One day, while playing with some of my friends in elementary school, I had an encounter with a messy-haired, fellow fourth grader that would forever alter my perspective of the world.
To the very best of my understanding prior to this incident, me and this young boy, whose name has now slipped from memory, were friends. We frequently chatted with one another in class, picked one another to be on the same soccer team at recess, and hung out with the same group of kids. However, all it took to destroy this guise of friendship was a forbidden six-letter word hurled in my face upon beating him at the game we were playing.
In his eyes, he hadn’t meant a thing by it; he had merely gotten upset that a girl had bruised his ego in front of his male friends. And as far as he was concerned, it was a more than suitable word to use towards a brown-skinned girl of nine. Afterall, his family members always used such slurs to refer to people who looked like her. It was normal.
This was the first time that I was called the N-word. Unfortunately, it was not the last.
The Good, The Bad, & The Karens
Recent events have justifiably angered and prompted many people of color to reflect upon and share their own experiences confronting racism– both past and present. It has been both inspiring and heartbreaking to hear the stories of others who share the unjust burden of having been mistreated, marginalized, or seemingly reduced to a mere trending hashtag due to the color of their skin and/or racial makeup.
It has been equally enlightening and disappointing to observe the responses of non-minority individuals throughout the last few months.
On one hand, it’s been an unusual, but hope-inspiring experience to witness people not only publicly acknowledging that racism really is a thing still (I cannot tell you how many people I’ve spoken to over the years who have sworn that ‘racism no longer exists’), but also take the time out to finally listen to the voices of people who typically go ignored, dismissed, or minimized. Individuals from different generations are starting to admit that they’ve been oblivious to the everyday struggles and concerns of millions of people, and in response, people are striving to educate themselves and actually hear what people’s lives are truly like.
But on the other hand, recent events have seemingly brought out the absolute worst in other people. From the flagrant display of racist belief systems to the daily emergence of a new (and somehow more maddening) “Karen”, it has been quite difficult to digest the juxtaposition of such ignorance beside the cries of those who seek justice for the individuals who have been needlessly slain by those intended to protect us.
Despite routinely being given a reason to shake my head in utter bewilderment and disgust, I would like to believe that the seeds of change have already been sown and will continue to grow and take hold if we all band together to fight for what is right.
Privilege-Induced Blindness: A Modern Malady
For the most part, people of today sometimes fail to concern themselves with the problems of others. People get wrapped up in their own ambitions, careers, and lives to the point where they simply don’t make time to consider the life experiences of people who are different from them.
For those who have the luxury of living an existence free from the threat of racism, it’s often not something that resides on their personal radar; it isn’t something that they are naturally attuned to care about or pay attention to because they simply don’t have to worry about it. So, unless they have friends, family members, or associates who are experiencing these situations and bringing it to their attention, people are going to fail to see that it’s a real issue that needs to be rectified.
Some people may call this lack of awareness ‘ignorance’ or even ‘racist’ in and of itself, but I truly believe that in most cases, it’s simply a matter of blinding privilege. People can’t know what they don’t know. If they aren’t in an environment in which they see or are willing to acknowledge the reality of things, it’s up to the people who are experiencing injustice to make it hard to miss or deny.
This being said, I believe that the sharing of one’s experiences with discrimination and racism is going to be one of the most impactful tools in helping to instigate the changes that need to be made in this world.
The Power Of Story-telling
Because racism is such a pervasive issue in the Black community (and likely other minority communities as well), it would almost be easy to struggle with the telling of one’s experiences with the topic. For us, there is never a day that goes by when we’re not reminded of the fact that some people still believe that we’re inferior to them– there just isn’t.
So even if there isn’t a specific event that has occurred or a particular hateful comment tossed in our direction, the existence of racism still partially governs our existence. How do you talk about your experiences with racism as though it is merely a collection of isolated events? For many, you would end up talking about your entire life because racism is tightly interwoven with stories you, your parents, your grandparents, and older ancestors could share.
All the same, the stories cannot and should not be forgotten or kept hidden. They are valuable and have every right to be shared with anyone who cares enough to listen, for we cannot fight a beast we cannot see anymore than we can win against an opponent we don’t understand.
This being said, I’d like to spend this series sharing some of the experiences that I’ve had relating to racism and discrimination over the years in an attempt to help expose some of the unsavory things that go on in the world. Coincidentally, the most prominent stories that still stick out in my mind all follow a similar theme. Each of them highlights the fundamental root of racism, how it’s bred, and how it could ultimately be stopped.
Duty Over Doubt
For the longest time, I have not been sure that I should share these upcoming stories. One reason being the fact that they are much “lighter” offenses compared to countless other examples that other people have shared and could share; such stories should definitely take priority.
Secondly, I tend to shy away from discussing race issues with others because past experiences have not gone so well while doing so. It’s a notoriously difficult subject to tackle because it often makes people feel uncomfortable and upset.
However, it is extremely important for that lack of comfort to be confronted because it shows just how wrong racism is. Racial and social inequality should never be comfortable, but if we can get through the discomfort, we might gain the understanding necessary to combat it once and for all.
I truly hope that you guys decide to join me for this series because it may be the most important one I ever do. It’s not only essential that people exhibit a willingness to better understand the struggles of other people, but to also find the courage to actually participate in the efforts that are being made to dismantle inequality around the world.
After all, this world does not belong to one race of people outside of the human race. If we wish to see and experience better, we simply must do better. There really is no other choice.
The hope of a better world depends on it… and us.
© C.M. 2020 All Rights Reserved
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