In the spring of 1991, I was a girl who fell in love with a boy and being two headstrong and impulsive types we pledged our undying love to one another and ran off and got married. A few months later, we discovered we were expecting a child and by the winter of 1992, our beautiful son was born. Yet, it was too late for us. We learned early on that love wasn’t enough because as a mixed-race, young couple, the world was not a kind place for us. Thirteen months after our son’s birth, our marriage was over. Shattered under the weight of adult realities and the inability to acknowledge or talk about race and the impact it had on our lives. My ex-husband would spend the next two decades avoiding all talk of race, instead choosing to see the “human family,” until it reached a breaking point in recent years as my son’s identity as a Black man emerged and he was faced with the possibility of losing his son. In a stunning reversal of more than four decades of long ingrained “truths,” I have seen my ex-husband speak up as a white man in ways that I never thought possible when it comes to race.
I share this personal story as I sit saddened under the weight of what our inability to talk race as a nation is costing us. Today’s New York Times has a piece that speaks to the very real divide in this country when it comes to race. We are in a state of emergency and many of us don’t even know it. A civil war is brewing and we are almost at the point of no return as a nation.
Too many Black people suffer under the weight of a system that marked us before we were even aware of our own essence as people. Too many whites believe the past is the past and that we should just move on. As a general rule, we don’t make a point of pressing crime victims to just move on and forget the trauma they have endured, and we certainly don’t ask them to endure more abuses by the criminal while we refuse to apprehend that criminal (well, I guess we often do in domestic violence still, but other than that…). Yet when it comes to the Black American community, too many whites engage in intellectually dishonest rhetoric on race because the truth is too painful to face. But as anyone who has lived long enough knows, facing our past often allows us the freedom to eventually move forward.
Here in America, we are literally stuck in a loop unable to move forward racially; as I have spoken about many times in recent months, it was 46 years ago this year that American witnessed the race riots of 1967 in Detroit, which later led to the formation of the Kerner Commission. The Commission was tasked with figuring out what to do with those pesky Black folks. The Commission’s findings in 1968 determined that the problem was white people and detailed all the reasons why. We failed to heed the recommendations that came out of those findings and here we are…at a racial crossroads.
We have reached the place where families are fracturing over recent events such as Ferguson and the Eric Garner case, longtime friendships are ending and spaces such as Facebook are revealing our true shadow selves. It ain’t pretty. I pride myself on being someone who keeps drama down in my online life and I actually took the rare step of unfriending a white sister in Christ because her comments were borderline abusive.
On the one hand, it’s easy to blame the troll culture that is so pervasive online but in many ways I think that our online selves are a lot closer to who we really are. It’s harder to show our true selves face-to-face when accountability can be demanded or a punch in the face is always a possibility. American culture and especially white American culture has always trafficked in politeness, which by extension has meant avoiding discussion of the potentially problematic things like religion, sex, politics and race. However, in a racially changing world, we can no longer avoid that which is unpleasant or uncomfortable, not when lives are on the line, not in a world where children with toy guns on the playground are shot dead by the people who are charged with serving and protecting. To stay silent on race is to be complicit in the systematic destruction of a people who bear the scars left over from centuries of abuse and oppression. No white person alive owned slaves but many are still alive who benefited from the system’s preference for whiteness. To openly acknowledge that truth is not to indict whiteness but to indict the system that created this divide that we all currently live in…the truth has a way of setting us free but if we run from it, freedom will never be ours.
Standing on the brink of destruction, all I know is that we must be brave. We must not back down and if in the fight to right the wrongs of history and not bestow upon our children and grandchildren this tortured legacy that will not fade away, if we lose loved ones along the way, perhaps it is a small price to pay to right the wrongs of history. Pandora’s box has been opened and it cannot be closed, our ugliness is on display and the pain is heavy but it doesn’t have to remain this way if we find the strength to deal with that which we have long ignored.
12 thoughts on “America unmasked…a nation of hate and pain”
I work for a nonprofit organization focused on public education. We are all white. Some of the schools we work with across New England have more children of color than white children. Several of our schools in Maine have far more students of color than ever before. Next week we are devoting four days to a seminar focused on equity and racial justice and how we can both name and educate others in the face of inequities and behavior that is racist and/or disadvantaging students and their families in multiple ways. Some of us have done anti-racist work before, others are completely new to it and nervous about what will happen during our seminar. We planned this seminar some time ago (pre- Ferguson and Eric Garner) because we knew we needed help doing this work in white skin. We hope to “find the strength to deal with that which we have long ignored” in this time together and its aftermath. Thank you, Shay, for reminding us where we are now and what we need to do as individuals, as a nation, and as a world.
