It is so incredibly easy for someone who has no experience with a thing to assume the worst of it, to read the worst into it, to refuse to examine it with an open mind, and to tell people to "get over it."
I assure you that if you overheard the worst thirty seconds of an all-female support group for victims of rape, you'd think those women were militant lesbian man-haters. And then, when I told you that it was a support group for victims of rape, you'd say, "Oh. Well, I can understand that, then. No wonder they're so angry."
I assure you that if you overheard the worst thirty seconds of a support group for Veterans who have no health benefits and no social support, you'd think those folks were rabid anti-American commie-lovers. And then, when I told you that it was a support group for war Vets who were abandoned by the country they protected with their very lives, you'd say, "Oh. Well, I can understand that, then. No wonder they're so angry."
But when it comes to blacks, there is no sympathy. And why should there be? The general consensus seems to be that racism no longer exists, and that blacks are just paranoid or using racism as an excuse. That blacks want to be enabled. That blacks blame the entire world for their problems.
Meanwhile, you have me, a black female who has worked hard for every penny she's earned. Who has spent her entire life imagining that she was above and beyond racial prejudices, has a white boyfriend, a mixed daughter, and was considered an "oreo" by family and community both.
You have someone like me--a black female who was convinced that racism did not exist, and resented her own race for clinging to the ghosts of racism in a world where it no longer exists.
You have me, who went camping in a rural part of Pennsylvania with her daughter within the last couple of years and, while picking up supplies at a convenience store, was called a 'black whore' by four white boys driving by--a woman who, by the way, dresses more modestly than most, and was not behaving nor dressed at all whorishly.
You have me, a black woman who was frozen on the street as she overheard a white man at an outside lunch table saying loudly, "Barack Obama is a tar-baby. He's a fucking tar-baby!” And who was brought nearly to tears by the fact that the other white people at nearby tables were the ones who shouted the man down, who told him to have a little respect. And who then had to figure out how to best walk away from the whole thing with dignity, because even though I was warmed that they’d defended me, there is a certain of humiliation that is difficult to explain. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone immediately looked at me, which immediately linked me to the incident, and somehow made it feel far more personal than it actually was.
You have me, a lingua-loving black woman who was outraged at the fact that a school-teacher can be fired for teaching her students how to use the word, but has come across websites devoted entirely to discussing how the country would be much better off without blacks, using such language as "niggers," "coons" and "apes." I honestly did not believe that people still said these things who weren’t specifically in the KKK (and to be honest, I thought the KKK was, by and large, dying off. I am still of the belief--the hope, rather--that it exists only in the South, far far away from where it can affect me and my family.)
I fully admit it--I have been one naïve idiot.
The first boy I kissed was a white boy named Donald. I'll never forget it. I was 6, and I was teased and criticized by family and neighbors alike for it, and I couldn’t understand why. I mean, I was a kid, but I did understand that I was supposedly to hold our differences in skin color against him. I just didn’t want to. I declared that I would be “color-blind," and when my enthusiasm seemed to draw a strange sort of sadness from my mother, I just chalked it up in my head that she was intolerant and unenlightened.
I truly believed that the world outside of where I lived--near druggies, gangs, food stamps, and bars that opened up in the morning and filled soon after with jobless blacks--was as color-blind as I’d decided to be. I can remember with clarity how strongly I felt and how strongly I believed. I had to believe. Because believing otherwise would be to believe that my life was destined to be one of welfare, trash-strewn streets, crack-addicts who were so stupid they’d break into your house, put your television in their living-room, and invite you over for dinner. You may have heard that one as a joke that someone like Chris Rock tells. Meanwhile, I knew it as something that happened to someone who lived down the street from me.
But it was at a much more mature age that I realized that racism still exists. It exists less for a woman like me, who lives in a liberal city, and who has been blessed to know people of every race who try very hard to be beyond color, and are comfortable enough to crack jokes about the stereotypes, or discuss racial and cultural differences with a thoughtfulness that has always left me feeling like there is hope for this country.
But there is something wrong when a woman like me--a woman who has devoted her life to transcending the strictures of race--can't go to a rock concert without receiving stares that range from curious to inexplicably angry. Something wrong when I am asked, “Why are you even here?” by a girl who, along with her friends, seemed to have decided that I shouldn’t be at the concert--much less in the front row--even though like every other good little rock fan, I arrived early and waited in line.
