Why is your Colin making you Uncomfortable

Today’s post is written by a very special contributor, L. David Stewart, MBA, MSRE, a Black man who also happens to be my brother. As a Black man, he has words that I believe need to be heard. 

Race is for me is never as simply as the proverbial “black and white.” Folks I know on both sides HATE talking about it… so its Friday l want to make some folks uncomfortable and think.

As a Black MAN in this country (Black WOMEN have a separate sect of things to deal with, including from some of us as Black men, but that’s for another discussion…and I point you to PLENTY of women who are experts on my Friend’s list, including my Blood sister, for more about that) my very EXISTENCE makes people uncomfortable. Why? Because if I am the stereotypical assumed [insert, thug, drug dealer, extremist, etc.], that scares people for presumed safety reasons. And maybe they should be scared, but for other reasons, as I may be more dangerous to their comfort zone in other ways. I am educated (two master’s degrees and working on a doctorate), well-traveled, and all these other things that by society standards, say “well you made it so you have nothing to complain about.” Au contraire!

Some of my own accomplishments I don’t share because, to be honest, folks don’t believe me.  My dad, a Southern born and raised Black man, told me in my 20s: “Son, with the things you have done, if you were not Black, you’d be on Time magazine and fast-tracked for infinite growth!” I hated hearing that, but it was true. I have known racism first-hand since I moved to the North Side of Chicago. I played baseball for 12 years and was scouted actually by a MLB team. One year, I was denied the best pitching award, because well…you can figure it out. You may say “Well, maybe you weren’t the best.” Except the numbers said I was. But the golden boy of the league had to win it. Press ops and the like. Did it motivate me to defeat him in the championship game? Damn skippy! That’s when I thought, JUST BE BETTER!

If you are Black in this country, you have most likely heard “You have to be TWICE as good to be where THEY are.” I took it further; I feel you have to be TWICE as good to be half as far, so to be even you have to be four times as good, and to be TWICE as good you have to be eight times as good! What am I basing that on? I worked in architecture from 1996-2009. My undergraduate degree is in architecture. My initial dream was becoming an architect. I tasted racism in high school when I was told I could NOT be an architect. (I was the only Black youth in the room). I tasted it working in firms, when I was not exposed to the same things other interns were in the form of opportunity.  In undergrad at a prominent university where I graduated, it was obvious, but systemically obvious. Was I called a N*GGER to my face? Only once and well, thankfully, I had some restraint. However, any time race was discussed I was told indirectly to not make it racial. I remember vividly my freshman year, discussing race, and these twin male students, who were White, and blessed to live and come from good money, told all of us that were not White: “You have no excuse! You are hiding behind race and need to get over it; you are here, what is the issue?” One continued to opine on the socioeconomic plight of the South Side of Chicago (where I am from) and how it’s “THOSE PEOPLES” fault. Now I professionally rebuked him and invalidated all of his claims, but it reminded me that Black men only comfortably exist when it’s comfortable to be in an accepted space. If it’s music (certain types), if it’s entertainment (certain types), and if it’s negative (all types), it is comfortable for the general society.  Cultural pride or social awareness makes non-People of Color NERVOUS PERIOD!

As I got older I went from the overly militant, to moderate to trying to take race out of it.  DIDN’T WORK!  I’d lead discussions with my education to make people feel better. I would HIDE the fact that I am a hip-hop artist (www.refgenmusic.com, artist name NIZM) because I would be stereotyped. Other co-workers can talk about the cool things they do, and when they do perceived “Black things” like rap or are into hip-hop it’s cool.  When I as a Black person say I am in to Modernist architecture I get told I am “acting White.” All of this subconsciously builds and you learn to either numb yourself or face it. I learned to face it.

As an educator, racism welcomed me with her pungent aroma when I became a college professor. I was literally prevented from going into a faculty office because of my attire. (P.S. it was at an art and design school and almost everyone at an art and design school looks like a student, lol).  From there I was forced to revisit this. If I was a non-POC with ripped jeans and Birkenstocks and a t-shirt, and said I was a PhD student, there would be NO QUESTIONS ASKED! Might be a weed head but you know “kids these days” (insert Ryan Lochte HERE lol). Meanwhile if I got some fly gym shoes, a fitted hat, a t-shirt and jeans (that don’t sag), I am thug. I was motivated to dig into this with my first exhibit called “Hear We Are” (www.thehearwearexhibit.com) showing 10 Black male educators.  These men are well-educated but if you saw them on the street, it would be negatively inferred the worse. WHY?

So all that said, Colin Kaepernick! His stance, (or non-stance, lol) hits because when he was just being a quarterback (which is a LOADED position for Black males in NFL history in itself), he was adored. Now he has a position OUT OF HIS COMFY SPACE and folks are burning his jersey. The counter is that he is rich and he was raised by White parents so he has no basis to show his “contempt.” As I paraphrase James Baldwin, to be Black in this country is to be in a “state of continuous rage.” When you are an athlete and winning, it’s cool!  Living in the South now, I chuckle at how folks I KNOW don’t like Black people ROOT on their favorite college or professional Black athlete in sports. When that athlete becomes aware of cultural matters particular to him or her, they are immediately vilified. Why? To better illustrate this, if a non-POC athlete addresses something like domestic violence (which is no laughing matter) or their own country’s wrongs it is saluted. However, history has shown time and time again, that when Black athletes do it, and in this case Black males, it’s reminiscent of a “N*gger forgetting his place”

Now I can opine on this for MUCH longer, but I will transition to a potential solution. What are we asking for? Respect! “Put some Respeck on it!” Also, don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable about Black people and the history and things we went through and still go through. Privilege allows for you to NOT understand. This is no different than what women of color go through. I do not nor will I experience the world as a woman. However, that does not excuse me from being sympathetic, empathetic and aware. Issues like rape and domestic violence I give the same zeal for as I do Black male issues. Also overcome your stereotypes and bias. Black people in America alone have a diversity that is unrivaled. If for nothing else, we have merged with many cultures in different geographies, and systemic issues have forced creativity that, to be frank, is envied and emulated the world over (exhibit a, hip-hop fashion; exhibit b music; etc.) Lastly, as you accept your “un-comfort,” don’t patronize or antagonize. Admit it scares you and help those that want to help themselves and step BACK! If invited to the discussion then you give feedback and in an assisting capacity. Racism is as much of this country as is the flag. It will NEVER dissipate; however, real conversations can go a LONG way toward UNDERSTANDING each other and why we are the way we are. And if Colin NOT standing for the Flag which has HISTORICALLY oppressed Black people (not theory; facts) bothers you, be man or woman enough to confront yourself and ask WHY it bothers you. If you do, you will understand why Colin, and many more of us, continue to remain hesitant about a lot of other things from expression to existence that you dare not consider.

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