Such a loaded question in times like this.
It’s been a week after we, the leading nation in the world, voted a man who could give two fux about me and most of my closest confidants keys to essentially rule the world.
A week to let it sink in that I have probably unknowingly called closeted racists some of my closest friends at miscellaneous times in my life.
A week to grasp that the divisive, palpable racism I saw in history books and documentaries, those distant memories I thought were from of years or yore… those memories I thought were dead and gone… they’ve been my reality all along. I just didn’t know.
The same sentiments and elitism and privilege and hatred during the Civil Rights era never left. They were just festering, boiling and scratching underneath the cloak of political correctness. Instead of sit-ins and fire hoses, it’s been trending hashtags and viral videos showing the execution of black men who didn’t deserve to die. Instead of in your face “I can drive by the plantation slavery,” legions of minority men have vanished into privatized, for profit prisons never to be heard from again.
Last week I went to a women of color brunch where we talked about self-love and life and anything that came to mind. At one point someone spoke up that she realized a few years ago she was viewing life through a white lens. She realized she was accepting life at face value and took it upon herself to self educate on topics and people she never heard of in school. [Let’s just say there are huge Grand Canyon-esque holes in our public education.] It wasn’t until I heard it articulated in this way that it struck a nerve with me. Lately, I’ve felt myself having internal turmoil as I reflect on my past and upbringing. I was talking to a fellow Nigerian friend who also grew up in white suburbia and while we knew we were black and the “only one” in our adolescent friend groups, we never viewed ourselves or really realized that we were tokens. That maybe because no one was shaking a noose in our faces and calling us apes, we didn’t internalize or register the times people clicking at us pretending to be Nigerian or uninvitedly running their fingers through our ‘different’ hair as racism.
I’ve been aware that in recent years my white lens cracked — I just didn’t know what was happening. However, In recent days it has completely shattered. I resisted in Chapel Hill when I would hear my black guy friends tell me they were pulled over multiple times during their four years at my institution. That’s crazy. I’d think. They’re great guys and the last people I’d EVER expect to get in trouble with the law… but they must’ve been doing SOMETHING wrong to get the police’s attention. I resisted when over dinner I’d have friends who grew up in black neighborhoods tell me that going to school with clear backpacks and metal detectors is a very real reality for a lot of black youth. I was concerned with getting a 4 on my AP exam and being the anchor on my track team’s 4×1, she was concerned with hoping the internet worked each day and not catching the attention of the school’s rogue security guards. I resisted when a white friend declined coming to my birthday brunch when she realized she’d be the only white person. I begrudgingly gave her the pass that she has probably never been a minority so I guess I understood, but when I was the only one at her housewarming two weeks earlier it was just maintaining the status quo.
I’ve resisted acknowledging the realities outside of my white bubble because I knew it would cause more questions than answers. If I’m being honest, I didn’t want to focus on being woke. I’m constantly trying to figure me out in this game called life and where I fit in. I didn’t want to self educate and unearth the copious amounts of information my privileged, suburban education didn’t think was necessary. I’ve resisted for as long as possible, but the endless murders caught on tape and the election of that man and the countless conversations I’ve had with people on tangential topics related to this issue make it so I couldn’t suppress this anymore if I tried.
So I stopped.
I’ve read. I’ve Googled. I’ve watched. I’ve listened. I’ve prayed. I’ve cried. I’ve sobbed. I’ve run. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of the countless resources people have sent my way since getting on this quest for deeper knowledge.
Lately I’ve alternated running and crying. Running to train for a race and crying because my emotions have been questionably volatile lately. Sometimes I’d cry on my runs and I’d pray it just looked like I was sweating from my eyes. My well of tears has been dry lately because beyond exploring my blackness, life in general has been — interesting. I am finally surrounding myself around people I could really consider friends out here, but at the same time I haven’t felt this isolated since I was in the womb. Gauging relationships and career goals and figuring out how to pay car payments with no income and coming to terms with the fact that I spent 25 years developing a useless resume… In full disclosure one of my crying panic attacks was so severe recently I couldn’t even make it up the stairs to my room. I can laugh about it now with my closest friends, but at the time we were all concerned. Praise God I have a free shrink in training on speed dial! I say this not for you to feel sorry for me (I do not want your pity), but for those of you who are struggling with whatever personal demons you’re battling — you’re not alone. You’re not. Okay? Seriously. Got It? Good.
But back to the topic at hand.
Now that the lens has shattered, I find myself awkwardly trying to navigate the once pristine streets I used to gallivant down so freely. Whenever I cross paths with a white person, instead of the friendly head nod hoping they have a good day and going about my business, I catch myself doing the friendly head nod, but also asking myself “Are you a white devil?” in my head. This is NOT OKAY. I know this, and yet now that I’m more aware and see the statistics from the latest election, I can’t help this line of thinking.
Even as I type this while watching the local news, I can see how the media, heck everything can create a subconscious bias if you’re not aware of what you’re being fed. As a journalism major, we learned that framing is basically when the media picks and chooses what parts of a news story to highlight. It’s quite interesting once you notice this stuff. For example, in a five-minute and 49 second (yes, I timed it) minute segment of ABC 7’s reporting last night seven different stories were reported. Of the seven, four were of people essentially disturbing the peace: a man who went on a violent rampage with his car in the local grocery store parking lot after assaulting his girlfriend (1 minute, 47 seconds of coverage), a man who broke in and raped a woman in her home — which might be tied to a string of other assaults in the area (1 minute 34 seconds of coverage), a man with a viral mug shot (23 seconds of coverage) and a man who assaulted an officer in a local convenience store (37 seconds of coverage; interesting it’s not on their website, but here’s KTLA’s coverage). Let me make this plain: what everyone did was bad. Period. However, three of the four had a mug shot shown and three of the four were minorities. The segment that received the longest coverage and perpetrator who received the harshest charges (assault, assault with a deadly weapon and felony domestic violence charges) was of a 25-year-old white male whose face was never seen. I’m probably never in life going to Temecula, CA, so I don’t need to see this man’s face and know to avoid him. However, if we’re wondering where the trope of the big scary black man comes from, it’s from framing like this when minority mug shots are flashed 2-3 times in their 30 seconds of coverage, but the Caucasian male’s face is nowhere to be seen. I guess what I’m saying is if it’s worth reporting I should know what all the perpetrators look like and not just the black and brown ones.
Fifty years from now when little Lauren reads about this time period in American history what will she think? I remember thinking the Civil Rights Era was a crazy time and I’m fortunate and lucky enough to be born in this day and age when overt racism is a thing of the past and my generation wouldn’t uphold the atrocities of the people before us. If little Lauren thinks like this, will she be as naive as I was? Or maybe just maybe this really could be her reality like Dr. King intended?
So, how am I?
I’m alright. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m confused. I’m sorta confident. I’m feeling fit. I’m almost funny. I’m impatient. I’m angry. I’m annoyed. I’m restless. Most of all, I’m hopeful. Maybe this is the wake up call America needed. Maybe we got too comfortable being PC and we see just how much farther we have to go as a nation. Just like when people were shocked and floored that they saw a black president in their lifetime and it’s no longer an absurd fantasy to see a black man lead this nation, I have hope that we can see racial, LGBT, gender, disability and all the other types of equality in the same lifetime — call me greedy.
I grew up with a president who ran on a campaign instilling hope into a clearly divided nation. If that man decimates everything Obama did in these past eight years, the foundation of hope I gleaned from Barry over the past decade is one thing he could never take away.