This last year and certainly in the past several months I’ve been so acutely aware of my blackness and how that affects people who aren’t black. Most of the things that I’ve experienced have come from people you wouldn’t consider racist, like at all. Their racism and/or ignorance has manifested itself in micro aggressive behavior, micro attacks at black culture and vernacular, to even presenting itself in antiquated off-color remarks about Asian persons followed by nervous laughter. I’ve had my hair touched several times in the past few months without ever asking permission, to hearing someone refer to a predominantly black neighborhood as the ‘hood’ then quickly correcting themselves. I’ve even had a group of people summon an elevator, then decide to catch the next one after realizing that they would be getting on with me. I hear and feel this tokenism and microagressive behavior in areas where I am the only, and by persons who would otherwise call themselves allies and whom are also firmly aware of the politics surrounding black life but less so of the nuances of it and how they continue to perpetuate it. I’ve been spoken over, unheard, silenced, and have been told that I am intimidating or unapproachable when really it is illegal to say that ‘your blackness makes me uncomfortable’. It can be exhausting having to code switch in order to navigate predominantly white spaces while trying to remain genuinely yourself but being the most diluted, not too black but black enough for diversity’s sake, most palatable version of you so that your blackness can go down easy without offending someone.
My experience in this world on a global, economic, and personal scale, is a direct result of explicit and systemic racism also manifesting itself in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) implicit biases, often also displayed by persons in position of power. These racial biases not only affect me, but many people of color whether it be at school, the workplace, or in daily life experiences. It doesn’t matter what we do, how well we work, how kind we are, or how much money we may have, race will always factor into our experience. I will always be black and though I am fully aware of that and take pride in being black, I often feel this burden of having to prove myself and work ten times as hard to earn a space at the table. Although the work that I do and my credentials say that I have earned the right to be there. When you are black, you know when something is racial. You feel it in the stares, in how people patronize you when you’re in a particular space or if you hold a certain title, to how you are spoken to, spoken over, and often misunderstood. Which is why it can be exhausting to be black in this country, because no matter what you do to prove your worth, no matter how well mannered you are, it will never be enough. It is especially difficult having to have these conversations with children on how these racial disparities and transgressions operate and why they may be treated a certain way. It is also that much more difficult to hear from a seven year old their story and how they’ve already experienced it from other children their age.
“Being nice will not end or interrupt racism. Niceness is not antiracism.“
It is quite possible to be proximal to black people or people of color and also be fond of them and still hold racist ideologies and uphold its hierarchy. Racists can tolerate being around people of color. You cannot talk about any other issue without having to talk about how race informs that. By not focusing on race and how it shapes things, you actively are choosing to ignore the realities of race and how it affects people of color. While also protecting the racial hierarchy where white is still at the very top. Moreover, by silencing the voices that are shedding light on their experiences and keeping quiet on the politics of race and how it functions, you essentially are choosing to keep it alive and thriving. Your silence and inability to see how race shapes everything is your complicity in the continued oppression of so many groups of people. None of us are exempt from the forces of racism. Therefore we all must do the work. We cannot dismantle the systems of racism that in which they operate, without first being introspective in how we may serve as a cog in this seemingly ever functioning system.
Racism does not only operate individually, intentionally, or consciously, though given the definition. In fact it can operate systemically, unintentionally, and unconsciously. Racial biases continue to operate because it isn’t identified when it is happening. When it is, the person identifying the behavior has no leverage and is often the person who is being affected by it, and that person later is ousted for speaking up. Moreover, the person who continues to perpetuate these racist ideologies never sees the way they behave as racist. You know the type, ‘I have a black friend’ or ‘We take pride in diversity’, etc, etc. You can fully be active and cognizant of all of the history and politics, but also fail to recognize it in yourself.
It cannot be up to people of color to constantly call out and identify racist behaviors, but for our ‘allies’ to be introspective and vigilant in identifying and working against further perpetuating it. Even if that means that they must do their own self work to ensure that they aren’t a part of this issue. It’s not being sensitive when you call out offensive behaviors and structures, it’s being aware of the racial realities and bringing truth to power. It is not solely the job of people of color to fix a system that we didn’t break nor create. It is up to those who unconsciously and consciously uphold these systems to do the work to dismantle it from the inside because far too often the people who are doing the ground work don’t have the advantage nor privilege to be in these spaces.
Lastly, if you know you have been racially insensitive or biased don’t for a second think that person or people you hurt owe you kindness after hurting them, especially without ever taking ownership or offering a sincere apology in the form of changed behavior. They don’t owe you anything. Being nice will not end or interrupt racism. Niceness is not antiracism. Take ownership, be accountable when you are called out, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable and do the work to identify how it manifests on each a personal, global, and systemic scale, and work to actively dismantle all forms of it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and as always,
Peace, Love, and Light!