There is something wrong when a black female who is highly educated, polite, socially conscious, and--well--nice, can still experience hateful speech based on the color of her skin. Has to endure a cab ride where the taxi-driver apologizes ahead of time for being suspicious, but he's realized he “can't trust blacks” when they say they're just going to "run inside for a moment and will be right back" and so requests that I pay in full, even though I need a round trip. A part of me logically felt like I couldn’t hold it against him. A part of me curled up in misery that I was being told by a perfect stranger that he didn’t trust me to behave honestly because I was black. And what’s worse is that I could react in outrage--which would make me seem overly sensitive or something--or I could swallow my pride, accept the insult, and try to be “understanding.” Either way, I am left feeling like something you’d find stuck to the underside of a desk.
Since this campaign began, I have witnessed words and thoughts that have driven home that no matter how nice I am, no matter how much I give to charity, no matter how hard I try to be a good mother, no matter how hard I strive to be better than the culture into which I was born--no matter what, there will be people who first and foremost will see me as black. They will make assumptions about me, many of them not good. They will be suspicious, even if they apologize for it ahead of time.
And I’ve realized that many of you don’t give a damn. That’s okay. You don’t have to. It’s so easy to discount the pain of others if you haven’t experienced it yourself, so easy to say "get over it" or "suck it up." It’s so easy to say life isn’t fair, to concern yourself with your own problems, to chalk these words up to whining. I’ll fully admit that I’m not above whining, and my boyfriend--and my therapist--can verify that!
It’s okay if you personally don't give a damn, but I do. This is my life. And I am so tired of being told, "You know, you sound white when you talk on the phone!" by people who expect me to be pleased by it, who obviously mean it as a compliment, but don't realize the insult at the very heart of such a statement. What do I even say to that? “Oh, uh, heh heh, heh, well, yeah, people tell me that all the time.” What can I say, without coming off as being “paranoid” or “playing the race card”?
I am so tired of people who compliment my mixed daughter by saying, “She is so lucky she got her father’s hair.” How is that even right to say? What can I even say to that when, by this point, I’m starting to believe the same thing?
I have spent most of my life disenchanted with my own race, doing everything I could to distance myself from everything that seemed "too black" to me. I became a goth. I drove down urban streets blasting Bush--the band, not the President--and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I straightened my hair and dyed it colors and did everything I could think of to assert to the world--look! I am not Like The Other Blacks. And being intelligent, I realize that to some of my friends, this did in fact make me far more palatable.
But I’ve grown up. And it’s finally been driven home.
I'm black. I've never felt so black as I have lately. And while you'd imagine that I'd be overjoyed at finally reconciling the many many personal issues I have about who I am, where I come from, and the color of my skin, I am not. I have white friends who can trace their heritage all the way back to another country--one friend who claims, and quite possibly is, related to an English monarch.
But uh, what do I have to be proud of? Where have I come from? If I tried really hard, I’d probably be able to trace my heritage back to someone who couldn’t sit at the front of a bus and were expected upon pain of possible death to not make eye contact with whites. Between me and you, I’d rather have the English monarch as an ancestor.
I'm not a crier, but I have cried more about this lately than I ever have. I haven’t gone camping since that day, years ago. And I find myself looking at white strangers and wondering if, when they look at me, they assume that I am poor. If, when I wear my hair in braids or some other typical black style, they assume that when I open my mouth, I’ll speak in Ebonics.
Maybe I am a little paranoid now. Maybe when I walked up to the counter at a grocery store today, and two white men who were discussing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went silent with such comedic obviousness that even the store clerk--a white male--rolled his eyes, maybe I just imagined that. Maybe I am somehow trying to “enable myself”--to do what, I have no idea, as I am already successful, educated and middle class (at great odds, I am learning.)
Or maybe I am faced with the unfortunate reality that no only do I have to deal with a lingering stigma of being female--being weaker, being more sensitive, being more gullible--I also have to deal with a lingering stigma of being black.
And you know, I think if a self-professed "oreo" has experienced that kind of thing, then those blacks who have long since embraced their culture getting it even worse. I hear too many things that I used to doubt and that I used to chalk up as exaggeration, and I see the truth in them now. Even worse, I see too many people dismissing these things as mere paranoia. Okay. Now I’ve experienced it, and I am being told that it never happened? That shows me that Something Is Wrong.
When even Condoleeza Rice (so graciously dubbed "Congo-leeza" on several sites I have visited) speaks about the horrible and, yes, terrifying instances of racism that she and her family have endured, I know that Something Is Wrong. That woman is more mainstream white-bread “oreo” than me, and her family was well-off in a way that’s hard to mistake as ‘typical ghetto trash.’
