The past week has made me view race issues in America in a different light than before. I already knew we were in bad shape from the news and personal accounts shared on social media, but the video of Claudia Rankine’s poem made me feel some of the anxiety that has, from what I understand, been common in the black community. Of course, it’s not remotely the same as if I was black, but the juxtaposition of the three young black boys innocently shopping with police lights and sirens in the background made me think the video was going to end with them being arrested, or having a violent encounter with an officer. The three teenagers left the store peacefully and never crossed paths with the police, but the knowledge that it was a possibility was always nagging at me. When I was young and learned about Civil Rights up to the twentieth century, racism was presented — rightfully so — as something that was completely irrational, yet it’s still so ingrained in our society. It’s not even always subconscious. I once heard my sister’s roommate say she didn’t want a sleeve of tattoos because she “didn’t want to look like a black person,” and I have extended family around my age who use ethnic slurs without a second thought.
The fact that it’s not even surprising to hear a store employee express suspicion toward their black customers shows how little progress we’ve made in reaching equality. Not that we haven’t progressed, but many will use the fact that people of color are legally protected as an excuse for racist behavior. Often, people will tell me that the ones speaking out against it are making up problems where none exist, but that attitude is one of willful ignorance, and as long as it persists, race relations will continue to be uncomfortable at best, and violent and tragic at worst.