Facebook is weird about formatting, so I’m writing this here…
I’m pretty sure I take my social traits from my grandparents — my Papa never met a stranger, as cliché as that sounds — I’m dead serious. My earliest memories were of him driving us to the store in a Semi, screaming “Charlie!” to strangers on the street while my Auntie Mel covered her face from embarrassment. The friendliest man I’ve ever met. If he knew you, he probably loved you. My Momo was the listening ear for everyone — anyone could talk to her about anything. She read everything and answered the most obscure questions on Jeopardy. She had a 9th grade education, but I’m convinced she could hold her own with any Ivy Leaguer in conversation. She was a southern black woman into golf — I’m talking Payne Stewart, Jack Nicklaus, Jeff Sluman — pre-Tiger Woods. There wasn’t a topic you couldn’t bring to her, she wanted to know more about you.
Their presence in my life really helped shape my worldview and how I view relationships. I was really that kid that was friends with everyone because I wanted to know more about the world around me; The goths, the jocks, the nerds, the queers, the country dudes, intellectuals, metalheads, theater kids, rich and poor. I’ve learned that no one is one thing, these overlap all the time, and everyone has a story. Add this to the fact that I come from a military family and I’ve been ‘social networking’ since 12 or 13, there’s a lot of perspectives that I’ve gotten to know on personal levels. I’m not some cultural expert or anything, but I feel like I’m privy to conversations that are had “between the lines” because of those personal relationships. I don’t want to think of people as abstract groups and statistics, I want to know them. An uncomfortable truth, with these relationships, is that I’ve likely never been less than 2 or 3 degrees separated from someone who would call me a ‘nigger’.
When I was 14, playing NBA Street with a couple of friends, I did something in the game that made one of the friends angry. For the rest of the game, he talked about me using a “nigger team” and that I was one. I was mostly shocked, I didn’t know what to say — the first time I’ve ever heard that said to me in person. This “friend” ended up leaving and I looked to my friend who stayed, wondering why he didn’t say anything. He told me, he didn’t know what to do — it wasn’t his problem. (We’ve since talked about this and he’s a close friend that owns up to this fully) The guy who called me that, I naturally gravitated away from — he had a pretty normal social life, joined the military, wife and kids. But I wonder, what type of person who casually says ‘nigger’ as a teenager grow up to be? The last post I remember of his was how Trayvon Martin deserved it in 2012 before I made it a hard stance to stop entertaining the idea of a relationship with this person. How is he enabled? How does he enable others? Has anyone else checked him since then? What will he teach his kids?
When I was 16, I was at a party at someone’s house in the deep country — my friend tapped me on the shoulder to say we were leaving because of what was said to him. The host of the party said to my friend “I like you because you seem to hate niggers just as much as I do”. My friend didn’t say anything to him, except that he didn’t know what he was talking about. But he wanted me to get out of there because everyone was drunk and he didn’t think it was safe. The host was a popular guy — played baseball, went on to become a local police officer. Did he turn off his racism before he put on his badge? What evidence do I have that he does? How is it possible? Has racism ever shaped how he views policing?
Unfortunately, I have other racist stories, but those stick out to me because of the professions they ended up in. Two white men in different states, with no relationship to each other beyond their skin(I think), serving in government positions. How does racism affect their work? It’s hard for people to conceptualize what white supremacy is beyond what’s seen as excessive and overt — typically men in hoods, yelling slurs or clear, concise signs that scream ‘discrimination’. How white supremacy manifest from the ground up — is much more abstract because it requires some uncomfortable questioning about the people that surround us, the institutions we support, and our place in relation to it. There’s this misconception that we’re going to somehow age out of racism. But when I look out on the white nationalist faces that marched in Charlottesville, I see the generation that I grew up with, worked and lived with — and how I know for a fact that we haven’t done enough to stop them.