Growing up, if I didn’t want to witness or experience racism, I knew which groups to avoid.
You laugh, but it was pretty obvious. People weren’t afraid to be called racists, it seemed more like a badge they wore with pride. I kept my distance from the boys who wore confederate flags, and the girls who clung to them.
My parents didn’t give me a handbook on dealing with racism. I don’t even remember having conversations with them on the topic. But even for me, unarmed with wisdom from my parents, it was just something I’d figure out as a black kid in Georgia.
This, and my painfully optimistic personality made me incredibly naive. In the third grade at lunch one of my classmates gravely told me they overheard another peer call me “the N word.”
“What ‘N’ word?” I asked my white friend, without a clue what she was talking about.
“I don’t want to say it,” she whispered.
“No really, just tell me!” My curiosity was peaked, but she insisted on not uttering the word herself.
“Is it nut?” I asked her. She shook her head.
Eventually I gave up and shrugged it off. It must have been something made up or not that bad if it started with an “N.” The worst words I’d heard of didn’t begin that way.
I never figured out what word she was referring to. Not for years.
I segregated myself to groups based on interests, not culture or race. I liked broadcasting, video production, student council, and cheerleading. My passion, along with church were my sanctuaries.
I knew when people didn’t like me based on my skin color. Well, at least the most obvious. But then there were others who weren’t so obvious. I felt confused when people would tell me “You’re different than other black people” as if it were a compliment. I’m just myself, and what does that even mean? Were black people suppose to all act the same while other groups are free to act as they please, not forced to march to the beat of a stereotype? My eyes slowly began to open.
Somehow, I made it to adulthood for the most part, unscathed. But I’m no fool. I know I’m just one of the lucky ones. I’d be lying if I said my blissful naiveness had nothing to do with that.
But now there’s no hiding, unless you just want to stick your head in the sand. And even then, below the grindy dirt, it will still find you.
I wish I could go back to only knowing a racist when they were physically right in front of me. It sounds silly, but in many ways, I think it was easier then.
Back then the racism I experiences was blatant, and obvious. Now it’s a helpless mix of ignorance, immaturity, and misunderstanding, all thrown in our faces everywhere we turn–Because of the screen that’s in front of us.
Want to see what hateful things people are saying about black people? A quick Twitter search and you’ll find it. Want to see a group of bigots congregating in one place? Read some YouTube comments. Want to know which of your friends just don’t get it or have racist mindsets? Check your news feed after an address from President Obama. Or notice how people react after mass shootings versus mass black churches burning down.
Whether I want to or not, I’m automatically sizing up my friends (and many many acquaintances) based on reactions to news events. And it’s not fair. It’s not. It’s causing what I’m calling Negative Information Overload. And it’s hurting me more than them.
If my daughter’s teacher hates a certain group of people I’d want to know. But if the guy I once took physics with finally shows the world his true colors? I don’t need that in my life.
Growing up the racism I witnessed was personally spat in my direction, or at someone who was dear and close to me. Someone so close they’d share such a horrible experience when we were together. I’d uplift her, and we’d get to the bottom of it hand in hand.
We had a filter of how much negativity we’d experience at any given time based on real life.–Your circle of friends and the community you lived in.
Now, it feels as though the pain of the world is raining down my newsfeed. I want to lift burdens, make a difference, but I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do that without breaking down from all the weight.
Are things getting better? It’s hard to tell. Before so much went unnoticed or swept under the rug. Now we have a giant magnifying glass on our side. … Or is it?
The poison is around every corner and inescapable.
Racism won’t be cured overnight, but it’s going to take a lot of work to eradicate the problem. Love is the answer. It’s simple. But it’s not easy.
If everyone tried to see one another as the brothers and sisters we are, try to see each other as God sees us… Man, the world would look so much better.
I don’t want my children to grow up blissfully naive like I did. I want them to be aware of reality. And to work with me bit by bit to make it brighter. But I don’t want the painful reality of many, to overshadow what’s good. And there is so much good. It’s a delicate balance, but I’m up for the challenge.