Mary, you write …. “We are all white” . My question is why ? For such seminars to be meaningful both the white and black voice must be incorporated. The fact that historically this has not been so is one of the issues here.
I second Viola’s comment. While your organization shows great initiative by perceiving the value of a seminar and giving four days to the project, the lack of any mention of inviting the participation of the families and communities involved is of serious concern. You write that some in your organization are nervous about what will happen. Why not give yourselves a caveat that you will actually seek a consultation and plan for an opening session with professional like Shay to speak to what all of you can expect, to how to be welcoming and constructively responsive to the voices of families of color and to how to recognize your organization’s limitations in terms of influence, if any, AND THEN, extend an invitation to the families and communities to bring THEIR concerns, hopes and contributions. I suspect some professional assistance from people of color will go a long way in terms of your non-profit really being able to deliver an unbiased and affirmative structure and curriculum with on point lessons in answer to racist attitudes and behaviors. There is surely a grant out there to help de-fray any excessive costs! 🙂
Amy, I totally agree with you ! To have a meaningful impact the black voice must be included …. be it professional consultation or the voice of the community. Preferable if both venues are included. It is amazing what wisdom is found with in the black elders of such communities.
yes yes yes!
The Diane Rehm show tomorrow on NPR is a must listen
Shay and Amy, I could not have said it better. I can’t even put into words my feelings during this time but I can tell you it is a breath of fresh air to have these discussions of white privilege and race. Most white people take these discussions as personal attacks and with racism not being so blatant as say back in the 60’s (or at least not blatant to most white folks) we tend to think it no longer exists. Yes, there are no more whites only signs and black people and white people can go to school together but what most are missing is the implicit racism and the systematic racism that is easily covered up by those who claim being colorblind is the way to go. But colorblind is still a blindness that fixes nothing and only avoids the situation at hand, a system built for and to protect only white males. But America continues to put a bandaid on a bullet wound. I cry often tears of sadness for my black son who one day I will have to discuss these issues and who eventually will know the stares of people thinking he is a threat and no longer a cute sweet boy. But I also cry tears of joy when I see photos of protests from my hometown of Cleveland to NYC to Taiwan of people of all ethnicities fighting for justice and change. This past week my family and I made a trip to NYC to see family and found ourselves walking with a group of protesters shouting “black lives matter”. When one of the leaders saw us walking with our son he hugged me. I got goosebumps and broke down in tears… The power in numbers is real, the power of love is real!
The paragraph about generally not pressing crime victims to move on, nor endure further abuses while we fail to apprehend the criminal hits the nail so square and hard, I shivered. I have often felt there was something deeply wrong with the way we treat victims, as if we coddle them, when in fact, there are social injustices that engender derangement and crime. But in attempting to share this, I’ve met with incredulity, despite the excruciating reality that the behavior of this nation from the first settlers was profoundly criminal. The necessity of survival has placed me in a position of have simply having to agree to disagree concerning the necessity of addressing the crimes or see the whole momentum of “the left” become ridiculous. And were we not then talking out of both sides of our mouths, insisting on racism was vile, all the while, proceeding for the sake of the very thing we know is where in the danger and the enemy are most insidious, yep, good old, “business as usual”, feeding the (white) kids and paying their way thru college. While kids in the “other” neighborhoods were going to prison by the age of 18 or sooner. Oh, yes, the (?) important (?) stuff. So, yes, as I heard somewhere today, white silence is white violence. I am feeling a sense of radicalism which has lain forlorn and feeling abandoned for a long time. What the heck that my allies in this don’t look like me. Maybe sometime I’ll find some who do. Meanwhile, thank you, because like you, I sense the urgency is no joke. As you say, the legacy will not fade away and I say it has the power to make us all deranged if we don’t face it down. My sense of this has been growing for several years. I know it like I know the freckles on my arm.
…” the excruciating reality that the behavior of this nation from the first settlers was profoundly criminal.” Profound and so true — but still we see denial and a total lack of accountability …..seeding the roots of our profound dysfunction as a nation.Thanks for a brilliant post !
Thank you to Shay more than me!
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