The Wild, Wild West of Race Relations

I have to confess that whenever I write about race in this space, I feel a pang of momentary discomfort…why, you ask? Because inevitably a reader will tell me either via email or a comment that I am being sensitive, that they don’t see race, all people are equal or some variation of that sentiment. The subtle implication is that as a Black woman, I am creating mountains out of molehills.  

The news cycle of the past week was the reminder that 92% of the time if my intuition says that race is an issue, I am most likely right. This past week was one for the books as far as happenings here in the US, to quote humor blogger Luvvie “This week has given me outrage fatigue syndrome.” The United States Supreme Court also known in certain circles as the SCOTUS (by the way, is it me, or does SCOTUS sound like a nasty infection?) handed out some real life changing decisions. For the most part though the SCOTUS let it be known that in their minds racism is dead. Alrighty, now!  

If race and racism were dead, we would not be witnessing the explosion of the high priestess of butter and sugar’s empire. Paula Deen, a marginal cooking personality with dubious Southern recipes (pretty sure her red cake recipe was my grandma’s, but it is all good) learned that not bothering to change and become more accepting and or tolerant of diversity is no longer simply PC, feel good shit. The inability to be tolerant and or accepting of difference will come back and tear a hole in your ass. You cannot admit that you have referred to Black people as niggers, dream of slave themed weddings and create work conditions that are hostile to people of color and not expect to suffer for it. Paula may not have known that before but she does now.

This past week the trial started for George Zimmerman; the self-appointed neighborhood watchman who thought a Black teenager, Trayvon Martin armed with iced tea and skittles was soooo threatening that he had to shoot and kill him.  However as the trial kicked off this week, everyone’s attention has been on Rachel Jeantel, the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon before he was killed. Turns out many people including fellow Black people don’t find Rachel Jeantel to be the best representation of all that is Black. She is large, she is dark, she does not speak the King’s English in a manner that is pleasing to many white and Black people, and therefore she is a problem.

I have read countless articles and blog posts on Rachel Jeantel and watched a few of the video clips of her testimony and all I could think is what is the problem? For starters, she lost a friend, not only did she lose a friend; she was on the phone with him when his life was senselessly snuffed out by a vigilante, wanna be John Wayne type. Add in the fact that she was just 18 when this happened, my goodness, how traumatic.

America has never been particularly kind to Black folks, we are never allowed to slowly grow up and become fully formed and actualized beings. If we, did Trayvon would still be alive because Zimmerman would have acknowledged Trayvon’s youth and humanity rather than putting him the dangerous box. In Rachel Jeantel, we see the youthful air of pride and defiance that is accepted in young whites but in young Blacks, it will always be seen as a negative.

Rachel Jeantel is a young, multilingual woman from a working class background, for that she is branded as “ghetto” because she does not measure up to certain standards of what is truly acceptable and respectable. By the way, who decides what is acceptable? Is there a department of acceptable and respectable?   Of course those of us who have been on this rock long enough, see signs that the media wants to put Rachel in her box. When a person of color can’t be figured out or does not assimilate well, you the person of color becomes the problem. It is easier to brand someone else more problematic than it is to check our own assumptions. To check our own assumptions require heavy emotional and mental lifting, it means that we open ourselves to the possibility of having our world view not only shattered but learning that the very foundation that we sit on may be nothing more than hay.  

In the end, to quote an online pal, “we are living in the wild, wild, west of race relations in America.”  We may have a Black man and his family living in the White House, but that does not mean racism died in November 2008, in many ways we opened up a new chapter in our nation’s racial history, one that intersects with class and requires that we eventually acknowledge this intersectionality.