This is America II
I live with hate.
I live in an urban apartment building, full of people of varying sorts including, at least one Nazi who feels comfortable enough to scratch crooked swastikas onto things. Another White supremacist who “engaged” me by talking at me about how concerned with Black on Black crime he is, how he “just wishes” the Blacks would stop using social services. He did not see the irony in me pointing out that he himself uses the same services. Another neighbor, an older White man gleefully cornered me to tell me about how he voted Trump so keep “she who shall not be named” out of office and how, exciting it was that some Antifa thug told him to fuck off during a protest.
This is daily life in a “liberal” city.
I live with hate.
This past year, I’ve learned to tie a new to me style of headwrap. The type with the large front knot, my first successful times wearing it, I felt so proud and beautiful. In the store while I was picking a nectarine, an angry White woman stood next to me and sneered at me until I looked at her. “Oh is that halal ASS LINKEM, fuckin Muslims.” She swing her yoga mat, I’m sure intending to smack me with it. It was 7:30 AM, I hadn’t even had any coffee. She got behind me in line and told the cashier I had stolen the nectarine on the belt, and talked about how glad she’d be when the neighborhood was safe again.
I am not a Muslim. I wasn’t offended, I was tired. I hadn’t had any coffee, I was hungry and really had to go pee. The woman stayed on my heels out of the store, she was certain to let a few other passers by know that she had her eye on me because terrorism or something. She followed me for a block and when I turned around to ask if she was coming to work with me or if she wanted something. I have a talent for speaking in a very bland, neutral tone and I stood about five feet away. She reared back and skittered away.
Racists are like roaches. If your neighbor has them, you’re gonna be bothered. If you’re in certain areas, they are everywhere. Sometimes when the light comes on they run away, sometimes they stand there looking at you like they want to fight.
Around this time in 2015 I wrote the following on Facebook after a Bernie Sanders event in Seattle:
Dear Seattle. I realize that, me walking around all Black and everything might make some of y’all believe I am actively some kind of super (in)human creature who is out to get your fave political candidate, to insert my Blackness into your world or whatever. Let me explain you a thing. When an older White man who stepped in front of me on the sidewalk to make sure I saw his #alllivesmatter tshirt and his angry expression I did not stop to begin the battle cry of #blacklivesmatter. I’m sure he felt either disappointed not to goad the negress into raising a Black power fist and screaming but I had to get to work. Shit like this makes me tired. The day after that Bernie Sander’s thing, I endured the angry stares and mumbled All lives matter shit without losing my cool. Here’s the thing. I am not going to walk to work every day with my coffee and headphones on screaming Black Lives Matter because I have shit to do. I have to go to work. I have to get home safely. I have art to create. Don’t mistake my silence for compliance or complacence. I see what you’re doing. I remember. I also know when and where to use my voice and you chest puffing White supremacy loving people are not worth me being late for work. Or showing you my pain. Some of you display the same behavior here on facebooks and while I might not call you out every time, trust I see you. Now if y’all will excuse me, I am going to retreat away because I have zero chill right now. And if you want to come argue about all lives matter do it on your own page because I’m not having it.
That situation was another where, I really just wanted to go on about my day.
I live with racists.
Something I have tried to get through to allies in terms of my position on interpersonal racism is this. I don’t really care that much. Anyone can think anything they want to think. Hate me? Fine. Go on with your bad self.
That said- what we not going to do is bother me with it. How any one or group of racists feels about me is irrelevant until they try to make it relevant. My years of talking about race, have zero to do with thoughts and feelings. The issue is when said racist decides to nut up and “confront” me on whatever level.
Interpersonally, racists and I will probably never need to deal with each other. We’re not dating, we’re not texting, we’re not. You do you, I do me. Easy. If we have to interact in the public sphere, are in the same grocery store, frequent the same bank, or gas station, miraculously we also don’t need to have any contact that requires personal interaction. In my job, I have dealt with racists and I don’t like it but it gets done because I am at work.
Fact is, I know if someone is really in their racist feelings there is zero I can do to change them. Talking nicely, educating gently, being unassuming, avoiding, being a “good” negro etc. Maybe someone changed their mind because I wrote a poem or a story or whatever but reality is, that is not really the most important job.
What we need to be dealing with are the situations where racists believe that their feelings and thoughts mean they get to assault or otherwise bother people like me. In my last piece, I talked a lot about how the America a lot of white folks are being exposed to, is the America I’ve always lived in. The racism and consequences of White supremacy is what we need to be looking at.
For those who have benefited, been unaware of or ignored the function of White supremacy in America for this long, you have work to do. Ask yourself questions. You don’t have to answer me, but be honest with yourself. If this is not my America is something you feel or think, where have you been? Do you know marginalized people? Did you believe us when we told you this was happening? Do you read American history with a critical eye? When you are offered education about these things, how to you receive it?
Do you retreat into fragility?
Do you say, well it doesn’t happen to me?
Do you interrogate how you contribute to the situation we as a society find ourselves in right now?
What do you do next? Reading this is a start. Educating yourself, triggering a new thought or question is a wonderful place to start.
A few other quick and dirty tips:
- Stop saying this isn’t or this isn’t your America. It is. Own it.
- Pay attention to POC when we talk about racism and how it functions, absorb it and watch for it. Start learning to see it when it is happening.
- Stop saying you don’t know what to do. Lots of folks like me are telling you, you have to decide if you want to take action or not.
To quote myself from the last piece.
Now, put on your hard hat and protective underpants, and go all the way in.
Next time, we’ll talk about ways to start actively doing more to recognize and deal with White supremacy. I’ll even have tips for ways to do it if you’re not into conflict, handling the racist person you went to high school with, and later on we’ll talk methods of support when you have zero dollars.
Until next time.