPair cultural exchange program in 2016; a program that gives girls and guys from around the world the opportunity to come into the USA as indentured servants making well below minimum wage, under the guise of "cultural exchange and opportunity." That article and post I will save for another day, but my wife is not abnormal by any means. She has a Bachelors degree in Petroleum Engineering, she speaks two languages fluently, and she was able to achieve a perfect 4.0 GPA while obtaining a Project Management Certificate at a USA College - if my wife isn't "normal" it's because she's extraordinary. My wife is everything that this country should be about; ambitious, smart, and compassionate, yet, I'd be lying to you if I said in my two years and 3 months of marriage that I haven't witnessed treatment towards my wife that was belittling, disrespectful and uncalled for from people all around me. Even those close to me. I'd be lying even more if I said I didn't believe those things were due to her accent or latin background, or the fact that she came over here without citizenship.


My wife has been judged by some due to my own shortcomings; my silence, my internal fear... a fear for how this nation would view my wife and me and how everyone around me would accept her. Why did I have this fear despite growing up in a loving and compassionate household and in a diverse and inclusive community? Because I thought it might make my life uncomfortable sometimes, because my life might not be as "normal or easy" as it was before... because I might have to have hard conversations with my children about why people have hate for no reason, and I dread the ignorant hatred they may face as they grow old. I fear that my children could potentially not feel the same comfort everyday that I felt and it's not because of the love, or the success, of me or my wife; it's because society deals white people 5 cards in a hand of 5 card draw, while the rest at the table only get 3. While math tells you that the person with 5 won't always win, what we do know is he'll never have to go find those two extra cards to complete his hand. That feeling of being incomplete, or lesser, is something I can never relate to or understand, but there may be times in my daughter or son's life in which they do feel that way. Those are some tough conversations I may have to have....


::RESUME::


Yet, at the end of the day I'll never know the true horror of having to have that conversation in the grocery store the week before the Fourth of July. When I return to school in September, I'll do so with the support of my parents and wife. When I graduate in two years, I'll be given opportunities and no one will remember about how stupid I was as a kid; how disorganized, irresponsible and reckless I was. How many times I made the wrong choice. How many promises I made without ever delivering. I will have spent 35 years finding myself by making mistakes and adapting and living and learning; never being permanently judged, or given up on because the system wanted me to make it. The system was built for me to succeed. Sadly, that system does not work that way for everyone, but it absolutely should and if the last thing I do on this earth is make that system a little more fair for my (fingers crossed) future children, then I can die a happy man.


Over these next few weeks, months and years I intend on writing about the things I love; the things that I am passionate about. It took me years to find them all, but now that I did I'm ready to share these words with the 2 or 3 occasional followers who may stumble upon them. Economics, Athletics, and Political Change; the system doesn't need to be fixed, it needs to be changed so that it is rooting for everyone to succeed - not just people like me. Just because you're white doesn't mean your life is easy, but understanding that the system is rooting for you above all others is just the beginning of understanding the systematic biases that exists all around us. Until we wipe our inputs of racial bias, we will never get the outputs we desire.


So cinch it up and hunker down, because I'm going to combine my greatest hobby (White Sox baseball), with my professional passion (Data Science and Economics), and sprinkle in some personal experiences, factual and data driven financial and economic observations, and stories about my wife and family as we maneuver through a period in our lives that may very well define the future for both ourselves, and this country.


Black Lives Matter. Equality, opportunity and love for all.

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© 2020 by Erik Johnson