I always knew that there were people out there who would stereotype, have racist thoughts, or even be racist. But I never thought that society would regress so much. For most of my twenty-nine years of life I had not experienced much racism. There were a few micro-aggressive actions placed on me in high school. But, for the most part, my experiences of mistreatment due to my ethnic background were things that I would only notice in hindsight. Not that it makes the action any better, but the sudden sting of hurt and anger were less likely to negatively affect my reaction to my mistreatment. Allowing me to think through the event and come out feeling like I did something about my mistreatment without being bullied further. But, in the past three years things have gotten progressively worse. What I am experiencing is an increase in micro -aggression where someone will show me disdain or care less about my predicament, demanding a harsher treatment for me than they would for someone of their own skin tone, and some outright racist actions where I get harassed in streets and spat on.
I think it isn’t a surprise to anyone reading this, at this point, that I am black. Or at least, anyone looking at me would identify me as such. I identify as black because when I look in the mirror I see brown skin, which is what I was taught black was. I was also always told I was black, that I have black parents. Truth is I always thought this was dumb. My family, despite our “blackness”, is not all brown-skinned. In fact, I own a picture of my father and his siblings (five boys), which we comically call the united nations picture. My Uncles all have the same two parents, who are both black. Yet, it didn’t stop my father and one of his siblings to come out pale. And no they are not Albino.
That being said, considering black is used interchangeably with African American, I resent being considered black. But it doesn’t negate some pride I have in the “Black American struggle”. Needless to say I have a complicated relationship with my identity. But what I realize more and more every day is that my relationship with my “political correct” identity is all due to outside factors. I merely have an issue with how I am forced to identify myself due to society and the treatment and stereotypical ideas of those who share my complexion.
It is no secret that racial tensions began to rise with the heavily politicized deaths of certain black youths, and black men. These sad times in history, may have affected some people more than others. For me, Trayvon Martin’s death angered me the most. Even through the words of his killer, George Zimmerman, the series of actions described left me thinking that this kid, Trayvon, did not do anything I wouldn’t do. I really thought that not one person was able to be realistic when placing themselves in his shoes; or did they even bother to do that much? What would you do if you were walking home and an unknown person stops you on a dark corner brandishing a gun? As far as I am concerned, the options are run and hope the person doesn’t shoot you in the back or “stand your ground” and use what you have to defend yourself. Yet, he was being criminalized. Described as a thug because he defended himself against a perceived threat. Here is a boy, who died fighting for his life, which to me is heroic, but due to stereotypes the victim becomes the aggressor.
It did not help tensions much when Michael Brown was gunned down. Even though I don’t relate to Michael Brown at all, I was less inclined to believe all the negative things that could be true about him due to the complete lack of care, I observed from people who were not black, regarding previous deaths. I heard every excuse in the book of why Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin’s lives were expendable. None of them were good enough to me, even if they were guilty of a crime. Nor would I ever be comfortable insisting that anyone is deserving of death.
Yet, this became the norm. People would strike up the conversation about the latest news story. Spilling their opinion about this dangerous kid and how they reserve their right to own guns and shoot anyone they think is dangerous. As someone who related to Trayvon Martin, can you imagine how uncomfortable that made me feel. If you feel that way about Trayvon, how would you treat me? No I am not a tall black male teen. But I do live in a nice area and I may walk late at night from point A to point B for whatever reason I want. Will I get shot just because you don’t recognize me? or is it because I’m black and you don’t recognize me in a predominantly white neighborhood? Or was it only because he was a black male? What stops me from thinking that this would not happen to my brother, a nephew, a cousin? Why is it so hard for people to understand that concern?
So then there are protesters, who call themselves “Black Lives Matter”. A title that is loaded with a sentiment that people don’t think that a black life matters. They must have observed the same lack of care I witnessed. They must of heard the same lame excuses I heard. They are angry and have every right to be, but they are unorganized and lack a clear message behind their well thought out, “Black lives matter,” title. I guess they thought people would understand that title without explanation. So, tensions rise. I sympathize with the movement but steer clear of their tactics.
