I never believed racism had different levels of offensiveness. For me, either you’re racist or you’re not and any derogatory comment or action is equally problematic. A Klansman burning a cross on a Black person’s lawn carries the same weight as a co-worker telling a racist joke.
This is one area of my life where I have never allowed a grey area.
Over the past few months, it’s become clear that a few White people in my life do not share these views. During our conversations, some have expressed that making a “racist comment” doesn’t necessarily define someone as racist if they’re “just joking” or if they don’t use the “N” word.
So as long as it’s just a joke and they don’t call me a nigger, how could they possibly be racist? Because after all, everyone knows these are the only two ways someone can express racist tendencies, right?
The more I speak out, write, and get involved with organizations devoted to securing racial equality and promoting the humanization of Black bodies, the further the divide deepens between myself and the White people I once considered my acquaintances and friends.
They stopped asking me how they could help combat injustice.
They even let go of the awkward “how are you feeling” calls and text messages. Honestly, I could do without the forced inquires about my well-being, but what once seemed like genuine concern for the liberation of Black people has been exposed for what it really was: momentary White guilt.
These people who knew me and some of the obstacles I’ve worked to overcome felt an obligation to pay lip service to my plight of being a Black woman in this country. They delivered award-winning performances of feigned interest for as long as they could. After all, they weren’t completely oblivious to the fact that they benefit from White supremacy, even though they wouldn’t dare say so out loud. Instead, their guilt played out not by readily accepting and acknowledging the racial inequities in this country, but by asking me if I was okay and what they could do to help.
Checking on your Black friend and at least asking what could be done to advance the movement surely meant you weren’t racist, right?
It was evident that I could no longer continue to live in a bubble of delusion.
The more White people in my life began to distance themselves from conversations related to anti-racism work, the more I knew our relationships with each other were never as they seemed. I had been there for their life events and supported causes that mattered to them but when it was my turn, reciprocity was nowhere to be found. It didn't matter how long I had known these people or how kind they might have been in the past. The bottom line was they couldn't comprehend that as long as racism still exists, speaking, writing, and joining groups formed to address it and find solutions would never have an expiration date.
If they couldn’t understand that, I could no longer be vulnerable in their company. I couldn’t be myself around them, which would mean stifling my views and beliefs. Their admission that some racism was okay simply because it wasn’t identical to the “in your face” hatred touted by right-wing extremists confirmed they had no idea of the impact microaggressions have on Black people and people of color. Ultimately it meant they were unable to step outside the comfort zone White supremacy afforded them and their families to help dismantle it for the protection of me and mine.
I grew up in a predominately white suburb and when we first moved in, my family was literally one of three Black families in our subdivision. My junior high and high school had a handful of Black students and for the most part, we were able to co-exist with the majority population without incident. It did, however, inspire me to write an essay for a literary contest entitled “The Identity Crisis of the Black Youth” in my senior year for the simple fact that the curriculum did not include any reference to Black American culture or studies of African history.
Facebook reconnected me with a lot of my former classmates and I noticed with the recent conversations on race, most of their feeds remained the same. Still pictures of food, vacations, home renovations, etc. Only a few acknowledged racial injustice but most were quick to post the ever-popular “All Lives Matter” mantra. A handful of my Facebook “friends” respond when I discuss an issue of police brutality or discrimination in an attempt to solicit partnership, but if I post something funny, a picture of a place I’ve visited, or a positive quote, hundreds will respond and comment.
I’d pretty much grown up with these people I considered friends.
I’ve known the people in my community since I was twelve, but they weren’t able to take a moment to inquire of ways they could help in my fight for equality. It wasn’t their issue. It didn’t directly affect their bottom lines, their children’s futures, or their ability to continue with their family vacations and home upgrades. It didn’t matter and it wasn’t something they were going to discuss. It was much easier to just ignore it.
