I had a meaningful convo this weekend with some friends about racism and how "well-meaning" people can verbalize their deep-seated racism without even realizing it.
See, most people in the USA live in cultural silos where racism and bigotry has a way of breeding like mosquitos in standing water. When you get in a more blended environment (college, workplace, multi-ethnic churches, Peace Corps! etc.), it's easy for these sentiments to slip out because it is baked into your subconscious. We see this happen with microaggressions -- like when people ask "no, where are you really from" after your response about your hometown in the suburbs of Seattle doesn't match up to your phenotypical presentation. This is usually also the person who says "I don't see race!" Cue eye roll.
However, comments like these won't fly in mixed company, and often times the offender will be in for a shock when they realize something they always heard to be true, based in honest curiosity or just a funny joke is actually harmful and hateful. Oh! The sudden horror on their faces when they've been exposed publicly for their private thoughts! Then, followed by a look that conveys their deep inward search for an excuse... and then... if this is their first rodeo, they blurt out -- wait for it --
"but I have a black [friend/lover/neighbor/child/boss]!"
Ooooh. Another one bites the dust. Bless his/her heart.
So before we embarrass ourselves while showcasing our built-in anti-blackness, racist undertones in our subconscious, or general bigotry in an unforgiving setting, perhaps we can all work to break out of our cultural silos and surround ourselves ASAPly in the power of diversity that being a US citizen brings but very few of us meaningfully engage in. Let's start today, since it's Black History Month, and all. No time like the present!
Here's a great way to celebrate BHM, aka #BlackExcellenceSZN: Don't just consume black culture, build community with black people; cultivate meaningful relationships with the black people who share your spaces. I love that you love LEMONADE and can recite every Cardi B song word-for-word (except the N word), but do you know the cultural significance behind their craft? Do you even care to know? Are you questioning why black Americans are so amped up about Black Panther, but have yet to read an article written by a black woman about the necessary hype? Would you go see it with a black person without making it awkward? Are you mad that I just found a way to weave in a Black Panther reference into this blogpost? I digress...
Begin to see & embrace black people who are living their everyday "ordinary" American lives through their personal experience and listen to their stories. My community here in Ecuador gets to experience this firsthand every time they interact with me, and it's always a good time. I feel like every time someone looks at me funny when I say "Soy Estadounidense", I am breaking stereotypes. Baby steps, or whatever.
Breathe easy: You won't have to use MLK quotes out of context necessary here. You'll probably learn a lot more about us as a people than any textbook during the one-month section on 400+ years worth of African-American history could ever properly convey. You're more likely to understand why we *still* fight for freedom, and perhaps you'll be more inclined to join alongside us. History is best told firsthand.
Back in December, I went to visit a fellow Peace Corps volunteer in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. She gave me a heads up about her landlord saying: "I don't think she's racist, but she may be surprised to meet you because you're black." I definitely put a guard up after hearing that (#GetOut), but was still curious to see her reaction upon laying her eyes on my brown skin and fluffy fro. Thankfully, the landlord welcomed me no differently than normal and I quickly felt the Ecuadorian warmth as she got to know me over our dinner. She invited me into her home later on where she served us tea and cookies and has since given me a full invitation to stay with her any time I visit in the future. Phew, crisis averted.
(Movie night with FREE, a peer org that supports Peace Corps Volunteers of Color in Ecuador)
A few weeks later, that PCV told me that the maintenance man I met shared something with the landlord after meeting me that struck a chord in my spirit. When he heard I was US American and then met me, he couldn't reconcile that reality, because of my dark skin. But when he finally heard me speak english (ha), it completely clicked and he mused out loud: "If she's American, that means I could be too." And that my friends, is why I am happy to be different; to stand out and to be looked at as an outsider. Because my very existence as a Black American Woman changes the perspectives of people who get close enough to hear & see me be myself, no matter where I am on this planet. This is why I celebrate Black History Month, and am always proud of the heritage of being a child of the African Diaspora.
Like Langston Hughes, I am your darker sister... and it's time you stop staring at me for sitting in my rightful place at the dinner table and start talking with me.
Let's break bread & eradicate anti-blackness while we're at it, together.