White, Black, and the Space Between

An op-ed on the Black Lives Matter movement: “I see you, and I will fight alongside you… I have realized how much the black community has given me… It’s time to start giving back.”

Sean McHugh

AfterBuzz TV Host & Writer
Posted On: June 6th, 2020 11:51 am pst

Maria Menounos
Keven Undergaro
AfterBuzz TV Founders

Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, AfterBuzz TV is the artist-friendly entertainment news platform that celebrates, discusses, interviews, promotes and reports on the widest range of stars, creators and content through video, audio and article publications.

At first glance, I am simply a straight, white, good looking, forty-five year old man. The epitome of “all boxes checked” when it comes to advantage. But, there is more to my story.

I was born and raised in North Philadelphia by a single mother. As far back as I can remember, we were surrounded by a black community. Whether it was friends of my mom that came to visit, or my cool older cousin (who is biracial), there was always a black presence in my life. Oftentimes, me, mom, and my brother were the minority. 

From the age of eight, my brother and I would take a bus, and then the subway after school, to our grandparents house in Logan, a predominantly black neighborhood, where we would stay until our mother got home from work. When school let out, we would spend the summer months at Ms. Cousar’s. She was a black friend of my mom who ran a daycare out of her house, but also a community leader and activist that would organize box lunches for the neighborhood. I can remember the excitement of the “lunch truck” arriving full of tiny cartoned milk and bologna and cheese sandwiches. To this day, there is nothing better than what we called “welfare cheese.” Her youngest son was my age, and we were fast friends. UNO and Hide and Seek were the games of choice, while cartoon watching was limited to an hour a day.  Every now and then my being “white” would become an issue for some random neighborhood kid, but that would quickly get squashed by the black family I had become a part of.  

A few years later, we moved into a white neighborhood, and eventually, I set out to forge my own identity. At Allentown College, a predominantly Caucasian institution, my Irish Catholic background, which I’m proud of, was a common trait, but being from the “hood” was also a badge of honor that I am equally proud of and still wear today. I embrace black culture, especially the music, which has helped make me as dangerous on the dance floor as I am…Yes, you want me at your wedding. Despite my “white” coiffed hair and dapper style, I have an immediate ease and relatability in black company (my wife says “relief”) that usually begs the question, “where are you from?” Oftentimes, our conversations end with hugs and love. Yes, I am white, but I am the best kind of white…right?

When I was young, my mother would call me a chameleon, because I could blend into any situation. However, she didn’t mean this as a compliment, as it was usually referring to me going with the flow and not rocking the boat. I would read the room and adjust accordingly. I am very good at compartmentalizing. Helpful for some aspects of life, but not for the uncomfortable ones. I mean, I might laugh at the occasional racist joke, or even tell a “harmless” one myself, but never to actively oppress anyone or fuel injustice. I know in my heart of hearts that I am one of the good guys…right?

I’ll be the first to admit that in the past when I would hear about a black person being killed by the police, I would initially be shocked and saddened, but then fairly quickly allow the conversation to turn into an indictment of the victim. “You know how this works, don’t put yourself in that position,” or “why would you fight with the police in the moment, you lose every time. Stop making things hard for yourself. The system is what it is. Learn to work around it.” Be the chameleon…blend in.

But this time was different. This time, my neutrality and silence was being called out. On TV, on social media. My friends were hurting. Just because I could change my colors, didn’t mean that they could.. Or should. I was being compelled to take a hard look at the incident, and more importantly, finally, at myself. Despite my best efforts to rationalize my lack of speaking out and speaking up, I was convicted, until the dam burst. 

A wave of realization hit me: I’VE ENJOYED ALL THE GOOD PARTS OF BEING BLACK AND SUFFERED NONE OF THE BAD. I get to partake in the music, the art, the culture, but I don’t have to leave my house thinking about being shot by a cop. I get the street cred of “being from the hood” without the prejudices and fear. Even though I often relate more easily to my black brethren, I am, on the surface, an ‘acceptable’ white male who can pretty much go anywhere, anytime, with no regard as to who might be watching. I HAVE WHITE PRIVILEGE. 

Does this mean I haven’t had hardships and struggles? Of course not. However, it does mean that I am able to supersede a plethora of barriers and obstacles based purely on the color of my skin. And even though I might judge people on the content of their character, the system does not. As a white man who has silently and neutrally stood by, I have failed my black family and friends, and I am sorry. 

I can’t change the past, but with God’s grace, I can work to fix the future. I hear you, I see you, and I will fight alongside you. In reflecting on all of this, I have realized how much the black community has given me: family, friends, identity and, most importantly, unconditional love. It’s time to start giving back. I’ve been to the barbecue. Now, I’m here to help wash the dishes.

About The Author:

Sean McHugh is an award winning actor, filmmaker, host, and podcaster. Born and bred on cheesesteaks and Rocky, he hopes you’re at least laughing at him, if not with him.

Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, artist-friendly AfterBuzz TV is the world’s largest digital broadcast network and pop culture news platform, producing post-game ‘after-shows’ for nearly all favorite TV shows, interviewing cast and showrunners and providing the widest video, audio and article coverage of shows, content and influencers than any entertainment news platforms in existence

“We don’t just celebrate and cover the top shows, content and stars, we celebrate and cover ALL the shows, content and stars.”

Maria Menounos

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