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Category: Racism

What Kind of Racist are You?

What Kind of Racist are You?

Last week it was Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott. I don’t have to tell you what because you already know. If you’re trying to keep track of the number of black individuals who have fallen victim to their skin color in recent years, that brings the total to…hmm…I’m pretty bad with numbers so let’s just say it’s around too fucking many. This time, the news left me feeling even more defeated and hopeless, and perhaps that’s what led me to read the comments on everything that was posted about the death of these two men. It’s not that I haven’t been sucked in by internet comments before, but this time it was a deliberate move on my part. I’m not sure why, exactly. I guess part of me thought maybe, just maybe, I would read something that would provide insight and clarity, something that would help me begin to understand how we keep finding ourselves in this situation over and over again. The only thing that was made clear to me, though, is there is no shortage of ways to be racist.

I have written before about some of my own racist behavior. And I have written about people who are so deep in denial they can barely acknowledge racism exists. It occurred to me, though, as I was trudging through the rants disguised as commentary, “denial” is too vague a word because it doesn’t do enough to explain the myriad of racist personalities. Plenty of people have written on the various types of racism, and I am grateful for their work. I decided to compile a less scholarly list, though, something more of a layman’s introduction to racism, based on my own observations.

  1. The Captain Obvious Racist– A lot of people are really scared of this kind of racist, and often for good reason. But I actually kind of respect their honesty. This is the kind of racist that doesn’t pussyfoot around. They straight-up let you know that if you’re not white, they don’t like you. Period. Hobbies include: building walls, buying white sheets on clearance.
  2. The Amnesic Racist- This is the kind of racist who loves, LOVES America. They get high on freedom and (parts of) the constitution. There is no possible way you care about your country more than these people, trust me. The thing is, they tend to forget that the American principles they cherish so dearly also apply to black people. This means they lose their shit when they see…oh, I don’t know, a black person refusing to stand when the national anthem is played. Hobbies include: complaining about how politically correct our society has become, listening to Lee Greenwood.
  3. The Mr./Ms. Fix It Racist- Don’t be fooled by this title, it’s not as good as it sounds. This is the type of racist who already has the solution to ending racism. It’s simple really. Black people just need to get over slavery, obey the police, get a job, and stop playing the race card. Hobbies include: posting Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on their Facebook page.
  4. The La-la-la I Can’t Hear You Racist- These racists, in my opinion, are the trickiest to deal with. It doesn’t matter what you say, or what experiences you share with them, they are quick to tell you why it’s actually not about race. They will tell you it’s the media’s or race-baiting-Obama’s fault you feel the way you do.  They love to invoke the names of the few black celebrities who deny racism, while somehow totally ignoring every other black person. Hobbies include: watching Fox news, researching the benefits of slavery
  5. The I Want to be a Victim Too Racist- These are the people who think it’s just not right they don’t get to be the victims of racism. They seem to understand things are unfair but are very confused about how that unfairness plays out. (Don’t even try to explain systemic racism to them.) They love to share news stories of whites being victimized by blacks just so they can point out the fact that whites aren’t protesting. Hobbies include: going before the SCOTUS in affirmative action cases, tweeting #alllivesmatter.
  6. The I Need a Nap Racist- This is the type of racist that’s just tired. Not tired of racism, mind you. Nope. They are just tired- tired of talking about race, tired of “everything” being about race, tired of being called out for being racist. They will often ask, “How is that racist?” but that question is rhetorical. They don’t really want to know the answer because the answer will exhaust them. Hobbies include: dressing up as Pocahontas or Pancho Villa for Halloween, having hit shows on HBO or Comedy Central
  7. The Dust Yourself Off Racist- This is they type of racist that gets it. They know they will mess up, say offensive things, be insensitive, etc. What makes these racists different, though, is they somehow resist becoming one of the aforementioned racists. Instead, they get up and start over again, courageously standing up to friends and family members, and consistently checking their privilege. Hobbies include: weeping every time they hear the words “unarmed black man killed,” taking down the system.
A Certain Kind of Guilt

A Certain Kind of Guilt

There is a certain kind of guilt I have. I’m not always aware it’s there, but I am reminded of it often. Too often. It surfaces when I am helping my daughter comb through her light brown curls, and in the background, I hear someone on the radio talking about a black child who was killed by police. The guilt comes on strong when I stare into my daughter’s grey-green eyes as I tuck her into bed, only to return to my computer where I read about another black man whose hands were in the air as he was shot by the police anyway. I feel the guilt when I see my daughter in a swimsuit, her perfectly tanned skin an acceptable shade of brown- a shade white girls would pay for- and I think of black girls at a pool party being manhandled by police. The guilt is there, too, when my daughter wears her favorite hoodie and I am reminded of overzealous neighbors with guns who patrol the streets in search of black boys.

