So, we know there are issues surrounding the wearing of blackface by politicians and I wanted to share how I responded as things began.
When the first story about Gov. Ralph Northam wearing blackface in college came out, I listened for his apology and thought, “Well, that was good.” I also thought this was 1984, not too long after I got out of high school (I graduated in 1979) where there were many KKK fanatics and I saw blackface done on more than a few occasions. So, the pounding reality of the horror of blackface for African Americans/Blacks did not really compute. I was tepid in my response.
I also realized I am white and what the heck do I know about what blackface looks like to a black person… feels like… to a black person, so I began listening and reading the comments and thoughts and essays by folks who live the reality of black hatred every day.
And while I still do not believe I really understand how horrible it must be to be demoralized, depicted and demonized by a white person in blackface, I think I am beginning to get it.
I hope to find the visceral reaction to it I should have had when the yearbook picture showed up on TV.
“I know how jarring it may be to hear a non-white person, or maybe anyone, even say the words “white people,” as it can take on a pejorative connotation. That’s fine. This isn’t always comfortable to have to say, but that doesn’t make it any less true, necessary, or timely.”
The challenge is for white people (myself included) to stand UP, (and kneel DOWN), speak UP and stop being complicit in the systematic and so-deeply-ingrained-whites-don’t-even-see-it-anymore prejudice and hate against People of Color.
“Sorry, but not sorry, you’re going to have to take a side. And yes, you have to do it now.”
The United States has always had a divide between races. But now, with the dotard “president,” it has become a chasm, one that grows more visible and wider with each new tweet. White people just cannot keep their… OUR… mouths shut anymore. We have kept silent and turned our backs for far too many decades.
Blacks are being killed by the police nearly every day. Latinx are being confiscated from their homes, from schools, their places of employment and even in hospitals and churches. Muslims are accused of violence simply because of their religion… one many of us do not understand (myself included), but the harassment and death threats are just not what the United States was founded to represent. All of this in order to fulfill the dotard’s horrific ideas… and plans… to rid the country of anyone not white.
“It’s very likely, and understandable if you feel this is unfair, this is inconvenient, it’s frustrating, it’s difficult, it’s embarrassing, it’s going to alienate you from people you know, love, work with, watch the game with.”
Too fucking bad. SPEAK UP! Speak for those who get killed when they open their mouths, receive death threats when they kneel at a football game (exercising their First Amendment exquisitely). We whites cannot leave Black & Brown people hanging out there alone anymore.
I read an article yesterday (that I cannot find again for anything) where a Black Medical Resident was leaving work after a more-than-30-hour shift in the Emergency Room and a white man in a car started screaming the N-word at him, over and over again. He added some other racist epithets, but mostly it was the N-word. He said the white man was laughing so hard at his hilarity the doctor thought he would have to give him aid when he finally collapsed in hysteria.
While that part is gross enough, the part that was the most offensive to him (and me) is the whites in the parking lot who said NOTHING.
He said they skittered away, trying not to get involved.
What the holy fuck, white people!
SAY SOMETHING! SCREAM BACK!
Yeah, I know… they might have a gun. If they do, they do. You are supporting/protecting/showing love for another human being that is in the line of fire. If you believe in a God, He will surely reward you for speaking up.
“That’s privilege. Someone once said, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” This is a taste of equality.”
It’s tough to say something when we are so used to just walking on. We cannot just walk by anymore.
WE CANNOT IGNORE THE ISSUE ANYMORE.
WE HAVE TO SPEAK UP!
OPEN YOUR MOUTHS, WHITE FOLKS!
SCREAM when others simply cannot or are hoarse from doing so.
The horrific events in Charlottesville August 12, 2017, where the beautiful Heather Heyer was killed, were despicable acts of domestic terrorism. An outspoken beacon for ending racial and xenophobic behaviors, she will be honored always for her sacrifice to the cause of equality and peace.
My Sordid Family Legacy
These clashes between the “right/alt-right/white supremacists/white nationalists/Nazis/etc. brings out, once again, the shame I hold in my heart because of my family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan.
I remember when my family moved from northern California to Orlando, Florida in 1966; I was 5 years old. As we drove deeper and deeper into the south, I saw more and more segregation. I had no concept or context, of course, but absolutely remember the different water fountains and different bathrooms. Today, I am horrified at those memories.
USA. North Carolina. 1950.
In 5th grade, Mrs. Moore made it clear where she stood on the race issue. We still had no blacks in the school… the first and only black person came the next year… but as she taught American History, she lingered on the south’s views in the Civil War segment.
A friend of mine, Angel, brought in something that she wouldn’t even show me, but went to Mrs. Moore to ask if she could share with the class. I was near the desk so could hear it all, still not putting it into context for several more years. Angel had brought in some Civil War memorabilia, all southern in origin. I can still hear Mrs. Moore saying, “I believe the same as you do, but we aren’t allowed to talk about those things.” I went to sharpen my pencil and saw a photo of the white hoods and a burning cross. It was the first time I had ever seen the KKK.
