...currently writing from: Los Angeles, CA
The tragedies that have taken place this past week have inspired many conversations between myself and my boyfriend, Chris. We decided to organize these thoughts and share them with all of you. Hopefully we can all learn something through continuing to be honest and open.
1. Don't deny a problem exists.
Recently, my girlfriend, Angelique, asked me if I had ever experienced discrimination or racism. We had already been talking on the subject of relationships and race, so I told her about the problem I had with my very first girlfriend in high school.
I was about 14 or 15 years old and my girlfriend at the time was visibly upset about something so I asked her what was wrong. She said she had gotten in a fight with her mother about me. In tears, she proceeded to tell me that her mom did not agree with our relationship and referred to me as a "nigger." Looking back at her I said, “It’s okay, she just doesn’t know me. She’ll come around once she sees I’m not so bad.” That was always my response to racism, that they just don’t know me. And for a very long time that has served me well because it has kept me from lashing out prematurely.
Unfortunately, many black people are not given the chance to be “known”, “given the benefit of the doubt”, or labeled as “safe” before action is taken against them.
This is a huge problem, though certainly not true 100% of the time, it IS still a problem.
I know this personally because it has happened to me.
A year or so after the first incident, I was falsely accused of raping a girl whom I was friends with at school because her dad did not like the idea of her hanging out with a black kid.
This type of profiling and racism still happens, and to deny that is only perpetuating the issue. Recently, the problem has gotten much worse. There is a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that is ultimately rooted in fear. Fear on both sides generates more altercations which then lead to more violence.
This past May I was pulled over for speeding in a rural town in Colorado. However, I chose to assume and believe this police officer had no intention of harming me and things would go smoothly. I am sure my calm demeanor put him at ease as well.
Yet, that is not the reality many black people face when being pulled over, such as the case this past week in Minnesota. To apply my interaction with police (even as a black man) and deny that other people are not having these problems on a larger scale is both foolish and insensitive.
I strongly believe there are people in high places who want to divide us as a country, and keep us divided as a human race. It is far beyond the scope of what I have time for here, but I am always reminding myself not to get sucked in. Sucked in to the war of race, choosing sides, deciding which lives matter more than others.
The media, movie, television, and music industries consistently portray black people in a negative light.
It is not true in all cases, but certainly in most. This portrayal of the “typical black person” is all many people know about black people.
This is why we all get asked the same questions:
“Did you grow up in the ghetto?”
“Were you ever in a gang?”
“You know how to fight, don’t you?”
...And comments like:
“I’d be scared of you if you weren’t my friend.”
“I can say the “N” word, right? You guys use it.”
The fact that someone is scared of my reaction to them saying that word automatically associates me with violence.
In fact, a couple of years ago I was having dinner at a restaurant with a white friend of mine, who pointed out a group of black kids who were dressed a certain way and proceeded to say, “See, look, aren’t those niggers over there?”
I nearly spat out my drink.
I asked him to clarify what he meant and assumed that he was raised with this thought process. I also knew he was old enough to know better and he had another motive for saying what he said. I didn’t get sucked into his plan to ignite something in me that would cause me to react. He was not just overtly ignorant in his statement, he was testing me to see how I would respond. He was inciting a violent response. He didn’t get one.
The point is that for so long black men have been portrayed as dangerous. Don’t get sucked in to the stereotypes and ideas that black men are dangerous animals. We aren’t. Yet, we constantly have to prove we are not, even in the midst of intentional aggravation.
After watching the movie Suffragette I remember Google-ing "Women get paid less than men" and seeing a statistic come up. It said that women on average earn "79 cents for every dollar earned by men." I posted something about it with the idea that I'm grateful for the sacrifices women have made through the decades so that I can have my vote, however, "We still have a long way to go." Some guy - some arrogant male - ended up commenting with a link entitled something like: The myth about the gender pay gap. "Something to think about," he said.
"You don't have a struggle."
"Women aren't discriminated against in the workplace."
"You just need to work harder, like we men do."
"You just need to ask for your raise more often, like we do."
It was such a complete slap in the face.
If it's NOT YOUR STRUGGLE, then it's NOT YOUR PLACE to undermine what someone else is saying about theirs. Its arrogant to counter - attack somebody crying out for progress when you are not the victim of that kind of oppression. It's a slap in the face when somebody is not directly attacking you, but you want to diminish what they're saying.
You DON'T KNOW what it's LIKE to be a woman in the workplace.
You don't know what it's like to fear for your safety every single time you walk to your car by yourself at night.
You don't know what it's like to be a woman trying to navigate with dignity in a "man's world."