Now, I have to deal with a simple conversation about sports or music turn into an uncomfortable conversation about whether I agree with someones opinion about Beyonce’s performance and music video. I’ve had an Uber driver make me feel unsafe, based on how angry he was over the performance and her offensive nod to the black panther movement and Malcom X, which quite frankly I did not think was offensive at all. Why do I have to be uncomfortable for a conversation I didn’t ask for. And then when I respond or have something to say about it, I am the one that gets accused for making the person uncomfortable. I gave that uber driver No stars and explained how he made me uncomfortable, as he was clearly baiting me to disagree with him on a social subject.
But then, Not long after this incident, a security guard at work and I are discussing music; what we like and dislike. He brings up Beyonce and her new song. I express politely that I like Beyonce’s music but I’m not a super fan, trying to end the conversation on a neutral note. But he continues asking me my opinion on her song, “Formation.” So, I repeat the Beyonce spokesperson tag line, ‘it is a song about her roots and where she comes from.’ “Yeah, she says that, but she does a lot in her performance and her video about the police and that gang or political group, the Panthers group.” he says.
So I respond, “Well, I didn’t see anything referring to police.”
“Her video, nods toward New Orleans and the stuff that happened there.”
Again trying to avoid taking a position, I respond. “Well I don’t know much about that, besides that it was chaotic and some regular people took guns and were playing vigilante.”
“No, it was the National Guard too.”
“Yeah, it was pretty bad.
“OK… So, you agree that police brutality occurs?”
“So, What is she saying that you have a problem with?”
“It’s just not the time, you know? The Police are having a hard time already, with every thing that has been going on… its just not the time to deal with that right now?”
Oh no he didn’t just say that, Fuck it, let him have it. “There is never going to be a good time. A cops job is not easy and it isn’t meant to be. Police have had bad relations with criminals before, now, and in the future because nobody wants to be arrested. It is unrealistic to think that there will be a good time ever and you shouldn’t expect someone not to voice their valid concerns just because your uncomfortable with it. What Beyonce has done is no different than any other famous person who has a platform to do so. I applaud her, And quite frankly, I agree with her. I come from a family of cops and I think that any cop that can’t handle a situation where his top priority is to preserve life does not deserve to where the badge and if life is lost due to not following protocol they should suffer the consequences like everyone else.”
Till this day this Security guard has treated me differently. I can’t be sure but I think it is a bad thing. I’ve lost what little respect he had for me, and he lost my trust due to his attitude. So, who is wrong in this situation, him or I? Did I overstep in telling him how I honestly thought? Or should I be upset at him for asking me the question in the first place? What did he expect to hear from me? Should I ignore his flagrant disrespect toward a group that fought for my rights in the past? Do white people not understand that the Black Panthers were a political activist group, much like Black lives Matter, not a gang? The surviving members went on to be educators, community leaders, and politicians. Do they understand that the Black Panthers are a part of my culture and history as they are theirs? Why is respecting them offensive? Your Offense is Offensive to me, how about that.
And now finally, the latest event that has me so perplexed of why people don’t understand… Just last week I was listening to the DL Hughley radio show. They had Lezely McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, as a guest on the show so she could promote her new book, “Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil”. Intrigued by the interview, I went and brought the book and kept it in my purse for a quick read when ever I had a chance. My boss saw the book on my desk next to my purse as we were getting ready to leave, and looks questioningly at it. So I tell him, its a book about the kid who was shot by the cop in Missouri. His response, was the most shocking, upsetting and most insensitive thing I could have imagined.
“I hope the money for that book is going somewhere useful.” he says.
“I think so. She is in a group that helps other mothers who lose their children to police brutality.”
“Well, I’m sure, but I mean …. you know, no one benefited from that.”
“Yeah, I know. Her son is dead.”
“Well yeah but, the riots. I mean… what about all those businesses, who’s going to pay for that. There should be some money going toward the businesses that lost everything.”
I look at him confused. Is he really equating damaged property to the life of this kid! He sounds nervous he knows he is toeing a line. REALLY, YOUR CONCERN IS WITH THE BUSINESSES, OVER THE DEATH TOLL THAT IS POLICE BRUTALITY! Woo-saa … calm down and reason. “Those people don’t care about the businesses. They just lost a life. What does the business do for them?”
“The business gives them jobs.”
“The people who ransacked that town do not work for those businesses, most of them weren’t even from Missouri. The people from the town won’t care either, those businesses won’t help them. They might even view the people that own those businesses as people from outside the community who gain the right to judge them in courts and vote for their community leaders without dealing with the repercussions that they are upset about in the first place, so why would they help them.”
“Well, she wasn’t the only one who lost something. The Businesses lost something too. Who helps them?”
Frustrated and trying not to show it. “The law has those business’s covered, Michael Brown’s murderer, on the other hand, just lost his job. I’m reading this book because, I didn’t quite relate to the kid. But all you heard about him in the news was horrible stuff, and I’m sure that was not the full story.”
“well you know, we will never know the truth about what happened.”
“No, we won’t. There were too many people willing to flat out lie due to stereotypes, and to many people willing to stretch the truth due to stereotypes and we will never know what story is which.” He nods his head in agreement, and I’m satisfied that at least we ended this awkward conversation agreed on something. But, he continues.
“Did you hear about this issue at the University of Missouri, where this professor lost her job over being involved in protests on campus?”
“No, I’m not sure of the situation.” I say, hoping that he just stops there.
“Well, only a small group of students were protesting it was a real small percentage of the school population. But there are all these other students and faculty that have no opinion what-so-ever or don’t have a problem with what ever the protest was about and this teacher lost her job over it”
“Really? Was the teacher wrong? What did she do?”
” My point is the majority of the people, this silent majority, had nothing to say about it but it still cost the professor her job.”
“You realize just because I am silent, it does not mean that I don’t have an opinion.”
“Yeah, but, you see what I’m saying, the majority of the school didn’t mind.”
“So… Just because someone has no opinion on the matter does not mean the concerned doesn’t matter.” Does this guy not realize I am a minority. Whether it be a black issue, a woman’s issue, or a ME issue, whether I am screaming or silent my issue is still an issue, and other people won’t care nor do I expect them to. But now, I must make them care. so that they can speak for me. Why? So I tell him, “Everyone has different issues, not everyone is going to care about mine, nor should they, but just because they don’t does not mean that it is any less of an issue. Nor should their be a push back against my issue because you don’t share my issue.”
“Well I just think it shouldn’t be just what the small groups want, it should be everyone, we all should be included.”
“What like the All Lives matter movement against black lives matter, that is like having everyone sit at a table with food in front of everyone except for one person. When that person says I deserve food. Someone else says we all deserve food. Does that answer the problem of this one person not having food? Are you gonna listen to the plight and understand or are you going to let the person starve because you don’t have an opinion on the matter? I’ve had too many experiences, in the past year, where I’m treated with either hate or complete disregard to leave my issues in the hands of the ‘silent majority’?”
This conversation continued. Every time I give a statement of finality, I received another comment that toed a line of insult. He began to discuss, experiences of racism and tried to relate to me based on Mormon experiences of bias based on his Mormon faith, stating; “Well the way I see it we never leave this earth alive, So if you have to die a Martyr so be it.”
At this point I shut down and okay’d and agreed until he was satisfied. He just didn’t get it. The biases he did not experience, are horrible, yes. But you cannot compare being hated and dying for being born black to dying because of a belief system. (1) He can take off the name tag, and at the end of the day you are one of the masses. Not a minority, who then also gets hated for standing up for themselves. (2)You are dying for a belief, to live a certain way, I would be dying for something I have no say in. I don’t choose to have brown skin, I was born with it.
I can go to school with the privileged, act like I’m privileged, and make the money of the privileged, but I would not be privileged. I would be privileged for a black girl. While that statement makes me proud because it was a particular accomplishment fighting the uphill battle for my family and I to have the things that we have. I hate that I can’t attain anything with out an asterisk behind it due to my skin tone. For example, I was accepted into an awesome University, but there are people who would argue I only got into college in the first place due to Affirmative Action. The way things are set up my accomplishments are never my own, I always find myself in a situation where I’m told I owe my success to someone else, whether it is true or not. My hard work never seems to be mine.
I don’t expect some people to understand but I do want to understand Why? Chances are, Trump is going to win the Presidential election and life is going to get dangerous for me. So, if I have to endure this and worse for much longer, I want to know why people just seem so incapable of retaining their humanity?