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Our Problem, Our Responsibility

Our Problem, Our Responsibility

Let me start with a message I received yesterday on Instagram:

Hello Leopold,

Thank you for your message. You caught me at the perfect time.

For days I have been deep in thought and self inspection, thinking about how I, as a white person, can address the racial tensions that are boiling over in America. Several people have called on me to say something, but I just haven’t had the guts to find something meaningful to say.

And then you popped into my DMs. Like a gift of clarity.

The racial issues in America, and around the world, are not a problem with black people. They are a problem with NON-BLACK people, like you and me, who don’t always understand their prejudice or the way they participate in social injustice, even through small simple acts like sending this message to AOS.

There is a lot to unpack in your message. Please see my line-by-line responses below:

“What about the looting?”

From the very beginning of your message, you are equating random acts of vandalism over a period of a few days with centuries of systematic oppression and the public murder of black citizens by government officials – which we are protesting. Please understand: it would be impossible for me to care about anyone’s broken windows or stolen merchandise right now, including my own. Black people are getting murdered in the street by the police. Let us never forget that the central idea of slavery is that property is more valuable than black lives – which is the exact sentiment you are sharing here, in your first 4 words.

“Most shops don’t have insurance that covers this”

I suggest perhaps getting insurance for your business. It is not the fault of black people getting murdered that you don’t have insurance.

“…or over $5000 deductible which is hard to come up with after the covid 19 nonsense lockdown.”

You’re talking about five thousand dollars? Is that roughly the cost of a black life in your opinion? The mere fact that you would mention a $5K loss in response to my instagram story about systematic oppression is disheartening. Frankly, if your business doesn’t have an extra 5Gs tucked away, you probably weren’t going to survive the economic recession over the next 8-12 months anyway. And then you throw in “nonsense lockdown”, which tells me once again that you value your business/merchandise over the health and well being of the general public. That’s a different topic for sure, but not a wholly different sentiment.

“I am in constant contact with some of these shop owners they are very stressed/moral is way low”

I have been in constant contact with black friends and clients for many years. They too have been feeling stressed and are experiencing low morale. You are asking me to have empathy for your friends, and I am asking you to have empathy for mine. I am just trying to explain now that your friends’ problems are temporary and not life threatening in the same way.

“…and btw the sentiment I gather from them ain’t going to help the black cause (…) the picture of them looting & damaging their livelihood won’t go away anytime soon”

We are in agreement that you and your friends’ negative depiction of black people isn’t going away anytime soon. That’s why across the world we are all trying to figure out how to deal with you. I would remind your friends that a lot of the looters were white and simple opportunists (driven largely by the historic unemployment rate caused by the pandemic)…but regardless we must separate the call for justice from the majority (peaceful protesters) with the acts of a few bad actors (looters). There will always be extremists in any movement, and opportunists in any pandemic, we need to be intelligent enough to see the difference and acknowledge their respective gravity appropriately.

“These looters should bring back the merch and spend $$ at these shop”

Lol. Good luck with that. You know what’s definitely not coming back? George Floyd. Or Michael Brown. Or Trayvon Martin. Or Eric Garner. Or Breonna Taylor. Or Amaud Arbery. Or Freddie Gray. Or Stephon Clark. Or Philando Castile. Or Alton Sterling. The list goes on and on. Think for a second if George was your brother, your dad or your son. Would you still be sending me messages in concern for your undershirts and boxer briefs?

“…($4k per month in unemployment mula when most don’t pay rent)”

This might actually be the worst part of your whole message. First you assume that all looters are black (while discrediting the peaceful protestors). Then you assume that they are all on unemployment (along with how much you think they are getting from unemployment – which I guess seems too high for your taste as well?). And finally, you top it all off with the idea that most of these black unemployed looters don’t pay their rent… That is a real fucking doosie. 11 words on that one.

“…make it right as these shop owner didn’t have nothing to do with this horrible murder.”

I understand. I’m not condoning the looters, and I feel for the shop owners. But right now, there is a much bigger conversation we are all having, and we really need to focus on it together. It’s our problem to deal with collectively, as non-black people, and I am calling on you to join us and understand that we are experiencing an important moment in history that is long overdue.

Personally I am proud of the hundreds of thousands of people, of all colors, protesting across America and the world. These people turned out in huge numbers – during a global health pandemic that could potentially harm or kill them and their loved ones. That is an incredible act of courage and a pretty fucking powerful message.

Part of the reason all these people are risking their lives to protest is because we all know that this is only one piece of a much, much larger problem. Black people are systematically oppressed in America from every function of government – the educational system, the prison system, the voting system, the credit system, the institutional funding system, etc.

This is not political. I’m not a democrat. I’m not a republican. I’m a Canadian with no voting rights. But I’ve been living in America long enough to know that it’s going to take a lot more than a few broken windows and some stolen briefs to get anywhere near where we need to go.

The fact is, this problem is so bad and so poignant, that sharing any sentiments right now that are in opposition to the movement for social equality is simply in poor taste. As a brand owner yourself, I encourage you to expand your perspective and learn more about what this protest is really about. It will only help your business and expand your customer base. You run a brand that is marketed for “gentlemen” and a product that is for “every man” – I suspect you will have a much stronger business if you demonstrate how you yourself, as the leader of the brand, live up to these values by acting like a gentleman and thinking about every man.

I do not mean to attack you with this. But I do think it is important for white and non-black people to call out prejudice when they see it – even in small and subtle instances. This is our problem and our responsibility and we all have to be part of the solution together.

It’s enough already.

Dan Trepanier