Racism is the pink elephant in the room, that everyone vehemently ignores. We know it exists but we don’t challenge non-minorities to have real intellectual discussions about it. Prejudice is so embedded in the fabric of this country, that talking about it hardly seems useful.
A discussion in today’s America, happens only to humor us black folk. A formal response isn’t likely to curb racism. People will still roam the public with their prejudices and discrimination will result.
Imagine playing outside your home in the neighborhood you live in as a 7 year old. A non-minority neighbor screams something from his mailbox and throws rocks, trying to hit your head while you stand at your mailbox a couple yards away. He keeps yelling and throwing while all the other non-minority kids stand behind him until you retreat back into your house.
Imagine you are walking into a store with your very small child. From the second you walk in, the sales woman greets you and immediately asks you if you need a shopping bag. Then instead of letting you shop, she comes from behind the counter to follow you from rack to rack, literally standing within 5 feet of you the entire time. She indiscriminately shuffles through neat racks and refolds clothes until she cashes you out.
Imagine walking into a job interview to greet the interviewer whose face immediately shifts in disgust as she turns the corner and sees you. She follows up after the handshake, “Oh, you’re so and so?” The interview is short and cold. You leave with a strong inclination that you won’t get a call back.
Imagine standing in a long line behind a non-minoritiy woman to have her turn to see you and immediately move her purse to a more protected position.
Imagine coming out of your job in uniform and a customer who just saw you in the store is sitting in their car with their engine off. You make eye contact while walking by the car and you can hear the doors lock.
Imagine having a jovial conversation with a non-minority coworker outside of your store while she smokes a cigarette. A person comes outside, looks at her and asks her if she’s okay and needs help. Your coworker waves them off and they drive away.
Imagine standing at a bar waiting for a friend and while waiting for your drink, a disorderly person comes up to you and says, “We don’t want blacks here!”
These are some examples of things I’ve experienced over the last thirty years of my life. They may sound trivial and they very well could have been, if they weren’t a constant occurrence. I cannot tell you how many times I have walked away from the smallest situations feeling demoralized and less than. These microaggressions try to take a piece of my dignity every time.
I’m okay with someone getting to know me, and then deciding I am not their cup of tea. What I’m not okay with, is someone seeing me and instantly changing how they would treat me if I looked like someone else.
In those instances, I just want to ask, “Why? Why did you do that?” I genuinely want to hear an answer that’s articulated without a barrage of talking points. When it comes to racism, people rationalize their behavior by talking about black on black crime and throwing around the words: looters, thugs and lazy.
Visceral displays of hatred should, at the very least, come from trauma. It’s unfathomable that racism could be so prevalent in society and most people have no real reason for their prejudice. I understand that it’s hard to just abandon your belief system if it’s all you know.
I could almost accept someone being harmed by a black person as a valid excuse for bias because it’s hard to argue with a tangible experience. But in many cases we aren’t even afforded that luxury. Beliefs can easily be formed by the media and the rhetoric of people around you.
The running joke is “I have a black friend/cousin/brother-in-law” as a mediator for crude jokes or comments. The gag is, it’s never an indicator of someone’s actual experience with a black person. This proverbial foot in mouth phrase can’t save you from transparency. The truth of the matter is most people, if not all, will have trouble identifying a specific reason that justifies their own prejudice because it isn’t real.
Race is a social construct—it’s arbitrary. Imagine telling someone you don’t like them because of the way UV rays hit their ancestors skin. Targeting someone on the basis of color along with sweeping generalizations is archaic and immature. Until we start challenging people as a collective to identify and explain the root of their racism, it will continue.
The next time you feel the urge to degrade or hurt a black person or any person of color, stop, and ask yourself—why am I doing this? Make it make sense because right now, racism in 2020 doesn’t.