German blood runs through my veins. And I just don’t understand how violence and looting is supposed to solve anything. I’m an upstanding citizen and my family is deeply respected. Why do I need to focus my energy on something happening to black people in neglected communities? It’s not my business and not my fight. Enough people are fighting already.
The blood of Africa fuels my heart. How DARE you, lying and pretending this gunshot wound, this prostrate body is different than the noose dripping rotten fruit from a Southern tree? I will scream. I will stand. I will fight. I will give my living breath to speak the truth. Are you listening?
Both of those stories are mine, and are true. They’re the truth for a lot of people. Sometimes, knowing we’re not alone, and being reminded we can make a difference helps change the way we think about things. So as you read, please know I’ve been torn about racism, unsure of where to begin.
In many ways I identified more fully with white folks all my life, having been immersed in the culture of privilege literally from preschool through college. White folks are my people. Not in a put-on, confused awkward way but because we happened to be around and like each other. Simple. As it should be. Undeniably, the color of my skin and environment I and my family live and work within (impoverished, neglected area of Watts in LA) means I identify with black people, ultimately self-identifying as black.
My grandma was a white woman who married a black man from Mississippi (rest their souls). They married in Tijuana because interracial marriage was illegal in the US. I’m getting married in October and all my mother keeps saying is “Chocolate babies.” Don’t ask.
My fiancé is a beautiful man with symmetrical, classically handsome features and an even, glowing skin tone the color of rich, warm wood. Mine is golden pale if I keep a good tan. And yes, my white girlfriends routinely out-tan me. Annoying.
Anyway, chocolate babies.
I love babies and love. Love, love! I used to think I was naive, or crazy for being so happy all the time. But then I learned my joy came from the everlasting truth that God is good, all-powerful, all-creation, all Creator. So especially when it didn’t make sense, the choice of joy was an act of power.
Kinda like when you see an adorable baby and your mood changes for no apparent reason. Being a deeply spiritual person has come to mean I label a lot less. Truth is, we’re all conservative in some ways and liberal in others. Narrow-minded in some ways and open-minded in others.
Case in point, I remember the supremely awkward moment where I had to defend my white friendships to my black schoolmates. I’d been going to school with some of my white classmates for over a decade at that point, and a group of mostly newly-enrolled black kids asked me why I hung out with them? Implicit in the ask was why I didn’t hang out with my black classmates more. Again, my answer was simple. We know and like each other, and are friends.
I thought to myself, “I can get to know you guys, but we’re not starting off on the best foot, honestly.” It was not lost on me that the social effects of racism are very much learned.
How unexpected that my fiancé would have the exact same experience… In New York? He went to privileged, mostly white private schools so together we move seamlessly through just about any social setting.
I’m sure we’ll have boys, maybe girls too. I’m sure our boys will carry the quiet dignity their father lives in, that scares me sometimes because I’ve learned to shuck and jive a little too well… Despite my best efforts.
I’m sure they’ll face the same heart-breaking fear from strangers who respond to my son’s blackness as though he were pointing a loaded gun at them. I’m sure they will share their father’s grace and wisdom, trying to crack jokes, to soothe, to say or do anything to dissipate the fear caused by that invisible gun.
And I’m sure that over the years, as they grow up surrounded by rich white kids as their parents did, they will learn the balancing act: Learn, master, befriend but always, always manage your expectations. Always remember the spotlight is on you, and if you have the strength wield it without sacrificing authenticity, use that to your advantage.
I pray they will be voices of truth and power.
And I pray we will be fearless enough to let them live freely.
Because the sad pattern of history says that if you fight for racial equality, and fight against poverty you get killed.
If you fight for freedom you get beaten and put in prison. If you are perceived as a threat to a civilian or an officer of the peace, you may just get killed. The trouble with that is, I know how people look at black men and women: Like we are holding a loaded weapon pointed at them.
It does not matter who that black man or woman truly is or what the context of their interaction with others has been. The same country that believed black people were not fully human has born a bitter, rotten fruit of racism.
It is heartbreaking to see that look in another person’s eyes. It is murderous to take action to shoot or senselessly beat someone because you feel threatened by their skin and what it represents. And if my outrage at the truth of that injustice is left to fester in my heart, and burn my mouth as I make a two minute public comment… To singe my fingers as I cast a vote, to stain my cheeks as I cry silent tears of futile rage… At some point I might just destroy something.
To release the insides, to shatter the sickeningly perfect reflection of lies people tell to cover up the truth:
Too many Americans prefer slavery because they could legally treat black people like animals.
The Ku Klux Klan was formed after slavery was abolished and full of judges, law enforcement officials and elected officials who wanted to enforce their own law in their own way. Blacks and women were not allowed to enforce the law. The Ku Klux Klan is currently raising money to reward the police officer who killed Michael Brown.
Is it any wonder then, that when a white police officer takes the life of a black civilian it causes outrage? We can blindly ignore history as much as we want to, but we can’t close our eyes to it and condemn those who act with it in mind. Law enforcement is one of the pillars of structural racism in America and when it bursts into flames of rage we can’t talk in code about what went wrong.
