Why should I be civil to white people who don’t care about people of color?
We’ve all been there. You get on Facebook or Twitter and see an article, think piece, or status. You read it, enjoy it, or maybe find it informative. But then the big question rears its ugly head: Is the “comments” section safe? Twice this week, I’ve read something that I felt I needed to address and gotten into altercations with other people on the thread. That doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is when I see that I’m supposed to be civil in conversations about race.
While on vacation this week, I had time to think about exactly when I stopped being civil and stopped caring about sparing the feelings of white people in discussions where it felt like I was begging them to see people of color as human beings.
In 2011, I was 35 and living in the DMV for 10 years, which was 5 years longer than I wanted to. I was antsy. After months of conversations with friends, I decided to leave the East Coast and move to San Diego. Was it a good idea to move during the recession? Maybe not, but I had to get out of there. I figured at this point, I had been in the procurement field for almost 20 years, so how hard could it be to find a job? I found a room in El Cajon, and I didn’t waste any time looking for a job. I had been unemployed for months, which was the longest that had ever happened. I was getting calls for interviews, but nothing was sticking. I was told it was because I wore dreadlocks, which I had since I was 19 years old. I sat, thought about it and said, okay maybe it’s time for a change. So I cut them off and started wearing wigs and extensions because I wasn’t going to perm my natural hair.
I’m a dark-skinned black woman who was raised in Brooklyn to parents from the Caribbean, so I have many accents. My mother taught us how to talk “proper” because she knew that, if we talked too “black,” the doors would shut in our faces. So my Becky is on point, and I have one of the whitest names on the planet: Linda Martin. When you talk to me on the phone, you envision a skinny, blonde, blue-eyed, educated white woman. So I’m no stranger to showing up to interviews and seeing the interviewer taken aback when this fat, black, pierced, dreadlocked woman shows up.
Finally, I got a call from a garage door company in Anaheim. The owner was very excited I’d even considered submitting my resume because of my background in procurement. After speaking for 37 minutes, he wanted to hire me over the phone, but he said we had to go through the process first. That included showing me around to make sure I would like the environment. So we scheduled the interview.
I got my black ass up, put on my finest black ass suit and black ass wig, and drove almost 2 hrs to Anaheim, in Orange County, CA. This job was in the bag, I thought.
I did my usual when I pull up to an interview: checked my hair and makeup and said a little prayer that the interviewer wasn’t racist. I walked into the building, head held high, shoulders back, and let the receptionist know I was there. She gave me a strange look, but I shrugged it off. I didn’t have to impress her. She directed me to a waiting area, where there was a white woman already seated who looked like what I thought I sounded like over the phone. A man came out of a room and walked up to the white woman, his eyes bright, huge smile on his face as he approached her. “Linda…?” he asked with his hand outstretched to shake her hand. She shook her head no. I stood and said, “That would be me” with a smile on my face.
His face collapsed, his smile disappeared, and his eyes went dark. “Hello. I’m Roger,” he said with notable dryness. He barely grazed my fingers for a handshake and begrudgingly led me to their conference room.
He scarcely spoke, even though his body language screamed that this was a mistake. I ended up interviewing him, and every question I asked seemed to irritate him more and more. After 15 minutes, I decided to end the torture but not before I asked him if he had any other candidates in mind for the position. Mind you, this was not the first time I’d asked, and again he told me no. We parted ways after that question, and he told me to have a good day.
I left the interview knowing that I didn’t get the job. And I knew why I didn’t get the job. But after months of searching and beating myself up for leaving the DMV, where I may not have been happy but where I was gainfully employed and around more of my people, I tried to stay positive. I drove back to San Diego, blasting music that fed my soul and chanting, “He’ll look past my color and remember that he loved all I brought to the table before he saw me in person.”
Yeah. The next day — literally the next day — I got a letter in the mail saying, “The position has been filled by another candidate.” It seemed he couldn’t wait to mail that letter out. This wasn’t the first time I was turned down for a job. This wasn’t the first time I experienced white people so taken aback when they met me in person, that they had to adjust their whole selves. It was my first time, though, knowing my skin color was the reason for someone not to give me a job.
After that day, I decided that I didn’t want to be civil anymore. Why should I be? When racists decide to spew their hate, are they civil? Do they civilly tell you to go back to your own country? Did they civilly murder Emmett Till? How about Dr. King? Or Heather Heyer?
No, they weren’t civil at all.
Look, I understand people want to combat racism with love and civility. I get it. If I’m talking to someone who genuinely wants to learn what it’s like to exist in this country — hell, on this planet — as a person of color, I will have that conversation with them. It may not be comfortable and we may need to take breaks and revisit it, but at least they’re trying.
But if you just don’t want to get it — if you want to question my life experiences and those of other people of color; if you want to bring up the “race card”; black-on-black crime; the fact that you too grew up poor; or the Irish were slaves — then I say fuck you! I’m not getting paid to get you to see things from a different perspective. I don’t get a dime to try to teach you empathy. My bank account isn’t changing by going back and forth trying to educate you and pull you out of your ignorance.
So I will no longer be civil to people who just don’t give a fuck because my give a fuck died in Anaheim in 2011.
*This is the collective product of women of color and allies. This piece specifically comes from the voice of a WOC.