Race

What a way to get back into writing: talking about race.

In all seriousness, my experiences with race are akin to someone witnessing a group of people bullying someone similar to myself. I can see and hear all the abuse, and most of it could and does relate to me, but for some reason it just isn’t being thrown my way. It’s a surreal experience to be sure.

I think most of you know my background already: I grew up in Rhode Island (a notoriously white state), and I went to the same private school from kindergarten through high school. Out of a graduating class of 96, only 3 kids were black including myself: let that sink in for a moment. After high school, I went to Fordham University, a college with a black student body representing an astounding 4% of the school (jeez, save some room for other races). Some might say I grew up privileged, and they‘d probably be right, but I think I’m simply a product of the choices my parents made regarding education. My mom made it a point to encourage me to get the best education possible, which meant not going to college wasn’t an option in her household. Mom was also a college professor, who taught sociology. She knew better than anyone the stigmas and the challenges faced by minorities in every aspect of society because her entire life was focused on researching and studying that very topic. To her credit, and perhaps as a result of her knowledge of the educational system, she set me up to avoid most of those pitfalls. The only thing she couldn’t really control was my skin color. But we’ll get to that.

Education bias is real: too many people I know, of all backgrounds, were insanely qualified for schools that outright rejected them. There could be a myriad of reasons why, but I have noted the racial divide: almost all of my African-American and Latinx/Hispanic friends received at least one rejection letter from colleges. By contrast only some of my white friends did. Looking back, not everyone got into my high school on the first try: sometimes it took a few tries. It would be very easy to say my high school admitted mostly white kids out of some racial bias, but again we grew up in Rhode Island. Something like 75% of the population is non-Hispanic white: there are simply more white kids living there than any other race. Interestingly, a lot of the student body came from Massachusetts (another notoriously white state): so not only was the state my high school was located in skewed heavily white, the student body was pulling from other highly white areas. My mom would likely cry fowl and say that’s not the complete story but rest easy Mom, I’m getting somewhere.

So you know my background, most of y’all know how I talk (middle American accent, lots of swearing, very loud, etc), and you all know how I generally look. What’s my experience with discrimination?

Funnily enough, I’d say most of that experience wasn’t even discrimination really: it was more like comments on how I look. Yes I know that sounds like tomato/tomahto but hear me out. The distinction for me is that I was never separated from a group specifically on looks: nothing anyone said to me was something they didn’t say to someone else. For example, among my group of friends, a lot was made about how you look as a person (for example, you might have a “retarded” looking face, or wear “homeless people” clothes). Granted, I don’t talk to these people anymore for increasingly obvious reasons, but at the time, they were friends. I got hit with the classic “N” word quite a bit, sometimes “coon”, one particular time I heard “sausage lips” (never quite got that one, but zero points for creativity nonetheless). This is racist language, no question about it: what’s interesting is that frankly, these guys (who were all white) would call each other the same thing in the exact same tone. It struck me as something they thought was funny, but never as something used to dehumanize me. It’s odd I know. Should I have been angry? Yes. Should I have felt offended? Probably (and at times, I did lash out). Does it mean something that they called each other the same words? I’ll leave that one to you.

How about my experience with police? This is a sensitive topic these days, so I’m going to tread carefully here.

I’ve never had an experience with police I didn’t deserve to have. I’ve been pulled over once for running a stop sign (accidental but it legitimately happened). I was very calm, did everything the officer told me to do, and was generally nervous but not belligerent or suspicious. He asked me whether I had ever been pulled over before (a standard question to my understanding), and I said no. He gave me a 5 minute speech about how I seemed like a good kid with no ill intention, and that he would let me off with a warning. And that was it. He had a reason to pull me over, I did what he told me to do, and he let me off with a warning. I encountered police two more times after that, both during my time at Fordham, for reasons related to drinking (no arrests, just tickets: I won’t go into what I did, but you can probably guess). Outside of those incidents, I have had zero experiences with police, positive or negative. I admit, it is difficult for me to accept that police seem to disproportionally target minorities when on three separate occasions, the police have treated me with nothing but respect, or at the very least, professionalism. Does that mean I can provide meaningful commentary? Again, I’ll leave that one to you.

So if my upbringing could be considered privileged, my experience with police is negligible, and my friends called each other the same terms as they called me, how can I make any commentary on race? Because I pay attention.

As I’ve studied history in school, or simply observed our current societal climate, I’ve seen that the African-American community has an unparalleled ability to organize and advocate for community justice (be it racial equality, class equality, etc). Often times, these movements begin as African-American centric, and grow to include all minorities (and they rarely turn away whites who wish to support them). Everything from the Civil Rights Movement, to the Black Panther Movement to BLM follows this pattern. Today, the NFL has also followed this pattern (although in a slightly different form: the players are an extension of the African-American community, but they operate within the environment of the NFL). What started as a lone African-American player (who interestingly enough is also mixed race), became a movement that includes black and white players. It doesn’t just represent African-American issues any more: it represents the oppression of all minorities, even if the conversation is focused on the black community. I mention this because I live it every day, not just as a consumer of the NFL, but as a mixed-race American.

I am constantly surrounded my reminders that the black community is oppressed and underprivileged: the black community represents literally half of my heritage. But I am also surrounded my reminders that my experience is incomplete: I am stuck between white and non-white simply because I am both and I am neither. What does a mixed-race American, with strong ties to both the white community and the black community, do when those communities and experiences are so overwhelmingly separated by class and opportunity? Simple: we must take our privilege and use it as a platform to drive change.

It’s easy for people who have experienced racial injustice to personally stand up and demand something different: its much more profound when someone who has NEVER seen discrimination to stand up and demand the same for their brothers and sisters of a different color. I kept silent regarding the national anthem protests largely due to my own family’s history of defending this country. My family has been in America since before the Revolution: there has been a Killgore in uniform for every major conflict the United States has ever fought. We fought the British in the Revolution: we fought the Confederacy in the Civil War: we fought the Germans in World War I: my grandfather served in two wars, against the Nazis in World War II and North Korean communists in the Korean War. And yet I live in a country where Nazis are given more leeway to speak their minds than black NFL players. We have a President that seems determined to annihilate an entire pennisula, even if it means sacrificing a country my family fought to defend. Because of all of that, I should be sensitive to what is respectful to our flag and to our national anthem (and I am): and while I do not feel comfortable exercising my right to kneel during the anthem, I can now say with full confidence that I support those that do exercise it.

Even if I do not relate to those who have been singled out based on race, even if I’ve never been unfairly targeted by police, I will always fight for those who have. This shouldn’t be something that surprises anyone: conservative or liberal, white or black, rich or poor, we all have a responsibility to take care of each other as human beings.

I recently went to a Fordham football game (go Rams): like most sporting events, it starts with the national anthem. Near the end of the music, for the first time in my life, I raised a fist: anyone who knows history knows the raised fist as a symbol of black power and black independence. I tend to be someone who doesn’t like drawing attention to myself (ironic I know) but in that moment, I felt more compelled to do so than ever before. Protest must come in ways that disrupt the norm, that force people to pay attention even if it inconveniences them. Minorities have been “inconvenienced” since the founding of this country: we should not, and must not, be silent. There will be people, some in high places, that will call you “unpatriotic”, “un-American”, “thugs” and any number of hurtful terms. They don’t get what America stands for: America represents a nation that stood up to racism abroad and said “we do NOT accept this.” It would be un-American of us to accept it here today.

For all of those who kneel during the anthem, or who raise a fist in silent protest, or who take to the streets and demand a better future, I am with you. And I am sorry it took so long to say it.

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