Every day it seems like racism is in the news, or is it? Whether it’s someone wearing the wrong clothes, or the wrong hair, or dressing in a “disrespectful” way, we’re all walking on eggshells.
You would think the way the media goes that we were on the verge of some massive race war with white people cowering every time they see a black man and screaming for police. Just stop it America, you’re hurting my head.
To Label and Self Identify
There is no country in the world where #racism in some form doesn’t exist. We are conditioned from birth by our cultures to label ourselves – black, white, woman, man, tall, fat, boy, girl, brown……these tags are part of what identifies us and while self identity is important the problem with white culture in America right now is that it has lost the understanding that having a culture behind the word “white”, a cultural history if you will, is something that has been denied to many black Americans. Ask a white person what they are and you’ll inevitably hear something more – German, Irish, Swedish, Scottish etc. following after the word white. The reason for this is that they can look back in their family tree, if they so choose, and search through the history records to find just when their great great great stepped foot on the continent and where they came from. They have a cultural identity that comes with that. They may dress up in a kilt once a year and wave green beer to celebrate, they may get flags tattooed proudly on their arms. The key fact is – they know what labels they have.
Imagine then, if part of that history was wiped clean. No way to trace who came from where, or even when. On top of that there was a whitewash (not the best of words but it is appropriate) of any culture that made your ancestors anything but “American”. Who would you be? The answer is simple – you would still be white because that would be one of the few labels left that you could “own”. This is exactly how many black people feel, and while there will be bad apples in any bunch (KKK anyone?) groups screaming Wakanda forever at the movies and reveling in a cultural connection with others that is uniquely connected to skin tone is something that many black people have never had. It is a feeling of belonging, of owning a culture that they can label which hasn’t existed in over a century – not just being a black person but being a black American with a unique culture. A great book being published soon called I am the Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen is a great example of how hard many of their ancestors struggled to hang on to that shred of family history that gave them the information about who they are and who their people came from.
The Scary Stranger
Herein lies the problem: we’re threatened by that. There’s something powerful to watch a group of people, any group of people, connecting with each other. It’s even scarier to be on the outside of that. Imagine any situation where minorities have been threatened because they are outsiders – they will tell you they were scared. It’s pretty obvious that any person who has issues with someone else’s pride, happiness or joy in their own culture is either threatened or jealous. Maybe we’re both. The unknown is scary, it’s just survival instinct to want to be part of what’s going on, especially when it’s powerful. Just like that kid at school – it hurts to be left out. To be singled out like we don’t belong. And we don’t like it. Imagine then, that that’s exactly how many black people have felt. You are literally scared of the exact same thing and rather than having the courage to educate yourself not to be scared you’re puffing up like a cat to be “scarier” back and hoping it goes away. It’s not going to go away.
As someone in a mixed family, I have always been jokingly called “the token white girl” because, genetically at least, I am the white elephant in the room. I’ll admit I’m jealous. I’m jealous of the beautiful “natural” hairstyles, I’m jealous of a culture that has such loud exclamations of emotion and joy, I’m jealous of how many skin tones and how encompassing black culture has become. Why do I not consider myself to be racist then? Because it’s okay to just be jealous, it’s okay to envy someone a little because they’ve got better hair than you, it’s okay to be jealous because your culture has brought you up to sit down, shut up, and be “proper” instead because no one will want to marry you otherwise and that’s where your value lies (but that’s a whole different kettle of worms). Am I threatened by that? Hell, no. Is it a threat to me that someone else has a different culture and that they are proud of it? No. Does it make my culture any less valid? No. Am I scared because those cultural differences exist? Definitely no.
Cultural differences are often used as an excuse when “bad things happen”. That inherently racist statement that because we have different cultures we can’t have mutual respect is, frankly, bullshit. A recently news story of the guys from Starbucks settling out of court brought the fact that white people are scared for no damn good reason screaming into the media spotlight once again. Two guys, arrested in a public place in broad daylight for nothing worse than having too much melanin in their skin tone. There were so many ways that society failed them at that point, and the fact that the story has been quickly swept under the rug is almost as bad as if it hadn’t happened. How quickly we forget any lessons lest they turn out to be too “scary”. Instead, we need to reach out without these lessons to stop the “stranger danger” that has come to exist, mistakenly, because we are scared about other cultures. You wouldn’t say pizza was scary, if someone said they were Italian you’d probably say that you love Italian food, – that needs to start applying to black culture too.
Everyone loves social media challenges. They give you hits, PR, they fit into your narcissistic need to be loved. I want to challenge you. I want to challenge both sides actually. Talk to a stranger, you can even start with someone you don’t know very well like a coworker. Any stranger, as long as their skin tone or culture is different than yours. I want to challenge you to find one similarity between yourselves. Maybe you both like peach ice cream, maybe you both read the same book, maybe you both hate Mondays. Find SOMETHING. The next time you’re in a coffee shop, on a train, even walking through the park and you see someone on your own I challenge you to go talk to them. You don’t have to be friends, you don’t have to talk to each other ever again. But I want you to find one thing that you share together and then I want you to ask each other honestly 1 question, without anger and without prejudice, so that you can better understand what’s going on – what can I as a black/white/asian/mexican/man/woman etc. do to make you feel less scared of me?
And then I want you to do that every time you feel threatened or scared. That’s how we fix this racist BS, we stop being scared of each other, start remembering that there’s another normal person that hates Mondays behind that stranger’s face, and start letting everyone be proud of whatever labels they can get to self identify with because no one deserves to have those stolen forever.