I don’t know what I would do if my child were murdered at the hands of the police, or if my mother were savagely beaten in the head by a uniformed officer. When I try to consider it the ache of paralyzing loss grips me. I’m a black woman living in Watts, and went to private schools in the most privileged areas of the country with (mostly) white people all my life.
When the 1992 revolt happened here in response to another injustice related to law enforcement/civilian brutality with the Rodney King case acquittals, I stayed home from school. My friends, with no real idea of what was going on asked if I needed a place to stay, if my family was alright. My friends. My family’s friends.
We truly loved and cared about each other, and it wasn’t about anything other than choosing to get to know each other, bond, and become friends. They didn’t pretend I wasn’t black, nor I that they weren’t and we formed deep and lasting relationships that changed our lives forever.
Would that have happened if I and my family weren’t able to travel 20 miles to get there every day and for social events, plays, concerts, and games? Would that have happened if they treated me like a criminal all the time, or made bigoted comments? Of course not.
We came together regularly, and were ourselves with one another. We decided who we did and didn’t like just healthy people should, based on personality and integrity not race or class. Had we not come together, how else would we have befriended each other? How else would we have learned about and accepted each other?
It wasn’t their fault their community was pretty much entirely white, just as it wasn’t my fault my community was pretty much entirely black. But had we rejected each other on sight, or ever refused to enter or learn each other’s worlds that would have been our fault. We cared for each other.
More than anything right now, I miss that care and concern. It is far too easy to judge, dismiss and avoid war when it rages at home or abroad. Once we open our minds and hearts to consider we should care, that paralyzing ache grips and we freeze. And usually run back to comfort.
Who wants to be crying all the time? Crying drives me crazy, and I am such a crybaby. My sinuses act up and I’m decommissioned for weeks. So inappropriate.
We don’t have to do anything to perpetuate racism, but we do have to be active to change bits of it, and ultimately dismantle the beast. One of the other pillars of structural racism is segregation.
Segregation doesn’t show up in the old signs of the Jim Crow era of No Dogs, No Blacks, No Mexicans. It shows up in the denial of loan applications for homes. The exclusivity of country clubs where professional connections are made and deals brokered. It shows up in disparities of the quality of education, infrastructure, and investment.
Segregation shows up when we feel inexplicably more comfortable in environments that inexplicably represent only one color of skin.
Yes, the incidents of late are happening all over the country, and mostly in impoverished areas that unfortunately have very little draw for folks other than those who live there. I’m not suggesting you should have gone on a poverty tour (though my grandpa did take my father and his colleagues on one a few decades back-enlightening).
But you can fight segregation by simply stopping by online to read unbiased news reports, to see what’s happening for yourself from the privacy and comfort of your home or office. By allowing yourself to care.
You’re no bigot and certainly not some racist KKK member- Ugh. But if what you’ve been thinking about Ferguson sounds anything like this, maybe you should learn a little more about what’s going on: “We know that Michael Brown was nothing more than a punk. The media and others are painting him out to be a ‘good son’ and ‘great kid.’ The blacks of Missouri are showing their love of him by rioting, attacking and shooting people. Nothing new.” (Full article.)
Just about every problem we will ever face is a problem of apathy. Not enough caring, and not enough doing. What will it cost you to care? To express concern? You don’t have to be a celebrity or a politician to express a human emotion of concern for something wrong. And I guarantee you, in the wave of events surrounding each of these exchanges there was wrong committed. It isn’t hypocritical to care or to say so.
It’s as easy as a single word, photo, or symbol nowadays that you can post online. Be brave enough to learn, to care, and show it in whatever way you can. Maybe it’s a one word post (hashtags annoy me too) #WeCare or #Ferguson. Or maybe it’s sharing an objective, analytical and well-written article. Just don’t be silent.
Look, just from this post you can get informed and do your part to make this issue visible, so it can’t be avoided or swept under the rug. At some point, when it is clear this isn’t a divisive issue but a unifying cause, a solution that works for all, not just some who are most angry and vocal, can be brought forward.
Please do your part.
An abbreviated list of unarmed black people of all ages, male and female who have nearly all been killed by uniformed officers.
- Mike Brown
- Eric Garner
- Jonathan Ferrell
- Oscar Grant
- Marlene Pinnock
- Kimani Gray
- Ervin Jefferson
- Kendrec McDade
- Timothy Russell
- Ramarley Graham
- Amadou Diallo
- Patrick Dorismund
- Ousmane Zongo
- Timothy Stansbury
- Sean Bell
- Orlando Barlow
- Aaron Campbell
- Victor Steen
- Steven Eugene Washington
- Alonzo Ashley
- Wendell Allen
- Ronald Madison
- James Brissette
- Travares McGill
- Tarika Wilson
- Aiyana Jones
- Miriam Carey
- Shereese Francis
- Renisha McBride
- Shantel Davis
- Sharmel Edwards
- Rekia Boyd
- Tyisha Miller
- Yvette Smith
When it hurts, burns, aches and you know that if you cry out no one will hear you… At least not anyone who will stop the burning ache of pain, it just seems like curling into a ball of tears in the corner of an unlit room is the only thing that will grant release. But then you realize the burning is the fire of a lion’s roar demanding to be sounded, like thunder cracking skies.