The truth is, what I really feel is relief, but this kind of relief is inseparable from guilt.

My daughter is free to move about her world. Her white skin offers protection that she is no more deserving of than anyone else, but it is there all the same. It’s a matter of luck, I know, that things will be easier for her because there are already systems in place that make it so. There have been occasions when my brownness went unnoticed and I was assumed to be white, and at those times I also benefited from those systems. But unlike my child, I can’t hide my black quite as easily. The white of me did not prevent one of the kids in my Girl Scout troop singling me out as “the chocolate one.” It did not stop a classmate from looking disgusted as she told me I had “big lips like a black person.” My daughter is white so she will not have experiences like these. The black of her does not show.

Relief.

Guilt.

Like most mothers, I want to spare my child from heartache. But it is as wrong of me to feel grateful for my daughter’s skin color as it is for blacks to be killed because of theirs. I know this; this is where the guilt comes from. I am not sure what this guilt says about me or the kind of parent I am. I am not sure this guilt serves any purpose at all. I just know the stories of racial injustice are circular, apparently without end, and yes, sometimes, I shamefully allow myself to retreat into the safety of her whiteness.

For Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

For Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

“And there seemed to be no way whatever to remove this cloud that stood between them and the sun, between them and love and life and power, between them and whatever it was they wanted.” -James Baldwin

Today I woke up confused. In my foggy, sleepy state, I turned on NPR, as I do every morning, and I heard about cops killing a black man under (to put it mildly) questionable circumstances. But this was the same news I woke up to yesterday; this didn’t make any sense. Then it dawned on me: this was a different story. Different, of course, only because the names and location have changed. Otherwise, yes, the story was exactly the same.

I know it’s important to speak out. I know silence is acceptance and I refuse to accept this. My level of helplessness, however, increases every time I hear the words “black man fatally shot by police.” It’s a terrible exchange, this fear and despair that is given life anew for every black life unjustly taken.

I think I don’t know how to speak out anymore. I wanted to write about these two men, Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile, to honor them in some tiny way, to voice my outrage and sadness.  But there isn’t anything new for me to say. The story is exactly the same.

Last year, while grappling with my feelings over another murdered black man, I wrote this piece. I’m reposting it today because I can’t figure out what else to say.

 

The Thing About Black Men In This Country

The thing about black men in this country is that you were taught to be afraid of them. It’s the best kind of teaching, the kind where you have learned something when you weren’t even aware you were being taught. You didn’t know that every time you saw a black man playing the villain in a movie this was part of your lesson. You didn’t know you were learning when your mom, while driving with you in the car, made sure the doors were locked when she saw a black man nearby. You didn’t know when you watched Cops on TV, sometimes even laughing at it, that you were telling yourself, “This is how black men act.” You didn’t think, when you saw them rioting, that they damn well had something to be rioting about. No, by this time you had already learned what they were: Uneducated. Lazy. Thugs. Gang bangers. Drug users. Scary.  Sure, it’s fun to watch them play basketball, but you better cross the street if you see one when you’re walking home at night.

The thing about black men in this country is that they were kidnapped from their homes. Enslaved. Beaten. Sold. Names stolen. Kept from being educated. Kept from their families. Kept from earning wages. Hanging from the trees with less concern than the morning’s laundry hanging on the clothesline.

“But that was over 100 years ago,” you say.

“They need to get over it,” you say.

“If they would just stop harping on the past!”

The thing about black men in this country is that even when we told them they were free, that was a bald-faced lie. Freedom came in not being allowed to vote. Freedom came in being told where to live. Told where to work. Where to eat. Where to shop. Even where to shit.

The thing about black men in this country is we made sure they knew their place. We made sure they knew they were worthless. Made sure they dare not have the audacity to pretend they possessed any dignity.  “You keep your head down when you’re talking to me, boy.” We made sure they knew they could be falsely accused of the most mundane crime, and would still be handed over to the white man like some first place trophy from a catch-the-darky game.

“But, oh, that was so long ago,” you say.

“Things are different now,” you say.

“We have a black president!”

The thing about black men in this country is that they start out like the rest of us, loved beyond measure by their mamas. They turn into those cute little boys- you know the ones who prove how un-racist you are because you couldn’t possibly find them so adorable and be prejudice- then they grow up and get killed by the police. Or chained to a truck and dragged down a road in Jasper, Texas until their head snaps off. Or they get shot up by some white man because they invited him in to pray.

“They should just cooperate with the cops,” you say.

“You should see the statistics for black on black crime,” you say.

“But those white men were mentally ill!”

The thing about black men in this country is that we gave them the lowest possible standards for living and the highest possible burden for proving that their lives mean anything.

