Woman with locks hairstyle — Photo by Jazmin Quaynor

Some things that need to be said about racism

Over the past few years I have watched racism in this country get worse. With a racist, xenophobic, disgusting troll like Trump running for president, there are people who feel like they can say whatever and do whatever they want openly now because he does. People are so gullible that they listen to him because he is supposedly rich and they are ignorant enough to believe that because he has money, everything he says is true and that he is educated because he has money. The KKK is leaving racist flyers in neighborhoods threatening to murder Blacks, police are still killing unarmed Black people, and White college students are acting out in racist ways as a reflection of the poison infecting American life. It is absolutely disgusting and makes me sick to my stomach. People try to open the lines of communication and it feels like civilized conversation is impossible. There are things we can do to try to understand each other and to fix this evil that continues to divide us.

Stop diminishing the experiences of people of color

One thing that needs to stop in order for progress to occur is the diminishing of the experiences of people of color. I feel that some White people feel threatened and get defensive when inequality and injustice are talked about. How can you have an open discussion if the person you are trying to talk to is already tuning out? We need to listen to each other and respond intelligently. By responding intelligently, I mean if you don’t understand something, ask a question instead of dismissing it or belittling it.

My husband is White. His mother’s boyfriend is also White. When Black Lives Matter first came about, he asked me “is it really all that bad out there for Black people?” I was startled at first at the question but without skipping a beat I replied, “yeah it is.” I went on to relay the story of one of the times I was pulled over for driving while Black. He proceeded to tell me a story about when he was pulled over and how he back talked the officer. I had shown nothing but respect to the officer that pulled me over. There was no moral to his story as there was to mine. All he wanted to do was play the “one up” game which happens all too often. My takeaway was that he was not trying to understand my situation. He wanted to make it about him and say that we all have bad days. I was racially profiled and it was wrong. He should have just said that he was sorry to hear that that happened to me and left it at that.

Besides playing the “one up” game (the “you think you had it bad wait til you hear my story” syndrome) some White people like to play the denial game. Anything that is brought up as racist is automatically not racist regardless and because we mention it we, in turn, are racist and need to stop. That doesn’t get us anywhere and causes nasty arguments that could easily be avoided. Some people don’t like to admit that they don’t know everything and they don’t care about doing research or shutting up and listening to other people explain what they actually live and being able to say “you know what, that is wrong and shouldn’t happen. How can I help or can I help?”

One particularly nasty example of denial and diminishing the experience of Blacks is a post on George Takei’s Facebook page that has over 4.5k comments. This is in no way saying anything bad about Takei. His page is known for humorous post and social awareness posts. This one thread pissed me off reading the comments. It is a prime example of how some White people spout ignorance on the internet and in life and don’t listen when minorities tell them they are wrong.

The article shared is about a Black woman who was given a job in a corporate setting and was then denied the job due to her hairstyle. (here is a link to a good article on the same case). She wears her hair in dreadlocks. She refused to change her hair and lost the job based on that. She sued under the basis that making her get rid of her dreadlocks as a condition of employment is discrimination. The court ruled against her because they feel that her dreadlocks are not tied to her race because people of other races wear them as well. Their ruling is that she can change her hair because it is not an unchangeable characteristic of her race. Of course she could change her hair but that is not the point. She shouldn’t have to.

Here is where the thread comes in. Several White people who have never had dreadlocks in their lives and have no knowledge of the origin or cultural significance started making very ignorant comments and assumptions about the hairstyle. People said that her hair was probably messy and greasy and stinky which would make her look unprofessional. One woman based her opinion of this on a White man that she knew that wore greasy dreadlocks and never washed his hair. His dreadlocks were greasy because he had to put something on them to make them stick together. Straight hair does not dread naturally like the texture of kinky or curly hair does. The people who argued against dreadlocks because they felt they were messy and unkempt don’t know this because they have never styled a Black person’s hair. Any hair stylist that does Black people’s hair could have told them that. When it was explained several times by other people of different races on the post, it was ignored and the denial and diminishing of the knowledge and experience of POC ran rampant.

The discussion turned to natural hair and the fact that some Blacks keep their hair natural and untreated by harsh chemical processes. If we leave our hair natural and just let it grow and put conditioners and things in it and keep it washed, it will dread naturally. That set off a lot of people who surprisingly got really upset over that revelation. Why? I have no idea. There were people who flat out told others on the thread that they were lying and that there is no way Black hair dreads up on its own without having to turn it into dreadlocks and that “it’s a choice” argument came into the conversation. Why are some White people telling Black people that their hair doesn’t grow into dreadlocks naturally and to stop lying about it? As a Black woman who chemically straightens my hair, I can tell you as I sit here that the minute I stop chemically straightening my hair, it starts to grow in to locks which are tiny dreadlock twists. I haven’t been to my hairdresser in some time so part of my hair is starting to lock up now. I choose to straighten my hair because I have an easier time styling it that way but I would never expect someone else to do the same if it isn’t what they want to do. Employers should not be able to dictate the hairstyles of employees period. Their hair doesn’t change how they do their jobs.

