When I take exception to things that happen when white people work together and I use terms like systemic racism and privilege, I am not blowing smoke. Rather, I'm very concerned. As a 60-plus year old black woman, I have thick skin. I don't get upset over the little things. "You speak so well." Okay. "One of my friends is black, like you. She's awesome." Uh, thank you? "You remind me of Sarah. She worked for my family for 40 years." Similar things have been said over time, but I get it. You don't have much experience with black people other than the help, and I get that you cared for this person and that he or she meant a lot to you. No, these things are part of a lack of experience with other cultures and yes, in this day and age, with black people. The problem is, however, seeing me as the "other" rather than as a fellow human being. Like I said, 60-plus years.
Look, I didn't have a hard time in the segregated south like my cousins did. My father was intentional in where we lived and he found a place in the 50s that didn't have a lot of white or black people ... Alamogordo, New Mexico. My first boyfriend was white (only because he and I were the only ones the same height in first grade). Of course, he didn't know he was my boyfriend. But, I remember telling my mom that he was my boy "friend" because he didn't make fun of my being so tall.
But, my father missed teaching and he missed black folks, so we moved, first to Langston University (Oklahoma, where he was from) and later, to Prairie View, Texas. More than 10 years of my life were` filled with black teachers, black mentors, black friends (whites didn't want us in their schools), but I didn't suffer for it. I thrived. So, then we moved to Houston to a neighborhood that was suffering from white flight. I didn’t feel it, however, because my neighbors were doctors, lawyers, athletes and artists. I lived around the corner from Burford Evans, Jim Wynn, César Cedeño, Dr. Mazique, and Dr. James Watson. We rode our bicycles together, bar-b-qued together, and it was a good upbringing. Until that first day of school at James Madison High School, where I not only got called a "nigger," but dealt with teachers who suspected that maybe I wasn't as smart as the papers from PV said, or that I couldn't learn math because "you people don't have an aptitude for it," or that on the day of the UIL competition, my pianist couldn't play for me because her father found out I was black.
Still, I managed to have many friends of different persuasions as those incidents were about the individuals and not the system --- or so I thought --- and my friends were still my friends. But, we grew up. Some friendships endured, but others did not for different reasons. One such white friend flight occurred because Dr. King died and I wanted the flag put at half-mast. "I can't believe you asked the principle to lower the flag for that commie!" I had hard lessons, but the one thing I have NOT lost is my compassion for people, to look them in the eye and be honest and forthright. I did, however, stay away from race talk with my "friends" in predominantly white settings. If I told them the story of being called the “N” word, because we don’t say that word around whites, and expressed that not one teacher chastised the young man, some of them would say, "well, maybe you're being too sensitive" or in the case of the flag debacle, "he (the principle) made the best choice he could make." Subtle, maybe even inconsequential responses, until you start to add them all up.
In 2010, I found myself angry. A lot. And I was doing what I loved, but the heartache of what institutionalized racism is and is doing, the privilege that makes people unable to see what I so clearly see, was grating on me. I saw something they did not and that was, until we eradicate racism, tear down the walls or bigotry and injustice, and face the ugly truths, build solid relationships of trust and respect, we cannot battle it together.
In the documentary "I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO" ... Baldwin (who I started reading at age 11) puts forth the prophetic voice of what is being experienced in this country we are born (AMERICA) and the reality of what is also encompassed in this country that we are born (AMERIKKKA). Slavery is still a stain that is felt and seen throughout my life and I have to ask, how much have we progressed?
Believe me, I recognize my own privilege. Growing up in a middle class neighborhood, never hungry, clothes on my back and shoes on my feet, knowing that I had opportunity to be successful made it easier for me than others. I also recognize that my relationships with white people was better than some, a lot better, and very rarely what I would consider brutal. Yes, I was overlooked for certain jobs given to my white counterparts, but I was the exception to the rule, being treated better than my black counterparts. It was a hard place to be because I did see it, even if I didn’t experience it in the same way. I was never called nigger again after 10th grade, at least not to my face. It was, however, implicit in other ways.
And it began what I now know is differentiating between “good” white people and “bad” white people. And that was and is my mistake. People are complicated. Our history is complicated. But, the problems are exacerbated when “good” people become complicit with “bad” people. It makes me, however, want answers to these questions: Why is there STILL institutionalized racism? Why are people still mistreated because of the color of their skin? Why does unfairness along with injustices prevail? Why are we more divided than ever before?
Racism has many facets … the individual bigot with power, the institutionalized racism fueled by those bigots who have the power and the fact that the majority of crimes against blacks and Natives have never received justice, define it. Included are the facets of racism that are internalized by those who look like me, but who work against the good of the people. They echo the sentiment that we shouldn’t say Black Lives Matter, but ALL Lives Matter, and cater to white fragility.
So, today when a person says to me that the reason that a particular outcome couldn’t be considered racism was because 3 black people voted for it reminds me that I will be served up deflection rather than dialogue. Deflection is a tool these days to point me to false equivalent rhetoric and urge me to ignore what I know. These are symptoms that cannot be ignored. In the end, the proof is in the numbers. Numbers don’t lie. The proof of racism is in the precedence of planners who executed a plan without benefit of the voices of those who would be affected. The proof for internalized racism is when you weren’t invited to the execution of the plan, but agreed with the outcome.
Finally, it is not about my opinion in this matter, but the education I’ve received first hand. I’ve been the only black person at the table of mostly whites (sometimes there are other ethnic groups, but generally one of each). I am not uncomfortable in these settings, but I always challenge my colleagues to learn just how far the group has come in eradicating racism. No, I’m not uncomfortable, but I am dissatisfied. And not listening to me or ignoring me, while still needing my presence, my face, will be as James Baldwin said in the 1960s, at this country’s peril. It is going to take an overhaul of yesterday’s white supremacy, acknowledging it as terroristic acts. You cannot lean on me for this. You have to take the brunt of the heavy lifting because it will take white people to eradicate white supremacy in its entirety.
Right now my role is to strengthen my community that includes the rest of us. Fortunately, my community has whites in it and we are waking up to the challenges before us. Knowing and understanding our history, yes. But, throughout it all, working to eradicate all the facets of racism by building a better future, not by building walls … but tearing them down!