After all, Facebook should just be for fun, right? Who wants to be brought down with heavy conversations about race? But if I can’t discuss my desire for a level playing field and basic safety for Black people in this country with these “friends” of mine, I can’t really call them my friends. A true friendship offers kindness, understanding, camaraderie, and an unconditional safe space to be exactly who you are without judgement. If they were unwilling or unable to call out racism and speak truth to power, I would never be safe in their company. Their silence showed me that the protection of my family, my people, and myself were inconsequential to them. They had no instinct to use their privilege to help create a safe space for the Black people they had known more than half their lives.
Why don’t you write about positivity anymore? Is everything always about race?
My writing has always focused on how to create a positive life experience by intentionally choosing your thoughts and purposely focusing on the outcomes you wish to manifest in life. I adapted this mindset after surviving a physically, sexually, and mentally abusive relationship at the hands of my ex-husband. I suffered five out of ten years of my marriage in complete terror which lead to desperation, and eventually landed me in the deepest valley of depression. My two children saved my life, both figuratively and literally, and as I began to rebuild our lives after my divorce, I studied the power of positive thought. I used that knowledge coupled with my faith to climb out of what seemed like a bottomless pit of misery and hopelessness.
I began to write as a form of therapy because during my marriage, I had lost all desire to do the one thing that had always brought me so much joy since I was a child. I started a blog and began sharing my stories and received responses from women who had also survived abuse and related to my posts. Each blog included an original positive affirmation to promote self-esteem and self-love, and after a year of writing I published my first book, Jeanette’s Jewels: Positive Affirmations for the Spirit, which was inspired by my blog posts.
This led to publishing two more books under the Jeanette’s Jewels umbrella (Beautifully Imperfect: Loving Yourself in This Moment, and Rock Your Crown: Jewels to Reclaim Your Power) to further promote the importance of practicing a positive mindset, finding and living your purpose, and developing unconditional self-love to safeguard yourself from dangerous, disrespectful, and abusive situations. To reinforce my message, I created original quotes, messages, videos, and spoke to women on a wide variety of topics from surviving abuse, identifying specific gifts related to purpose, and practicing unrelenting self-acceptance.
Jeanette’s Jewels represents positivity and empowerment for women, however some women who are a part of my community have expressed concern with my focus on anti-racism and racial equality. I received messages on my website asking when I will begin to produce more positive and uplifting content again with one subscriber asking outright:
“Is everything always about race?”
My answer to her was yes, it is. It will always be about race as long as we live in a country that does not regard each and every citizen as an equal individual whose life MATTERS, no more or less than anyone else’s. It will always be about race when I have to worry about my children’s safety not because they are in a dangerous environment, but because of the beautiful skin they were born in. It will always be about race when the same women I’ve poured into and motivated for years now express exasperation and annoyance when I choose to focus on the plight of Black people in America.
It will always be about race, because White America made sure that it would be.
I have made peace with the fact that my circle and supporters will change. I’ve lived long enough to know that life is comprised of many ebbs and flows; it comes with the territory. Years of living has also taught me an important and valuable lesson: the peace of mind naturally created when you honor your true self is worth it’s weight in GOLD. I will never stop writing about positivity, but I will also never stop writing about my burning desire to achieve complete autonomy, equality, and freedom for Black people in America and people of color all over world.
A final thought to those who are tired of my anti-racism messages
Being true to myself and what I feel most passionate about defines who I am, and controlling my own narrative will always take precedence over appeasing the White people in my life who may feel uncomfortable with my writing content. If we lived in a world free of injustice, it would be easier to focus on less-weighty topics. But since this day has yet to reveal itself, there is an obligation to speak out and shed light on situations that impact our communities. Change starts from dissatisfaction with current conditions, but change cannot manifest if the conditions are not discussed. Instead of expressing irritation that I choose to focus on racism and equality, why not think about this question: What is the real reason the discussion of anti-racism bothers you so much?
If you answer honestly and take a moment to consider the effects of millions of others who also share your thought process, you may begin to understand why it is so necessary for these type of articles and books to be written.