These two have no idea. All they know is that they’re shorter than the rest of the people in their homes, and when they get together, they have size and ballet in common. They understand each other’s tiny voices. They understand that if the other one takes a toy she’s playing with, the playroom will become an MMA ring. What they don’t understand is that one day, sooner than any thinking person would like, they’ll be ridiculed for their friendship for no other reason except that one of them has more melanin than the other. And you know who’ll teach them to think that way? The big people around them.
I know these two kids. One is mine, the other is her friend, so I know that such hatred won’t come from their parents. But like it or not, we live in a nation full of people who hate other people because of the color of their skin. It’s called racism, and yes, in our great land of America, it is alive and well.
Now, before you brace yourself to get gung-ho or ticked off at what you think is coming next, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and open your mind. This post is not really about Trayvon, George, Paula, or anybody else who’s made national headlines due to racial issues. This is about what I, a young black woman in Southern Mississippi, view as the bottom line of this mess.
Over the years, I’ve experienced a lot of racism. Recently, as I was walking with my baby girl on the campus of a major university, a young white man yelled “White power!” at us. Another young white man echoed him, saying, “H*** yeah, white power.” That was fun.
I’ve been patted on the head and commended for not falling victim to my upbringing and getting a college education, instead. This was by some older white men who knew nothing whatsoever of my upbringing.
I was in attendance when a stupid teammate declared, in front of a bunch of black college kids (most of whom had stellar grades) that black people can’t read.
I even had a run-in with a Klan member when I was a high school kid working in Wal-Mart. He really was in the Klan; he had on his ring to prove it. He went to my manager to “complain” about my customer service. Fortunately, my manager, a white man, wasn’t listening to his foolishness because he knew how hard of a worker I was. I appreciated that my character overrode skin color and lies that day.
In kindergarten, a white girl told me not to lean on her because she’d get greasy, which, by the way, was my first experience with being belittled because I was different.
Management has followed me around stores, and I’ve watched white customers grab their purses when my brothers or I came too close in those same stores. People have let their kids run around like Olympic athletes until I got too close, then it became super urgent for their kids to get in the basket. Newsflash, lady. I see how hard-headed your kid is. A kidnapping is the last thing you have to worry about.
On the Other Hand
A few years ago when I was pregnant with my first child, I was put on bed rest during my first trimester. It was August in Mississippi, which meant the low for each day was about 90 degrees. My husband’s job demanded his presence pretty much from sunup to sundown, and our yard was starting to show the signs of some major neglect. It didn’t help that the lawnmower was broken. At least one person dropped in everyday to bring us meals. One of them noticed the yard and told her husband, who came later on that day, mowed the yard, and bought us a new lawnmower. “I can’t do much,” he said, “but I can mow a yard.” They were white.
I graduated from a different college than the one where I began my higher education, which happened to be an HBCU. I went back to visit that first school one weekend and ran into somebody who said he’d not seen me in a while. I told him I now went to State. An older black man, who was never invited into the conversation in the first place, scoffed, “Oh, you went to the white school.” Well, the “white school” offered me a full scholarship after this one didn’t renew my scholarship just because. I had a 3.6 GPA and never got in any trouble. I was a hard-working athlete. So I really don’t care about the “color” of the school; scholarship ink is all the same.
This past week, we moved out of our house. Other than my parents, guess what color the people were who came and voluntarily helped us pack?
My best friend since first grade, Shannon, is as porcelain as the day is long. I’d take a bullet for that girl. I’d probably give one, too. She’s my sister, and she’s not the only one. I thank God for the Laceys, Erins, Gessicas, Ashlees, Jennifers and all the other white friends I have in my life. Yes, I do see color, and it’s a good thing I do, or else I couldn’t make my point.
For the past few days, I’ve seen endless examples on social media of murder cases that didn’t get national attention. Black on black crimes, black on white crimes, white on black crimes. In the comments, I’ve seen a lot of references to “us, them, we, they,” as if this is a turf war. I guess it still is. I can’t really understand why, though.
Honestly, whether you like it or not, our ancestors got around. Most Americans are not pure anything race-wise, so to be racist, on some level, is a hatred of a part of yourself. Racism has existed in this country since this country was established. The people I’ve had this discussion with who disagree are usually the same ones who deny racism’s existence today. They’re useless in the fight against it. If you’re trying to help move this country forward, ignore them. This stuff is woven into the very fabric of our country. I’m just grateful that I had the upbringing I did and have been around enough people unlike myself to know that just because somebody shares melanin tones with me, they’re not inherently good, and those who don’t aren’t inherently bad. People are people: complex and unique.
Am I denying cultural differences? I’d be blind to do that. Go to a “black” church, then the next Sunday, go to a “white” one. Tell me you didn’t notice some differences. Go to a wedding between two black people, then wait for “The Electric Slide” to play. Then, go to a wedding between two white people and wait for “Love Shack.” I classify these as cultural differences, not exclusive to race. If certain things that are often said to be so were exclusive to race, I never would have surfed, snorkeled, or hiked a mountain. And I definitely wouldn’t bump Red Hot Chili Peppers in my car like they’re the only band on the planet. Good thing my skin never got in the way of these experiences.
So many people attribute racism to ignorance, as if it’s a valid excuse. Racism can no longer be called ignorance. The abundance of information and people around us everyday provide all the information we need to make better judgements about other people. If you’re choosing to stay ignorant despite these resources, well, you’re not ignorant; you’re stupid.
Do you want to fight racism? Teach your kids the whole truth. One thing I loved about teaching is that I was able to tell kids that slave owners weren’t all white and abolitionists weren’t all black. We had discussions about where people originated, and most people agree that the whole human race came from the same two people. Get educated. Get to know somebody different from you, and love them. You might learn that all black people don’t use “the n word,” or that we don’t all aspire to live off of food stamps as a career when we grow up. You might learn that all white people don’t think they’re superior, and plenty of them really can dance or even dunk a basketball. There are a bunch of Hispanics who speak fluent English and earn pretty prestigious degrees, not at the government’s expense. I bet it would blow plenty of minds that all Middle Easterners don’t walk through the streets with bombs attached to their backs. You might find that the very things you hate about another group of people exist in your own, they just may come in different packaging. Am I an idealist? Maybe. Am I tired of all this fighting? Certainly. If you have an issue with somebody, consider that it may be because they stink as a person, not because of the color of their skin. Stereotypes serve as a prison of the mind, and you are the judge who inflicts your own sentence. Why don’t you unlock the doors and start rehab?
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.