I used to not talk about race and racism, ever.
I used to never talk about racism in front of other races (re: white people) because I was afraid to offend.
Brief background: I went to a private Christian school, even though my mother couldn’t afford it; I’ve always done well in my classes, I was in a magnet high school program, I went to a great university, a PWI (predominately white institution), full ride, and I am now in an unspecified graduate school program, almost done.
Growing up, I’ve always been around white people, most of my childhood friends were white, and I generally never had a problem with feeling “accepted.” I also was someone who wanted to be liked, so I never rocked the boat. I never thought racism was a real issue because I never experienced until… I did. In high school, I wanted to audition for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and I asked my drama professor what time would I be able to audition, because I needed to go home. He explicitly said because the play is set in the 1950s, the only part I can have is the role of the black servant so I can come to him tomorrow to pick the best part.
I ran to the bathroom and cried. My white friends told him that was unfair, it was rude, that other schools have black leads… but they all auditioned for the parts, they didn’t protest, and like they say in Hollywood “the show must go on.”
Those white kids were my friends, they were upset for me, and I loved them for that but something about that pestered at my soul; It’s because they didn’t give up their privilege, boycott, and demand for a racially ambiguous play. I never told them that it bothered me because I didn’t want to offend them. As a woman, little girls are told “it is better to be seen than heard” and we are socialized to hold our tongue until it bleeds. As a black person, I am told I am too sensitive, that I see racism everywhere and that things are better.
At my PWI, that was when I became cognizant of my blackness; I didn’t point it out, it was brought up for me. My wonderfully sweet roommate complained to me about affirmative action; she claims that her white friend didn’t get into MIT but their black friend, who isn’t nearly as smart and didn’t do that well on SATs got in – I’m pretty positive you still have to get at least a 1400 to be considered for MIT, affirmative action or not. But I just smiled, nodded, and I said “I don’t know.” I then began to wonder If she thought I got into college because of affirmative action, maybe by 1360 wasn’t enough. Funny enough, white women benefit the most from affirmative action. I became cognizant of my race when people started asking me questions and I became the black ambassador, the token. I became cognizant of my race when I danced – “OMG, only black girls know how to dance like that!” I became cognizant of my race when I talked to other black people, shamefully shared those experiences and realized that I am not alone.
I became cognizant of my race when I heard a white kid say “I like listening to black music because it makes me feel like cutting a bitch” and then he looks at me, sheepishly, not realizing that I eavesdropped. I became cognizant of my race – not when I was called a “nigger” but when I recounted the story to a white male counterpart. He looked shocked that someone would call me that because “I was not the type of black person that someone would call that.” There, I became cognizant that at any given moment, I could be reduced to a 3/5ths of a person.
Am I 3/5ths of a person if I twerk? Am I 3/5ths of a person if I wear a hoodie? Am I 3/5ths of a person when I’m in your university, since you assume affirmative action had a role? Am I 3/5ths of a person because I listen to Gucci mane, or can you only respect me when I listen to Explosions in the Sky?
I didn’t talk about racism to my white friends because I didn’t want them to think I was angry at them or I hate them because they are white. The subject of racism is so uncomfortable for everyone and I recognize that our predetermined genetic destiny is something we cannot control. But we can control our biases.
I used to never want to talk about racism because I didn’t want to offend white people with my blackness. I don’t think white people are bad or inherently evil, they are people and I am an equal opportunity hater. It’s hard to hate someone once you understand them; I understand that there are certain privileges that white folks have been given and as a result, a feeling of entitlement follows. Unfortunately there isn’t an understanding that these privileges aren’t the same rights that other groups have and for you to ignore that, it’s oppressive. I was angry at my friends because they subconsciously were oppressing my black rage.
For me, black rage is silent. It is the years of being congratulated for being the token. It is years of having white people confide in me that they are glad I’m not lazy like some of my other counterparts. Black rage is making sure I’m perfect because what I say and do will reflect on my people, since we apparently are a monolith. It is the racist jokes and thinking I’m okay with it because I’ve assimilated into the white cultural norms. It is being frustrated that a good majority of white people think they achieved success solely off of their merit, but believe that the unworthy blacks scooted by because of affirmative action. Black rage is ignoring the biases, the lack of representation in the media, the questions on my hair. Black rage is the welfare queen stereotype, the suspicion of black men in hoodies, the criminalization of black men, statements that racism is over because we have a black president, that things are better.
One thing black rage will never be is irrational. It is a very normal human response to be angry when you are being mistreated, but anger is a secondary emotion, my black rage stems from sadness.
I am going to talk about my sadness, even if it offends white people because the spirit of entitlement is offensive. I am doing my part to better myself, my race, and most importantly racial relations in America because this is the country I live in. Please be an ally.