It was Thanksgiving. A very cold November afternoon. I must have been 19 or 20 years old…home for the holiday from UCLA, where I was studying theater. My bube (grandmother) was still alive. My entire family sat around the dinner table, doing what the Skolniks love to do…talk politics. Of course we ate turkey. cranberry sauce. mashed potatoes. the usual. a little tofurkey for the vegetarians in the crew. The tone was light. Soft jabs. No heavy punching, since we all come from the same political cloth. But when the conversation turned to race, the tone got a little bit more serious. My memory is not good enough to remember what was said, but I remember the line that made the conversation come to an end. Stung like a bee. Definitely didn’t float like a butterfly. The guy who had just married my aunt, her second marriage, looked straight at me and said “you talk like you’re black.”
Frederick Douglass. Gwendolyn Brooks. Colin Powell. Maya Angelou. Malcolm X. Paul Robeson. Shirley Chisolm. Martin Luther King, Jr. I didn’t know who Barack was at the time…this was the late 90’s. You see, I was in speech class until I was 10 years old. Couldn’t say the letter r. These names. These heroes. I saw images of them. The sting was intense, but I closed my eyes in silence and remembered that as a kid, I dreamed I could talk like them. I wished I had their oratory skills. I dreamt of dreams and mountaintops, caged birds, presidential campaigns, Harlem in the 60’s and the abolition of slavery. I opened my eyes and just kept eating my turkey. cranberry sauce. mashed potatoes. just kept eating in silence.
Silence. silence is an American tradition when it comes to race. A tradition as traditional as Thanksgiving. Unfortunately after I learned how to say the letter r, I wasn’t too good at silence. Still not very good at it. And I’m definitely not very silent about what I have to be thankful for…on Thanksgiving or any other day of the year. But, it seems when I publicly talk about how good many of us white people have it, some of my white friends are not very good at being silent either. Many of them telling me that I shouldn’t point out facts like white Americans have 22 times more wealth than blacks, while the median household net worth for whites was $110,729 in 2010 versus $4,995 for blacks. Or that today in America, there are more black people in prison, jail or on parole than there were black slaves before the Civil War. Or that breakdown of food stamp recipients is: 33% (13.4m) are white, 22% (8.9m) are black, 16.7% (6.6m) are Latino & 2.8% (1.1m) are Asian. Or that Trayvon Martin was shot while walking black.
Many of my good white friends just wish I was silent. Wish I went back to eating my turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. Wish I didn’t make fill up their twitter timelines or their facebook newsfeeds. Wish I agreed with them that there is no longer racism in America. Wish that I agreed with them that it is now really about economics. Wish I agreed with them that all it takes is hard work to make it in America…you can question my sources for these facts all you want. you can question why i send these tweets out. you can question why these facts make you so angry. you can even question my ethnicity and race, cause in your mind it is hard to believe i am white like you. But, just ask yourself this question, for my non-black friends..if you were black, do think your circumstances would be the same as they are now?
If you are honest with yourself, you know the answer to this question. And with this answer, you know it is not acceptable that 50% of children who are born black in middle income families today in America will fall into poverty during their lifetime versus 16% of white children. And if you are honest with yourself, then you will do everything you possible can to bridge the racial divide. I am comfortable pointing out the racial inequalities in this country, cause I am also comfortable about giving thanks for what I have and honest about what I have been given. I recognize that my hard work has contributed to the little success I have in life, but I damn well know that a lot was also handed to me, like a door prize for just showing up. And for those who don’t get door prizes, I promise to fight everyday for their pursuit of happiness as much as I fight for mine. So, I will continue to show up and speak out when inequality is so blatant. Like what happened in Sanford, Florida on February 26th, 2012 when a young man was shot in the chest while holding a bag of skittles and a can of ice tea.
Am I not suppose to support Trayvon Martin because I’m white?
Our work is not done…
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik