For as long as any of us can remember and long after many of us are gone, racism was, is and always will be at the crux of our culture. We live our lives each day with that sinking feeling that one injustice or another was rooted in racism. I’m not going to quote the past (much) nor will I speak into the future- I’m simply going to share and elaborate on my own experiences and struggles.
As an African-American male- as a black man, I come packaged with certain stereotypes. I come out of the gate at a disadvantage and to say anything other than that is a lie. I already know that. I may not carry myself as if I’m carrying the burden of my legacy, but I am well aware of the roadblocks and obstacles that sit in front of me just for having dark skin- and as much as I want to say I’ve accepted that- that too is a lie. I haven’t accepted it, but I have adapted.
I’m surrounded by a lot of people, friends and coworkers alike and many of them see that I carry myself with a certain discipline and I’ll tell you later from where it comes. I am wise and intelligent and I’m sat apart by characteristics that make me seem more “white”. I am asked how I view certain race related issues and on more occasions than I care to count I get the “I don’t get why everyone thinks everything is about race,” or “You’re not like all the other black people I know,” and more than that I get the “Why do black people eat fried chicken?” or the ever famous “Do all black people like grape drink?” And my personal favorite “I’m not racist, one of my best friends is black.” More than that I get to listen to everyone’s claim to be “colorblind”. And they say it with an attitude that suggest they’ve risen above the issue of race- funny, because I haven’t.
Whenever an issue of race comes up, I’m always asked “I want to know what your perspective is?” As if I were there when it happened, as if I have more details on the situation. Contrary to popular belief, but not all black people communicate telepathically. We are not all automatic democrats and we don’t all know the dermatological sciences behind sunburn. We all can’t spot a weave and for that matter, my hair is coarse and No! You can’t touch it, because a) it’s not sanitary and b) that’s just weird.
But it doesn’t end there. Racism still exist because we keep it alive- white people keep it alive, black people keep it alive. We keep it alive in malicious ways and for as long as those ways continue to exist, it will thrive, but I am a firm believer, that until our genes mix completely, it will always exist- I would go on, but as I said, I won’t speak into the future.
On social media, we protest that “black lives matter” and “white lives matter” and “all lives matter” and “blue lives matter”. These things are sacred to us, they hold meaning with us and as long as injustice thrives, it will always propagate in one form or another, Mr. King put it more elegantly than that.
I read an article recently and it seems that certain black individuals are trying a more progressive approach when it comes to the issue of race, individuals like Stacey Dash and Raven Symone. It seems to me that they have forgotten where they come from, but I’m not bashing either of them, because I believe they can express themselves in whatever form they so desire. What I mean is that, while I try to live my life in a way that abstains from the stereotype, I have not forgotten the long and storied history that allows me to live my life in the fashion that I’m accustomed to now. I am grateful for the strong and courageous men and women that fought zealously to bring about a better life for the next generation- for my generation. And while they may not be here to see the fruits of their labor, I will live in such a way, that their work and sacrifice is honored with the respect it so richly deserves.
It may be uncomfortable to read this, but I am not in the business of making people comfortable. I hear very often, “Why does it always have to be a race issue?” I can answer that question for you by saying that we can never fully understand the motivation behind a person’s actions without first seeking to understand that person.
While I was writing this, I was torn between two ideals. There are a large number of black people who live their lives day to day never trusting a single white person they’ve encountered; and there are those who rise above their parents’ and grandparents’ ambivalence towards white people who live on the premise of innocent until proven guilty. In either of these ideals, it still floats in the back ones heads that everything comes back to race.
I saw recently that Jada Pinkett-Smith among other notable black celebrities declared they were boycotting the Oscars. Then from all over social media came the “#OscarsSoWhite” hashtag. Then a coworker asked me if I agreed with her action and my response was that change doesn’t come to the ones who stand idly by. Change comes as a direct result to a direct or indirect action. The Civil Rights movement wasn’t the solution, it was the start of work that continues today. Affirmative Action wasn’t a solution, it set things into motion that we might have a brighter future. That same coworker went on to say that now they are going to start giving out awards not because of merit, but because of diversity inclusion and I responded, it wasn’t meant to be a solution, but it will change the course of how nominees are selected.
In my own life and experiences, I’ve come to see that we all, black or white, have a lot in common. I know that like black people, they aren’t all the same despite what other black people have told me. Do I trust all white people? No, that’s stupid, but then again, I don’t trust all black people either. The case on race isn’t new. It’s been there- here, hiding within our culture like a plague, but it doesn’t have to hold us back because now we get the opportunity to be proponents of positive influence. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that:
“In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”
And upon hearing that, I have never heard a truer statement, which is why I have instilled it in the core of my being. This piece was not meant to offend or persecute, it was meant to start a conversation and whether rightly or wrongly, we as a culture have found ourselves here- at the start of next great American tragedy. Shall we prevent it?