My last observation on hairstyle discrimination is that this is just another way society tells Black women that we are less than and need to be more like White women to fit in. If she covered her dreadlocks with a scarf that probably wouldn’t be allowed either because people would assume she was Muslim. She would still face discrimination for an assumption based on religion. If she wore a weave or a straight wig, there would still be the ongoing jokes I have heard from people about Black women wearing fake hair. You’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. The message is you need to be more like White people if you want to get somewhere in life. People wonder why Blacks have a hard time getting jobs, well this is part of it. A simple Google search of Black women fired for their hairstyles pulls up enough articles to show that this happens way more than it should.

The media and stereotypes

The media perpetuates stereotypes against minorities and that adds to racism that is already rampant in our society. A friend hosted an open forum last night to allow people to speak about race and their experiences on the topic. A young man told a story that his fiancee, now wife, was pregnant before they got married. She contacted her father to tell him that she was going to have a baby. He responded telling his daughter to not be surprised if he leaves her with a child to raise on her own . It happens every day in many communities around the world and has been happening forever. The significance? The young man is Black and his fiancee is White. They are now married and he said that the only reason, according to his now father- in-law, that he made that comment is because the father-in-law watches Maury and just assumed that Black men don’t take care of their kids. One of Trump’s aids made similar comments this week as well. Now, I know a few single White men who don’t take care of their kids. I once dated one whom I tried to convince not to give up his parental rights to his three children when his wife moved on. He ignored me and ended up having another child out of wedlock. It happens everywhere, in every community. Don’t let the media twist negative things and make them only Black issues.

Television has been known to exploit Blacks for monetary gain and we as Black people fall for it. I have a friend who watches VH1 with “Love and Hip Hop” and “Basketball Wives” and similar shows all the time. As a Black woman I feel that these “reality” shows depicting Black females arguing constantly with their men and throwing drinks on each other are degrading. I feel like I have to be especially calm even when I am angry in situations in public because the “angry Black woman” stereotype follows us constantly. I refuse to watch those kinds of shows and I am only subjected to them when I am around other people who watch them.

News media is also notorious for painting people of color in a negative light. Even if someone commits a crime and deserves to be punished, the emphasis seems to be more on race than on the crime itself. If a White person commits a crime, seldom are they ever described by race. The description is just there (ex: the suspect was described as male with brown hair brown eyes 5 ft 10 wearing…). If the suspect is a minority, race is very often placed at the center of the fact that the person committed a crime ( ex: the suspect is described as a Black male with brown hair brown eyes 5 ft 10 wearing…). The local newspaper in my town is doing a terrible job at putting race at the center of things and feeding the stereotypes.

Over the past week there were two headlines that stood out on the Facebook page for the local newspaper. Of course the comments got crazy as usual with arguments. One headline reads, “Salvadoran sentenced to 3 years for sex with a 13 year old.” There is so much wrong with that poorly written headline but since I am talking about race, I will stick with that for now. Why should we care that this man is Salvadoran? I don’t care where he is from, he committed a heinous crime and deserves to be behind bars. They had his picture listed so they should have just said “man sentenced… or rapist sentenced…”

By comparison the other headline reads “Man faces charges after Wednesday night shooting…” Race was omitted. It would sound weird if it said “White man…” , but why did they feel that it was necessary to put “Salvadoran” for the other man? Probably because they knew people would be more drawn to reading it and commenting that another Hispanic man had committed rape. They also make a point to say that he is not a citizen of the US playing on the ignorance that people would jump to the conclusion that not being a citizen automatically means he was illegally here. It worked somewhat. There is some discussion insinuating that he is here illegally though the article never says that specifically. No question these men are both criminals but their racial differences don’t make either one of them better or worse than the other.

We need to stop reading newspapers and watching TV shows that are fueling the stereotypes that lead to prejudice and discrimination. We need to have discussions about race where people feel included and want to learn from each other. Telling someone that they are “pulling the race card” or negating everything someone says after they mention racism is not going to get things done. Unfortunately, there will probably always be KKK organizations and racist politicians. If we come together and work on talking to each other, learning from each other, and trying to understand each other without diminishing the value of the experiences we all bring to the table, then we can make life a little more bearable for everyone.