My Nana, whom I was named after, was married to my Johnston great-grandfather. I distinctly remember her seeing black children, pinching their cheeks and telling them what cute “pickaninnies” they were. How I wish I could remember the faces of those children’s mothers; they had to have been disgusted.
When we spent weekends with my great-grandparents, watching television became an adventure in racism. The Flip Wilson Show, one of the first TV shows that starred a black person, was popular, but my great-grandfather would holler epithets at the blacks on his show and kvetched the entire hour it was on.
When we played the game it was “catch a n-word by the toe.” I had zero clue what I was saying. When I had kids, they would play the game and sing “catch a tiger by the toe,” but there was not one time I didn’t flinch when they began singing the song, fearing they would say that horrible word. They’d never even heard that version of the rhyming game; I still braced myself.
Peppered around the south are Brazil nut trees. We called them “n-word toes.”
Add the KKK to My History
I was about 10-years old when my racist great-grandfather lay dying in a hospital from emphysema. The stories began being told about his life, one of which was his history with the KKK. Apparently, he had been an active member in the 1930s and 1940s when my family lived outside New York City and then again when my great-grandparents retired to Florida in the early 1960s. Hints that he might have been a grand wizard wafted about as well. I have no idea either how to find out if that is true nor do I have any desire to learn more about his/my shameful history.
How I Was Raised
My father, a Cuban, was called the n-word in high school (in Miami) and my mom’s family became apoplectic when they became engaged. Not sure if my mom had some inherent understanding of racial issues, but she was a supporter of civil rights issues in the 60’s. Not that she could march or anything having 3 kids one right after the other, but she said she did speak up as much as possible with friends and family.
For whatever reason, we just didn’t say the n-word at home. Except for what I mentioned above, I cannot recall ever using that word to describe anyone or use as an epithet.
It took until junior high, which bused in blacks, before I heard the word used regularly. I didn’t connect the word with racism until long after I graduated from high school. I remember, in high school, hanging out with band members who “joked” about being in the KKK, how they were looking for local meetings and even talked about burning crosses. I sat mute, confused and lost. How much more oblivious could I have been? I’m baffled at my inability to see the graphic evil stewing around me.
Somewhere along the line, my mom gave me the book, Black Like Me… a not so subtle teaching of stepping into another’s shoes… black shoes. I remember reading it as if it was yesterday.
After my parent’s divorce, my dad married a deep south-thinking bitch. When she met my Dominican husband, her face pinched tight and she asked, “Are you black?!” the word “black” spit out like a bitter pill. Somewhere in me, I sat up straighter and mentally stuck my tongue out at her.
In fact, his grandmother was black, 2 of my children being brown, the last white like me.
Confronting My Own Racism
It took (too) many years coalescing all that I’d seen and heard into some semblance of understanding.
I’m sitting looking at the blinking cursor, not even sure where to go from here.
pausing some more
I need to amend a sentence I wrote above.
“I cannot recall ever using that word (the n-word) to describe anyone or use as an epithet.”
Amendment: Out loud.
After not using that word in my life, how did it jump into my mind when I was frustrated or angry with a Black person (usually in the car)? Where did that (disgusting) habit come from?
The 1980s were a really introspective time for me. I tackled issues like boycotting, feminism, inner-homophobia, non-violent communication & childrearing… and began exploring my beliefs (and lies) about racism and xenophobia.
(This is much harder to write than I expected.)
I am the embodiment of white privilege. I might have Cuban blood and a Latinx surname, but I have been indoctrinated in the ways of the white culture.
Despite working with Latinx migrant and immigrant women for a couple of decades, learning Spanish, and being able to make platanos maduros, I remain steeped in whiteness.
I acknowledge there is very little I can say to alleviate the damage done by me and my family, but I have to apologize, nevertheless. I am deeply sorry to everyone affected by those in my family… and perpetrated by myself, even inside my mind. I do not want forgiveness, would never ask for it because I do not think forgiveness is in order. I want blacks to know, in my heart, I do apologize every day. I try to use the privilege I have to rectify, support and lift up the blacks I see and interact with. I am so, so sorry. There are not enough words to express myself.
Some Things I’ve Learned
“For a black American, a black inhabitant in this country, the Statue is simply a very bitter joke… Meaning nothing to us.”
Black Lives Matter is an amazing group that holds black people in the esteem they deserve. I love their goals of ending the country’s systematic incarceration, ending police violence with regards to black folks and being “unapologetically black,” fighting for reform of the justice system that is overwhelmingly against blacks and standing tall in their shared problems and successes. I’m listening.
It makes my heart ache seeing what’s happening with this country because of 45. Each of us has a role to take in ending the pain and growing chasms tearing our country apart. I cannot march, but I can write. I need to write more.