“It isn’t even about white or black. how would YOU feel if none of your neighbors looked like you? if people stared everywhere you went?”- a tweet seen on twitter
In the minds of many white people, racism is a relic of an era long past since rarely do we hear of the KKK parading through towns burning crosses on the lawns of Black people. We assume that since the law bans outright discrimination on the basis of skin color that any talk of racism is hyperbole and a relic of tensions that need to be laid to rest. Or as a local friend who recently took offense to this article I posted on my personal Facebook page said “Racism can never end until everyone adopts an attitude of inclusion.” The implication being that everyone including people of color just need to let go and racism will simply fade away and the fact that it hasn’t faded away yet is because we are holding onto our anger and hatred.
Then again, as a former friend who I wrote about last year in this space recently wrote to me: “Perhaps it was the scars of racism that prevented you from trusting me, maybe it was other reasons.” This would be the same “friend” who in an attempt to write intelligently about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman last year, wrote the following words in one of the largest papers in the state of Maine “His really dark skin means he’s dangerous. Her wide nostrils remind me of a monkey. As abhorrent as these statements are, they are thoughts I’ve had. It’s hard to even call them thoughts, as they occur so quickly and almost outside the scope of language. When I saw the Pew Research Center’s latest poll results showing that whites essentially think we don’t need to talk much more about racial justice issues raised by the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, I wasn’t surprised.” This same “friend” didn’t understand when I ended our relationship immediately, no questions asked. But in her clumsy attempt to reach out recently, she blamed the scars of racism on our relationship going bad…never mind that with a friend who would deign to write such words about people of color, who the hell needs enemies?
No, in the minds of most whites, racism is personal and Blacks and other marginalized people of color should work it out, or get over it… never mind that even the most thoughtful, progressive and decidedly unracist white person often carries racist baggage as a result of the silo of whiteness and privilege that forms the operating lens for our culture.
Beyond the personal matters of race and racism that make cross cultural relationships difficult to navigate is the very real systemic racism that impacts me and mine on a daily basis.
I bet you had no idea that preschool age children could be suspended from school, after all what could you possibly do at 3 or 4 that would warrant such drastic action? Whatever is happening, when kids are suspended from preschool, the overwhelming majority of the kiddos being kicked out of circle time are Black. Yes, little Black kids get kicked out of preschool at higher rates than their white peers. That means the school to prison pipeline starts sooner than elementary school, it means kids as young as 3 are pretty much screwed. By the way, Black girls later on are suspended at higher rates than all other groups. In other words that strong, sassy thing that popular culture likes to talk up when it comes to Black women is bullshit. Society doesn’t particularly like its Black women strong or sassy, and unlike Sheryl Sandberg and her ban bossy campaign, the impact for Black girls goes beyond just our self esteem, it threatens our very futures. But racism is dead?
Moving on, access to care and access to quality care are just part of the systematic issues that lead to Black women having drastically higher rates of breast cancer in the US in 2014 than white women. Part of my educational background is in health disparities and I can say that unequivocally across the board, health outcomes are poorer for Blacks even when the socio-economics are equal to that of whites. In other words, being a college educated, white collar, middle class, professional Black lady won’t save me from meeting an early death.
Our children often face violence from the very people whose job it is to keep them safe, our wages tend to be lower, we have health disparities in a system that doesn’t care enough about Black life to ensure that we have equal access to healthcare. White people get a slap on the wrist for drug offenses that Blacks have lost decades languishing in prisons for; upon their release society relegates them to a life of second class status where even working the frylolator at McDonald’s is damn near impossible. A financial system rigged for whiteness meant paying higher prices for even our homes and losing them when the real estate market burst. I could go on, but these are just some of the ways in which racism is lived in modern times. Never mind the microaggressions that eat away at your soul and drain the life out of you, as you wear that mask every day hoping to stuff yourself down just small enough so that your blackness or otherness doesn’t become an impediment.
Finally you reach that point where you recognize that the lens of whiteness will never let you be good enough for full inclusion into their world and truth be told, you don’t want that life. So you rip your mask off and free your soul only to be told “It’s hard to overcome and fix decades of race relations when you dismiss a person’s thoughts as just shit, without giving them the benefit of reaching out and communicating.” Once again people of color and specifically Black people are always asked to just go that extra mile, never mind that our very survival on a day to day basis is all about going that extra mile. Truth is that sometimes you feel a bit like Rhett Butler when he told Scartlett “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
As I settle into my new life which allows me to talk openly about race and racism without fear of alienating the people who keep my daily bread flowing, it pains me to say that that I have lost at least three people who I had considered to be pals/associates/friends. In this post I decided to quote them directly so that there is no confusion among people I do know. The common thread in the relationships that have gone bad is my incessant need to talk about racism, my need to no longer hide or stuff myself down to make myself more palatable to people who have little lived experience with people of color and my refusal to go that extra mile unless I am being met halfway. Middle age has served as my personal catalyst for change and the knowledge that waiting for others to make time for that which is uncomfortable will never make change happen. As long as people are privileged enough to live in silos where the uncomfortable can be comfortably ignored, nothing will change. I want a society that values my kids as much as I value them. I need a world where I can stop living in fear of the call, the call telling me that some white man with a gun stole my son’s life. I need a world where the seeds of white supremacy don’t have my precious girl starting to doubt herself because her hair isn’t straight enough and her skin is brown. So pardon me if cheap talk, page views and empty dreams don’t stop me.