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Thursday, December 8, 2016

The step towards eradicating racism is...


As our nation moves into an era of uncharted waters and much uncertainty, I am reminded of a conversation that I had recently with my pharmacist.  She is an endearing person with a wonderful personality.  Our exchanges have always been full of laughter with the occasional serious overtone.  It has always been that way.

On one of my last visits, I shared with her my hesitancy to interact with white people the way that I used to. I find myself second guessing the person's intent, something that I never gave much thought to in all the years that I have been alive.  I knew that there would always be a demographic of white people that would look at me and see my skin color and nothing more.  I knew that they existed and in their existence, judged me, regardless of whether their assumptions were fair or unfair.  Every person of color has experienced this at one time or another...and yet, it never stopped me from interacting with them in the assumption that you will treat me fairly and with the dignity in which I carry myself.

And yet, I am always surprised when people don't see me for who I am.  They don't see the man that has aspirations of contributing something positive to the world...that I am a hardworking individual who wants to earn his way as opposed to being given a free handout.  Most of us don't want that.  But that doesn't stop people from thinking incorrectly that we do.

As I navigated social and professional circles throughout my life, I found myself being judged, at times before I even opened my mouth.  I was judged by both black and white people alike.  As a young man, I was judged by blacks as being not black enough.  I spoke and acted too "white."  And I realized that I simply didn't speak enough slang and didn't blend in enough with black culture because of the way I dressed.  As I grew older still, I realized that I didn't fit in with white people for the very same reasons; I didn't adhere to the stereotype that they held of me.  Because I had a decent command of the English language, that meant that I was uppity and that I thought more of myself than I should.

In both cases, both demographics made me feel like I was doing something wrong when in reality, all I was doing was being me...being the man that God had intended me to be.  I realized that this was the crux of the problem with most of us.  Some white people just don't see black people.  Some never will because in order to do so would be to admit that we are capable of feeling, loving, learning and yes, providing for our children.  Even worse, it would force them to admit that black people are deserving of the same rights and privileges that they enjoy and take for granted everyday.

In order for us to have a candid conversation about race in this country, you first have to admit that there is a certain level of perception that needs to be removed.  You cannot paint an entire race of people with the broad paint brush of preconceived notions based on the actions of a small portion of that same group.  All blacks are not poor and ill-mannered just like all whites are not wealthy and racist.

The problem comes when you meet people that adhere to that stereotype.  And that brings me to my initial point.  I second guess my interactions with white people now.  I don't know who adheres to the ideology of white supremacy especially in light of our current political climate.  And yet, there are times when some white people have reached out to me as opposed to looking through me.  A simple one minute exchange is initiated as if to say "I don't am not part of the crazy rhetoric that has torn this country apart."

We can all take the first step of ending a chapter in American history that is marred and tainted with the blood of innocent people.  It begins with the eradication of self entitlement.  Admittedly, it will be harder for some people do than others, for if you have never been disenfranchised, how can you expect to have empathy for those that are?

We know that the enemy comes in all shapes, sizes and colors.  Recently, I saw a picture of what appeared to be four college coeds wearing white tee shirts that  had a word emblazoned upon the chest.  When they stood side by side, the words spelled out the sentence "Make America White Again."  Regardless of whether this is a hoax or not, the sentiment resonates across this country.  There are many white people that believe in "white entitlement."  There are also many people that don't.  The challenge is, how can you tell them apart since they all come enshrouded in white skin?  Do you interact anyway or do you stand by and let them make the first move?  Or even more importantly, do you lend validity to their particular stance at all and keep it moving?

There is no easy answer to this.  You cannot deny that we are a nation built upon the backs of immigrants.  We are multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, so the idea of one race presiding over all of the other races that helped forge this country is absurd.  But like it or not, people will believe what they want to believe without lending much thought to the amount of truth that those beliefs entail.

I guess the words of the day are "See Me."  See past what you think I am and take the time to learn who I am.  See Me.  Learn that who I am and want to be will not in any way be detrimental to you.  This is easier said that done...because at the very root of racism, no one really wants to see the other.  It's easier to live in fear and ignorance.

It's harder to do when black men are dying in the streets at the hands of very people that have taken an oath to protect and to serve.  It hard to do when you are regarded with suspicion in some stores that you patronize.  It is hard to do when you are passed over for a well deserved promotion and instead, it is given to someone whose credentials happens to include being white.

So what do you do?

J.L. Whitehead