Why we need to discuss race

This started out as a post on Facebook, but I decided to blog it instead. This is a list/stream of consciousness/sharing of my own experiences. This isn’t intended to be an intellectual study of the issue of race in America, but rather a hodgepodge of my thoughts and  experiences as a black woman in America.

Why we need to discuss race:

I happened to be party to a conversation once where a group of people were discussing “The Bible” series on the history channel. One of the participants described a scene where there were three men who were black, Asian, and white. When describing the action in the scene, they described what the black person did, what the Asian person did, and then they described what the “regular” person did. Like they actually used the phrase “regular guy.” As if the black guy and Asian guy weren’t “regular” people.

Al Sharpton doesn’t speak for me. Stop bringing him up in the discussion of current events and discussions about race.

Descriptions of protestors/rioters/looters include language that smacks of “those people over there. People describe protestors as animals. I read a status once that referred to protestors as animals and that they needed to go back to the jungle. It hurt.

I’ve also been party to several conversations and situations where people have used the phrase “American” to mean “white.”

I’ve had [white] people whisper “black” or “Mexican” when describing someone to me as if their race/nationality/ethnicity was a bad word.

When I’ve attempted to buy make-up from Walmart (and I don’t wear powder or foundation often), I see a spectrum of shades for people who are white/have light skin. As a black woman, I have to chose from three shades. THREE SHADES. And they’re all way too light.

When I’ve challenged people about using race as an unnecessary descriptor of people in a story or situation, I’ve been told that it was necessary so that the listeners would know “what kind of people” they were talking about.

When I used to relax my hair, I had to explain to people that my hair didn’t grow out of my head straight. Now that I’m natural, I have to explain what that means.

People get defensive about the civil war and start shouting about states rights. I’ve always wanted to ask, “but what right was it that the Southerners felt was being taken away.” But then I don’t want to hurt the feelings/sensibilities of friends who I know had relatives who fought for the confederacy.

Yes, blacks sold other blacks in to slavery in Africa. That doesn’t somehow make the Transatlantic Slave Trade any better. It doesn’t negate the fact that white people still hade a role in it, and it doesn’t explain away the treatment of the slaves during the middle passage and stateside.

We need to talk about race because anything associated with blackness is considered to be bad, negative, or ghetto. Unless it’s being appropriated by white people. In which case it’s new, hip, urban, whatev.

When I was a kid, my mom taught me how not to look suspicious (like you’re stealing or going to steal something) in a store. I’ve used these skills as an adult when I’ve been followed around stores.

Talking about “reverse racism” doesn’t help the conversation nor does getting snarky when people talk about white privilege. Yes, there are poor whites and white people who get discriminated against. But those experiences are different than the racism that blacks and other minorities experience. Bringing these things up makes the conversation about you. It’s not helpful when I’m sharing something as deep and personal as my experiences with racism. There are a lot of reasons for this. I’m sorry if you experienced people being hateful. That sucks. But what you’ve experienced is an isolated incident. Not a system. Not hundreds of years of history. There’s a time to share your experiences, it’s often just not when you think that it is.

We need to discuss race because of the guy where I used to live who had a confederate flag mounted in the bed of his truck that thought it was cool to ride around and intimidate people of color by whooping, revving his engine, and driving by fast. He turned around on my street once to do it as my husband and I were leaving our house.

Sometimes I’m concerned about how I speak. My natural accent is Standard American English and my syntax and usuage tends to follow those rules also, BUT I can and do speak African American Vernacular English (or “Ebonics” if you will) and often switch between the two. I tend to speak AAVE exclusively when I’m mad or excited. Sometimes I wonder if people think that I’m stereotypical or ignorant if I speak AAVE or if I’m “not black” when I don’t speak AAVE.

While I’m talking about language…

AAVE is a language. It’s not some subpar or inferior bastardization of English. It’s a language with its own rules for usage and grammar.

I generally don’t speak AAVE to or around white people unless there is another black person present.

I shouldn’t have to think about how I speak…

People of color don’t get to “tap out” and not have to discuss or deal with race issues. We live it. Every day.

We need to discuss race because my hair isn’t inferior to everyone else’s. It does grow. It can get long. We need to discuss race because there are black pwople who believe lies about their hair.

My oldest niece has been told that she’s pretty “for a black girl.” My niece is pretty for any race/color/whatever and I’m not saying that because I’m her aunt.

I’m in to genealogy. I’ve spent 8 years researching my family history and have hit a dead end even though I knew some names and places. I could only go about 5 generations back on my Grandmother’s dad’s side of the family.  I knew only a few names on my (white) husband’s side of the family, and I was able to get ten generations worth of names, dates, and places in under half an hour.

We need to discuss race because a waitress once gave my husband and I seprate tickets after we had told her we were together. (My husband is white)

People don’t understand that African Americans have a culture that differs from the mainstream. Southerners don’t understand the African roots of their cuisine.

Minorities have to know how to maneuver in the majority culture as well as their own culture. Non-minorities don’t get that there are cultural differences and are often affronted when differencesare pointed out. Or they disbelieve that there is even a difference.

It’s offensive and hurtful when white people ask something to the effect of, “well could it have been something else besides race,” when I tell them about racist incidents and micro-aggressions I’ve experienced. As if I hadn’t racked my brain thinking about all the different ways what happened could’ve been taken…I don’t know how to describe it, but you just KNOW when race is a factor in a situation.  Experiencing racism is an indignity. Most people don’t even want to admit that an incident has happened. Why would we make it up or blow something out of proportion. Sure, there’s black people who do that, but it’s not all of us.

We need to discuss race because there are people who don’t know that there is a race problem in America.

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