In 1903 W.E.B. Du Bois penned the single most important piece of literature in African American history, Souls of Black Folk, that opened with the question I have carried with me ever since I read it: “How does it feel to be a problem?”
Over a century later, we are still answering that question. Over a century later our black men, like Trayvon Martin, are still paying with their lives for being “a problem.”
I am a woman. I am a college-educated, 23-year-old woman living in what may be the greatest city in the world. I play hard, but I work even harder. I am honest, trustworthy and an amazing listener, but all of that is negated at first glance by one simple fact — I am black, therefore I am a problem.
Sounds cliché, doesn’t it? By now you are probably furrowing your brow, or rolling your eyes expecting to hear another story of why America should feel sorry for me, but that isn’t the case here.
I’ve sat through a multitude of African studies classes tight-lipped as my white peers questioned the existence of racism in their post-racial American, white privileged minds. But then a young black man named Trayvon Martin was killed and the dirty blanket was finally pulled off the taboo conversation of the very present demon that is race relations in America, and I’ve decided I am tired of staying quiet.
I am ready to have this conversation.
Black women have long been known to be at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole. The grunt of our black men falls upon us after they inherit the grunt of the world falling upon them, and if nothing else, this has made us extremely strong.
For a while I thought if I did everything that society deems “correct,” I’d be exempt from being racially profiled. As a naïve youngin’ I figured, if I just go to school, get good grades and follow all the blueprints laid out for success, I would be safe from ignorance…then I learned a little something about double consciousness. I learned that there was the way that I saw myself, and then the way that white America saw me, and they were not one in the same.
Yesterday, I came across the article “The Talk: The Non-Black Version” by John Derbyshire, a man who holds tightly onto his inherited white and male privilege that exemplified the epitome of Double Consciousness. The disturbing article provides a bulleted list of speaking points that a white man should have with his children about interacting with black Americans.
Here are some excerpts from the list:
(10) Thus, while always attentive to the particular qualities of individuals, on the many occasions where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences, use statistical common sense:
(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.
(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.
(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).
(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.
(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.
(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.
(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.
(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.
(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.
(11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites.
My initial reaction was rage, then outrage, then I quickly came to the realization that this is a reality and this one man of millions was the one brave enough to attach his name to his racist thoughts. His thoughts for interactions with people of black skin is the same, if not nearly identical, to those directed to visitors at the zoo.
Am I not worthy of human interaction? Is a hyphenated additive to everyone who isn’t white what is leveling us with zoo animals?
My rage quickly turned into a realization and then into an epiphany: this isn’t going to end if we keep falling victim to the belief that there is indeed a “post-racial” America. My social responsibility, the social responsibility of all black people, is not to react to the attempted excision of our race with rage and anger, but with the opening of a dialogue.
Racism is not a priority to white people because they aren’t subjected to it, just as starvation is not a reality to the well fed. Most don’t know they are holding a privilege until they are stripped of it, or exposed to someone without it.
See white people, here is the underlying truth; no matter what society may think of you as an individual, you are still in the majority.
Clothes can change, bad habits can be remedied and addictions can be cured, but this black that I carry cannot be washed off.
I can’t zip down and slip off my black. My black is me.
I am not asking for sympathy nor am I begging empathy, because neither can be provided. I just want you to understand that you will never understand what it is to be a black person in America. No BET, no MTV, no over exposure to Lil Wayne or a black best friend can ever change that.
But as a black woman, if I don’t take on the responsibility of opening honest race dialogue, sharing with others what it is to be black in America, our race will continue to deplete; Trayvon Martin will not be the last young man murdered because he is black.
So forgive me for no longer wanting to stay quiet.