I am the atheist child of a Jehovah's Witness, who has always scorned the loud, prophetic preachers of your typical black church. I never really got why they seemed to hold on to this concept that I thought was outdated, or why they were so loud. My father died when I was a child, and I was so terrified by the Baptist ceremony I witnessed that I haven't been to a funeral since. I have held no love for that style of preaching (or religion in general, for that matter, but that is another story).
But within the past few weeks, I have come to understand. I have come to appreciate that the hurt I have experienced can be considered nothing when compared to what some many if not most blacks experience on a day-to-day basis. Decent blacks, hard-working blacks, blacks who haven't been enabled since they took their first steps as children. Blacks who are still being judged by the color of their skin, who are still being told in subtle ways that being black is something to be ashamed of, something to try to avoid somehow, something to try to "offset" by adapting more mannerisms that tend to be considered "white." Blacks who haven’t had the opportunities I’ve had, fortunately opportunities that have led directly to the success I have made of myself today.
And what I have realized is that those thirty seconds of Rev. Wright's speech--a man that I can't pretend to understand, leading a church that I have shunned my entire life--are like thirty seconds from a support group for people whose entire lives, each and every day are defined by something they can't change, and shouldn't have to change. For people whose entire lives consist of generation after generation of the same self-destructive behaviors, being passed down from mother to daughter and father to son, like a disease--behaviors which have come to define an entire race.
Lately, I have found myself clinging to white friends--so I can remember and continue to believe that despite the actions of a few jerks and assholes, this country really has come this far. I feel an inexplicable relief and joy when some random white stranger interacts with me in a manner that reaffirms my belief that not all whites are racist, and that not all whites are looking at me and seeing something negative. I have heard and read about whites who--after Barack Obama’s speech on race--wondered if their black friends were all secretly two-faced. I am floored that we can have such similar emotions, and still be completely unwilling to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
But I also find myself glancing back to where I came from, and the people and the culture I left behind, and realizing how unfair I've been, and how I have been deluding myself. I half feel like I owe the black community an apology. Like I should call my mother up today and apologize to her for the scorn I felt for her, not at all considering the fact that she was alive when blacks weren’t allowed to drink at the same water fountain as whites, when they were treated as if they all had some kind of disease, when they were treated like a pile of fresh crap that someone had just stepped in.
I think instead I'll just try standing up for Trinity Church--for the black church--for blacks in general, for a change. I think I'll try being a little less ashamed of who I am and where I came from, for a change. I think that when I hear people talk about that church, I am going to defend it with every breath I have, because I finally get it. These people need church, and they need a church that speaks to them not in the quiet, polite way that many churches have, but in the way their lives actually are.
They need to believe that God will not only vindicate them, but that He--being a good god--can’t possibly love people who treat them poorly so well as he loves them, because that’d just be damned unfair. I am not religious, and my “black card” got revoked a long time ago, but I finally get it, and I can’t stand idly by while people demonize the existence of a church that exists to provide community, mental, and emotional support for people who spend every day of their lives being told in subtle and not so subtle ways that they aren’t fit to live. I have only felt this, on and off, within the past couple of years, and it has affected me in ways that I think no one who hasn’t experienced it will ever actually understand.
But I won’t stop believing in that this country can get better, that people can step outside of their comfort zones and face reality, and that people can embrace and acknowledge people and cultures that seem foreign and perhaps even scary to them.
I won’t stop believing that one day, things will be so sweet that we can ALL “get over it," because I’d really just love it if I could walk down the street with my white boyfriend and not catch grief from whites and blacks alike. I’d really just love it if my mixed daughter could attend just one school, somewhere, where there isn’t some jackass kid calling her a “white girl” as an insult, a “black girl” as an insult, or a “Chinese girl” as an insult (her dad was Japanese). I think things are bad for me, and then I realize that my daughter is going to be catching it from every angle. Fortunately for her, she’s gorgeous, and society seems to value that in a way that transcends race.
But I realize we are not going to get there, if no one is willing to talk across the races and realize that everyone’s angry and frustrated and that their reasons for being so are just as valid as anyone else’s. As long as there are white people who dismissively tell blacks to “get over it," and as long as there are black people who refuse to even try to “get past it," we won’t be getting anywhere at all.
Misty S. Boyer
Apr 23 2008 - 6:50pm