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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.


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Brittany says:

This post got very real, and I appreciate you putting your thoughts out there. I agree with you on a lot of it. I’ve only once been called “the n word” to my face, though I suspect it happened a lot more, given that, like you, I chose my friends based on shared interests in addition to proximity. In my small town, that means a lot of my friends were (and are) white.

I do my best to encourage people to reevaluate their thinking. Since so much harmful behavior is learned, I like to ask people ‘why?’ and to explain their (un-funny) “jokes” so that they’re morel likely to reconsider their thought processes.

I’m still not sure whether I’d want to raise a kid with the current state of race relations in this nation. My hat is off to you for doing so with an understanding of the climate and what it takes to arm kiddos with the knowledge to keep themselves aware and protected.

Oh– and let J know we’re ready for another art lesson on Periscope! <3

Allison says:

I moved to this country from the Caribbean when I was in middle school. My mom had been living here for a few years before and sat me down to have a talk before my first day of school. I was only 11 and the concept of racism was so foreign and confusing to me. I’d never had to be so conscious of my skin before.

Growing up, I like you, chose friends mainly based on shared interests. I also had classes where I was literally the only brown face in the room. Also like you, I’ve heard constantly that I’m “not like other black people.” I’ve also heard a lot that when people (usually white) have their back to me or speak to me on the phone that they think I’m white. The thing that bothers me about that is they say it as though I’m aspiring to be not black and I find it condescending. I know it’s naive (but really, why is it?) to still wonder why “being black” has to be limiting. Why can’t I enjoy tennis and Dave Matthews Band without being called an Uncle Tom or not like other black people? I just enjoy all things, regardless of whether it’s deemed “culturally appropriate” by people who neither know me nor think I should seek to expand my universe.

I want my kids to be curious about the world. I would consider it my greatest failure as a parent if either of them felt forced into a box and feared putting themselves out there and learning about everything there is. I want them to at least try, not just think they shouldn’t enjoy things because other people say so. At the same time, I have tremendous guilt that I’ve started them out with strikes for being biracial and that I’ve made life just that much more difficult to navigate. But that’s my own stuff and I can’t put that fear on them.

Growing up in a multicultural family and a small town racism was something I learned about at an early age. I’ve already gotten the discussion started with Moo about it, but thankfully she hasn’t experienced anything close the situations that I did when I was her age. Love for all people regardless of race, gender, etc definitely seems to be something a lot of people struggle with practicing.

However, I agree that there is still a lot of good out here. We all have to do our part and work together to better race relations and make sure that the generations after us continue to make strides to practice more love and less hate towards all.

Sande says:

I like to think I grew up in a colorblind home. My mother’s parents were a mixed couple, she from Mexico and he from Michigan. My mother told me stories of how she never fit with the Anglos or the Hispanics! She was raised in west Texas in the twenties and thirties. I remember the hurt in her face when someone would use a racial slur for Hispanics. I remember being a small child and not understanding being pulled away from a water fountain in New Orleans and told don’t drink there, people will get mad. It is teaching your family to love all just like you said. Thank you

Candace says:

The idea of “I don’t see race”, “colorblind” dismisses the beauty in every race. I’m not going to pretend that in order to respect another person, I have to remove a part of them. No, you will see me for my whole phenomenal woman self. Thanks to colonization around the entire globe, there is racism.

I grew up in the Bay Area (CA) where diversity was more normalized. Today, gentrification is undoing a lot of progress from the past.

But I don’t think we ever have to fear that the good of some will ever be overshadowed by some bad people. There’s no evidence of that in history ever because we should be able to chew gum and walk at the same time; meaning, fear shouldn’t be in respectability politicking of what we speak about. Fear should be about the silence of those that allow this stuff to continue. I can’t tell you how many Facebook moms I know who are too sad to watch the news, point fingers at people rioting because of injustice but ok for pumpkin fest riots and any other sporting even rioting n looting. These moms actually say to me, “I want my child to be happy as long as possible and not have to hear such bad news.” It’s sad that they also prefer to hear news from their husbands.

Jennifer says:

I’m with you Candace. While I understand there’s no harm meant by trying to be “colorblind” I too want people to see me for my whole self. Though my color may or may not be the first thing someone notices, it won’t be the last because there is so much more to me.

As far as the fear of good being overshadowed by bad I mean news more than people. All of the information we get it through a filter, unless we ourselves are witnessing it in person.

So the filtered news we take in, we then filter for our kids. Decide which peices to give them and which to hold back or save for later.

Already I’m giving my kids more information than my parents had at my age about our history in this country. I also want them to learn through their own experiences and form their own opinions. I want them to learn about the good and the bad, but I don’t want to personally deliver so much bad that is consumes them. Does that make sense? It’s definitely an idea I’m sure will evolve as my kids get older.

Tia says:

what are some ways you plan on keeping your kids aware of reality and talking about race? My daughter is 3 and starting to notice skin color. We have lots of childrens books we read. She is adopted and a beautiful brown, I want her to be proud of who she is. I have so many people that are so called friends like you say that act as if her black is diffrent as if to say there is a diffrence. It really hurts my feelings and makes me wonder how to protect her while keeping her aware.

Heather says:

Thanks for sharing your experiences with racism. The internet is definitely a place where people like to share bigoted views with one another and feel they can get away with it. Your final note on love is a valid one too; hopefully more people will realize the hurt their prejudice causes and embrace diversity. Great post!

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