Room to breathe for a bit, but now reminders of the daily racism

One of the most interesting contradictions of the past year—at least for me—has been that despite losing my father and living through the pandemic, much of my time at home has felt like a kind of reprieve. A reprieve, at least, from the daily aggressions (micro and macro) that come with the terrain when you are Black in America. 

To be anything other than white in recent years has meant living with the very open bigotry and racism that the last occupant of the White House encouraged. As we have seen (and continue seeing), his rhetoric wasn’t simply empty talk. His words had power and lasting effect, and have led to increased attacks on people of color across the nation—with our Asian-American brothers and sisters bearing a huge brunt in the wake of the pandemic and the insistence of both the former president and many others on blaming China for the pandemic (and Asians for its spread) and using terms like “China flu” and “Kung flu.”

What lies at the heart of racism and hate is white supremacy, and it functions quite well by not only dehumanizing all people of color and making us question ourselves, but by also making us want to buy into the very system that doesn’t care for us. And, when all else fails, it pits people of color against each other. 

White supremacy thrives because it is the mechanism that built the very society in which we all live, and this past year—when our lives slowed down—for some of us it was also an opportunity to see just how insidious that system is to our very well-being. 

Personally, as hard as 2020 was, it allowed me to breathe. Turns out that the very actions needed to stay safe from COVID also turned into actions that have allowed me to see how, even as an anti-racist, racism does real damage. 

However, the world is reopening and while we have spent much of the last year discussing racism and moving forward, at present the world into which we will all re-emerge is still a dangerous place for those of us inhabiting non-white bodies. 

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I needed to leave my home and, by extension, my island bubble, to head to the mainland to open a new bank account for my political campaign. I have to admit, I had been putting this off, but now that I have gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot—and those signatures have been verified by the city’s election officials—it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. That means making sure we raise enough money to cover campaign expenses such as lawn signs and mailers. 

Prior to heading to the bank, I asked several folks—including members of my campaign team—what would be required to open a bank account, as I don’t like surprises and I like to be prepared. I was assured that proof of my candidacy along with my identification would be enough. 

As you can guess from the fact I even bring it up, it wasn’t quite that easy. I went to a local branch of the bank that I have banked at since moving to Maine in 2002. That’s where the story gets funny—or not—since in reality, it was just another adventure in blackness. But after a year of being able to sit in my full humanity, I am not in as much of a get-along mood anymore. 

Upon entering the bank, I explained to the first bank employee I saw that I am a current account holder, that I was running for local office, and that I needed to open a new account for my campaign. The young man who initially assisted me was a man of color and he had no idea of what I was talking about. After taking a seat, I provided him with my ID, my bank debit card, and proof of my candidacy and he told me he wasn’t sure of what to do. 

OK, that’s weird, I thought, but let’s roll with it. After sitting there staring at the computer, he finally picked up the phone and asked for assistance. Out comes a white woman who tells him that I need an EIN from the IRS. Say what? No one told me about procuring an EIN. Especially as I simply want a basic checking account in my name but with a DBA for the campaign. 

At this point. I text a member of my team, who has not only run several campaigns, has also run for office himself. He tells me that another candidate in a different district, whom he is also working with, opened his bank account by just using his social security number. 

Despite what folks may think, I don’t look for racism, but it dawns on me that my staff member is white, as is the other candidate. So while the white lady drones on and tells me I can’t open the account without an EIN, I reach out to another candidate of color, and he tells me he opened his account with an EIN, and he provides me with the info on how to get one. Turns out that it isn’t difficult, but in the absence of not having my laptop with me, it means that despite making the trek to the mainland that day, the account will not be opened at that moment. 

I sigh and accept this, though I am highly annoyed, but not before connecting with two other candidates, who are white who tell me they opened their accounts using basic proof of identity and proof of candidacy—no EIN required. The same things I was told that I would need to open my account. 

At this point, it dawns on me, I will have to come back and I need to tap my inner Cindy Sweetness so that the process can move smoothly when I do return to the bank. Sensing my attitude change, the white lady tells me when I return I will need proof of the EIN as well as proof my address. 

Hold up! I have banked with you folks for damn near 20 years and every month, you send me bank statements. But I need to bring proof of address? Never mind that when looking at my identification, she pressed me on my signature and pulled up my signature card that was on file. Yes ma’am, I really do have that awful signature. Or the fact that when she took over from the young man who was initially assisting me, the first thing I was asked was did I have accounts at this bank, despite the fact that the young man of color had already verified my accounts. 

Sigh again. Yep, this is my return to the world. A world where what should have been a quick visit to the bank became tense, made me doubt myself, and now requires extra proof because in our current system, blackness requires extra proof to be taken seriously.

I can’t help thinking that had I been a middle-aged white woman, there was probably a good chance that I would have walked out with a new account. Instead, I am running a few days behind now in getting our fundraising mechanisms set up, and I have to trek back to the bank, which with island living isn’t a quick walk or drive down the road. But I am committed to this process and there is too much work ahead to get hung up on this small situation.

It is not surprising. But it is jarring after a year with such things not in my face as much—and I would be lying if I said these moments don’t hurt. 

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2 thoughts on “Room to breathe for a bit, but now reminders of the daily racism”

  1. Well this smacks of discrimination. Sounds like a law suit waiting to happen, though I am sure you are well versed in choosing your battles. I’m so sorry. How can I support you in this?

  2. I wish I lived in Portland; I would love to be more than a regular patron of your blogs but also to vote for you, to be among your constituents. That this happened at the bank infuriates me. It is clear that it was the racism of the bank officer that you suffered under. If not racist bank policy, akin to redlining. If the latter, the bank should be outed and lose customers. If the former, she should be fired. I don’t accept the term “unconscious bias,” because having a different pathway to an account for white customers or male customers than Black customers, customers of color, or female customers is conscious, it’s institutional, it’s unconscionable. If there is anything your readers [I] can do to confront this bank, please let us [me] know. Thanks for your work, Shay.

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