Somebody could have commented on my post and said, "Well... ALL people should be paid fairly." Of COURSE they should. The point is that women are NOT paid fairly. Therefore "all people" are NOT BEING paid fairly. The underdog is not being represented and equality is not being achieved.
I grew up in Los Angeles where racism was completely foreign to me; it didn't exist in my world. There are many of us who do not encounter racism - we do not feel it in our hearts and we do not witness it happening in front of our eyes.
This does not mean it doesn't exist. We don't want to admit that discrimination is real. It is disheartening and sad. But refusing to acknowledge it prevents any progress from being made.
Saying, "Yeah... well ALL lives matter..." is taking the microphone away from a voice that is crying out to say something.
2. KNOW YOUR PLACE in the fight.
Black Lives Matter. This obviously needs to be stated because Black lives are treated like they DON'T matter. It should be a given that they matter - that ALL lives matter. But it's NOT. Racism exists. So let the response to oppression ring out. Let the truth be known... a truth that is fighting to be heard. Black lives Matter, too. And just because it isn't your battle to fight, don't come in and say, "this battle isn't real."
In the same way that women need men to raise them up and say, "YES... you know what? Women DO need to be paid fairly," the privileged majority of this country needs to stand and say, "YES... you know what? Black lives DO matter." Those on solid ground are responsible to extend a hand. But instead we have push back like "All Lives Matter," as if someone is oppressing YOU. Taking away from your rights.
Know your place. It speaks volumes when the privileged stand on behalf of the oppressed. It's powerful. WAKE UP to your power. WAKE UP to the wound that needs healing in this country. And don't silence the voice that's crying out for help.
3. Don’t let ignorance go unchecked.
A few months back a friend of mine said this to me, “Black people are just naturally athletic that’s why they dominate sports, and white people tend to be more educational and thinkers.”
One of my close friends said that to me a few months ago and didn’t think twice about it. He proceeded to argue that our “natural habitat” in Africa probably dictated for a more athletic body type, because you know, we had to run so far to get to school…
I challenged him and asked him to think about how little sense that made and maybe he should question from where that thought originated, because he is definitely not the first person to argue such nonsense with me.
This was not the only occasion.
I have had numerous conversations with friends who have said something to me that was simply untrue about black people. I will not list them all here, but I am acknowledging we have all been taught so many ignorant, racist things, so much so that it can be called "conventional thought."
The problem is that we don’t challenge conventional thinking that is rooted in racism. Instead, we (the general public) accept the ignorant statements and don’t think of the consequences they may have on the mind. When we do challenge conventional thoughts, we are met with opposition, which is fine as long as respect is given by each person.
We need to have these honest discussions. When we do, we are fostering dialogue in love and eradicating ignorance. Racism is rooted in fear and ignorance. We cannot continue to feed either one.
4. Don't belittle the need for progress by saying, "Look how far black people have come."
My boyfriend, Chris, happens to be black. I'm not with him because he's black. I'm not with him despite his being black. We fell for each other and every part of it was natural and easy. Never did I think, "I'm going to seek out a black boyfriend and prove that racism is wrong."
It hasn't been until this week that he looked at me and said, "We are kind of a statement." Part of this makes me sad because this means that racism is real. All the tragedy and hate crimes happening recently have highlighted this fact that neither of us have been overthinking until these days: he has dark skin, I have light skin.
What blows my mind is that up until 50 years ago, it would have been ILLEGAL for us to get married. Further back in history, Chris would have been put to death for kissing me.
What kind of world would we be living in if the Civil Rights Movement never happened? If everyone accepted the fact that "Coloreds" and "Whites" were segregated because - "Hey - Look. The war ended slavery. Look how far we've come." What kind of world would we be living in if people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. didn't take a stand for justice? I hate to imagine that world, because Chris and I would be looked down on at best. Divided at worst.
I am deeply grateful for the brave soldiers that fought in the Civil Rights Movement and gave their lives. I am living every day in the reality of their sacrifice. This does not mean that I dismiss the recent events and say, "Well at least I can kiss my boyfriend." We need forward - minded, brave people to continue pushing us forward so that we can day by day diminish the unnecessary death and violence taking place in our country. Do not undermine this need by interjecting the thought, "We've come so far." It's true that we have.
But after the shootings and acts of hatred that have taken place this week I think we can all agree:
We still have a long way to go. Let's keep pushing forward. For the sake of the next generation and the generation after them.
"What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
It's the only thing that there's just too little of.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
No not just for some but for everyone." - Burt Bacharach
Just tonight, a friend of ours stopped us after church and said, "Hey, Chris... lately I've just felt the need to say 'I'm sorry' to my black friends and the way your community is suffering. It's just so unfair. But I am so glad to see people like the two of you just... being together. Thank you."
There is hope.