The thing about black men in this country is that we will continue to fail them over and over again, and then force them to take the responsibility.

The thing about black men in this country is that they cannot continue to live like this, stuck in this world of seemingly never-ending racism.

The thing about black men in this country is that we can, we must, do better by them. This country will not be whole until we do.

Universal Racism

Universal Racism

I was recently selected to be one of the participants in this year’s Boston’s Listen to Your Mother (LTYM) show. I am nervous, excited, and grateful. Having been through two rehearsals now, I am confident this reading will be exceptional. I feel honored (and truthfully a bit surprised) to have found myself part of a group of such incredibly talented writers. I am beyond impressed by their willingness to so honestly and beautifully tell their stories. Although I don’t personally feel brave when I’m sharing my life’s experiences (crazy, yes), I think it is, in fact, a courageous act. Detailing parts of your life before an audience of strangers is, perhaps, the boldest display of vulnerability imaginable. To do so is to invite commentary, inquiry, and insults. It’s not for the thin-skinned, so why do it?

I suspect if you were to ask a group of personal essayists or memoirists why they share so freely, you would get a lot of similar answers:

I feel like I have something to say.

I want to be heard.

I write as a way to make sense of what I have experienced.

I want to connect with others. 

It is this last part, the ability to form connections through writing, that resonates most with me. Since I first sat down with my LTYM cast mates and we began sharing significant pieces of our lives with one another, I was reminded of the power of good storytelling. Among us there are stories of loss, overcoming incredible odds, and grappling with identity. I found myself (more than once) in tears because I felt so many of their stories were also mine. And perhaps it sounds corny to say so, but there is something meaningful about feeling so human.

This blog, of course, contains my personal stories, many focused on race, and I assume many African-Americans and/or Black-White Biracial individuals can relate to a lot of what I write. After all, regardless of the myriad experiences among us, we share in common having brown skin in a society that was created to be advantageous only to Whites. Collectively, our story becomes one of figuring out how to make our places in a world that never really wanted us (free from enslavement, that is).

But what of those Americans who came here voluntarily? One of my fellow LTYM readers shared this part of her life’s story with us and I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels in our lives. Her family came here, brown skin and all, and as it turns out, whether you are here by choice or here by circumstance, the racism is exactly the same. As she read, I found myself nodding my head, thinking, “Oh yeah, I hate it when they ask that.” And more often, “I know what that feels like.”

Along with emotional connection, I appreciate when another person’s writing provides me with an opportunity to learn something about myself. In this case, though, I’m a little ashamed that my reaction to learning of the similarities between my cast mate and myself was one of mild surprise. Why should I be surprised? Is it really hard to believe we have heard the exact same prying questions for our entire lives? Does it really seem so far-fetched that we would draw the same conclusions about racism? Did I think one’s ethnicity made a radical difference in how racism is doled out?

I’m going to take it a step further here and own my privilege. As a natural-born American, I don’t have to think about the effects of racism on immigrants. While the racism itself was certainly no surprise- one need look no further than this year’s presidential election for proof of its existence- I’m not sure I ever fully took into consideration the fact that there is a kind of universal racism happening, the end results of which are not so different from one population to the next. Clearly, there is a real overlap between American privilege and run-of-the-mill white privilege. It’s a humbling admission, to be sure.

I don’t want to sound flippant or dismissive of the fact that racism is multifaceted. I cannot claim to understand what it must feel like to be told I have no right to be in this country, or told my very presence is unlawful. And I have never been forced into the position of having to explain how my religion and the acts of terrorists are in no way related. Conversely, those who are not African-American cannot completely understand what it feels like to grow up and live in this country with its centuries-long history of oppression that, no matter how we fight, won’t seem to go away. There is, however, an overarching piece: we all know our un-whiteness serves as a measure of our worth. Universal racism.

I wish I could say it’s comforting to know my experiences are cross-cultural, but there is nothing comforting about racism. I’m also not sure what to do with this new discovery of self, this knowledge that I probably could have been paying more attention. I suppose I’ll just count it as another step in the process of trying to do better. Awareness of one’s privilege and one’s ignorance is never a bad thing. I’ll keep making mistakes and keep writing about them, and I will be forever grateful to those whose writings, in turn, teach me.

