Trigger warning: I am being forthright about the racist environment in which I grew up and the racism I was taught. I realize this may be hard to read.
I am doing so in hopes that others, who were exposed to the same teachings, can hopefully see themselves and the ugliness and hatred that was perpetrated based on those teachings.
In my book, Resolve, I give a chapter to racism. Some of the following is from that chapter. You can find Episode 1 here.
Curiosity is the filter through which I view the world. Learning why, how and what makes something or someone function excites me. This characteristic served me well five years ago when my husband was having health issues and was eventually diagnosed with cancer and an auto immune disease.
Being a curious person makes one an observer. An observer watches and listens, noticing what is said, the speaker’s body language, as well as what is not said.
Asking who, what, when, where, why and how is how we process and learn to relate to our environment. The answers to those questions help us form opinions and beliefs.
This is why campaigns use nasty advertising. If an opponent can manipulate a bias or opinion you have it is more likely that politician will win your vote.
Unfortunately, curiosity wasn’t celebrated in our home. Obedience and compliance were expected and anytime I questioned things I was told, “Because I said so” and “Why can’t you just do as your told?” or “Why do you always buck the system?”.
facts or opinions
However, anytime I asked the adults in my life how black people are different from white people I was given full answers. Answers that sounded like facts, not opinions.
Black people call each other the N word so “they” must be okay with us doing it. Black people know they are less than white people; they had been slaves after all.
I was told black people had been sold into slavery by their own people, making it okay to consider black people as less than. Slaves appreciated being cared for by their white owners because they were incapable of caring for themselves.
Again, I was told these things as if they researched the information and found the truth.
To bring the point home, as they say, I was told to look around and notice the poverty in the black community of our town.
“Samantha, don’t you see how they’ve had every opportunity to better themselves and they still choose to sit on their asses and collect a check?”
“You can’t give black people anything nice, because they don’t know how to take care of it. They don’t appreciate anything. They just want more, more, more.”
As I looked around and saw the poverty and the trashy yards it only fed and solidified the tiny bias growing in my mind.
The irony was, we lived in a trailer and our yard looked like a junk yard. The only difference, we were white and somehow that elevated us. After all, even as a child, black men called me ma’am.
Other explanations included; black people naturally have a more athletic build because they are built for labor. Black people have bigger nostrils to filter the hot air while they labor. Black people have a thicker skull than white people to protect their brains from the sun, while they labor.
he deserved to die?
While in the middle of one such discussion in the mid 80’s, I described to a family member how eloquent I found Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s writings. I began explaining how I found him inspiring and progressive and how I was open to his concept of peace. His ideology intrigued me. Interrupting me, the family member informed me I had it all wrong. He explained, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist, and society was done a favor by eliminating him.
I was told he deserved to die. Sound familiar? When black men, women and children are shot dead in the street or in the privacy of their own home, what are your thoughts? They deserved it? If they were doing what they were told nothing bad would have happened?
Opinions form bias and bias becomes racism in action
During the protests following George Floyd’s murder, someone I know from the area where I grew up, posted a meme saying (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t remember exactly) “You see a black man killed by a white cop. I see an innocent man killed by a bad cop. We are not the same!”
When I commented on the post that this is about racism another person from the area said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”
To which I responded, “Absolutely, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just thought I’d add a fact in there.”
Check your opinions.
Opinion: N) a view or judgement formed about something not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
Check your prejudices.
Prejudice: N) preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. Harm or injury that results or may result from some action or judgement.
Check your bias.
Bias: N) Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. V) cause to feel or show inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something.
Check your racism.
Racism: N) prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. 2) the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.
contemplation and self reflection
As you celebrate your “freedom” this weekend, I encourage you to read, study and research your beliefs. Why do you believe the way you do? Why do you hold black people to a standard, in which, you would never hold your family?
I have said this before and I feel it warrants repeating,
“A racist doesn’t have a physical distinction. A racist looks like you and me.
There can be embarrassment in stepping up and saying, I’ve been racist, or I am racist, but there should be no shame if you are making steps to change.
Speaking up is hard, but growth will come with the willingness to show up and be accountable.”
Until next time, remember kindness takes action. Kindness is a verb.