I met a Trump supporter and I liked him

I met a Trump supporter and I liked him

Recently, the BFF and I were at a concert. We are always giddy when we get to see our favorite band live, but this night we were even more excited because a friend of ours (whom we met a year ago at another show) was going to be proposing to his girlfriend on stage, during the band’s set. (It was beautiful, she said yes.) Being in such good moods, we struck up a conversation with the man standing next to us. He was there with his sister and they were both lovely people. At some point, a couple of vodka & tonics later, our conversation turned to politics. Dangerous territory, I know. I don’t know how, exactly, we got on the topic- I think we were comparing our kids to Republicans- but our new friend (we’ll call him “S”) admitted to being a Donald Trump supporter. His sister (we’ll call her “D”) shook her head in disapproval and joked about not knowing how S turned out this way because the rest of their family did not share this affinity for Trump.

I love when this sort of thing happens, when my assumptions are proven incorrect. It’s not that I enjoy the taste of humble pie, but I have written before about living in a bubble and how I am not always sure that is a good thing. And maybe it’s because I live in that bubble that I find myself so often in need of reminding that people are incredibly complex; nobody is just one thing. I suppose even Donald Trump is more than a misogynistic and racist narcissist.

Here’s where things get complicated for me, though. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I could be friends with a Trump supporter I would have given you a very emphatic, “Absolutely not.” Obviously, it was a real “Holy shit!” moment to admit I actually could envision being friends with such a person. Yes, it was one evening, but I consider myself to be a good judge of character and S & D most definitely registered as “good people,” and I genuinely hope we have the good fortune of being among each other’s company again. (And the BFF agrees.)

Oh, but Donald Trump. I can’t write about Trump with as much eloquence as other writers who have perfectly articulated the many problems associated with this vile man. And I think the argument that he shouldn’t be given any attention is valid. I’m just a little speck on the Internet, though, and I doubt that my words are far-reaching enough to make any real difference one way or another. But after the latest black-person-attacked-at-a-Trump-rally story, I’m left feeling helpless and the only thing I know to do is write.

Let me go back to my new friend S for a moment. S told us that he didn’t feel like it was his place to comment on what it’s like to be black because he, himself, is a white man. That whites should not claim to know what it is like to be black might sound obvious, it should be obvious, but of course, it’s not. It is, without a doubt, quite an exercise in white privilege to know you can choose to ignore racism, but in this case, S has my utmost respect for not making any crazy claims about whether or not racism exists, or that it would go away if black people would just…I feel like there is no shortage of whites claiming to have the solution to racism, none of which involve any action on their part, so hearing someone acknowledge they may experience the world differently because of their whiteness felt like a revelation.

It is exchanges like the one I had with S that leave me feeling confused. Similarly, I have family members who I think are some of the kindest people I’ve met, but they will espouse some of the same rhetoric I hear from Trump supporters. And that is to say nothing of the endorsement Trump recently received from Charles Evers. As much as I would like to declare Trump’s followers a bunch of crazy a-holes, it can’t be as simple as that. People are incredibly complex; nobody is just one thing.

Last week Vox.com ran an article, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism,” which does an impressive job of explaining Trump’s appeal. Excuse me while I butcher that excellent piece of journalism, but apparently the fear of change is responsible. (That’s an awful and incomplete summary so take some time to read the article.) I think I understand being motivated by fear on some level, but I can’t quite grasp it completely. It looks more like fear mixed with cruelty, obscenity, and a staggering level of ignorance. Besides, I can’t help but be amazed by the fact that people seem to be afraid of all the wrong things.

Personally, I am very afraid of a Trump presidential victory. I have been saying I was scared of him for a long time; he has frightened me ever since he called for a ban on Muslims. Not until last week, though, when Shiya Nwanguma was physically attacked at a Trump rally, did it start to feel deeply personal. And that feeling has only grown since video surfaced this morning of the attack on Rakeem Jones. I am literally afraid for my child and myself because this person has a legitimate chance of becoming POTUS. That seems like such a preposterous thing to say, but time and again Trump has done everything shy of throwing the punches himself. How am I or any persons of color and/or Muslims supposed to feel remotely safe? Who will be the next group to go on his list of the hated? And how is it that seemingly decent people can support this?

I feel, perhaps, our country is on the brink of something big. Maybe we are slowly laying the foundation for a long overdue revolution. Clearly, we are desperate for it. Of course, it could also be that we are about to implode, that we cannot sustain this level of fear and disdain for one another. I want to be optimistic; I like to remind myself that progress is slow. But I haven’t felt so personally threatened by a presidential candidate before so optimism doesn’t quite sit well right now. Even if Trump does not become POTUS, his supporters will still be here. Then what?

I don’t know what to make of the fact that I befriended a Trump supporter. Maybe that’s my comeuppance for being so judgmental in the first place. I refuse to believe Trump is anything short of a real danger, but I guess maybe I am slightly comforted by the fact that not all of his followers are deranged lunatics. There’s probably a bigger lesson here somewhere about not getting wrapped up in all the divisiveness. Right now, though, I’m just going to focus on being grateful for my bubble.