and here I thought we’d come so far

It’s been a while since I’ve encountered blatant racism in real life from a person I know.

I know it exists. I wish it didn’t, but we can see that it does. I see it on TV. I see it occasionally in a broad sense.

Toward the end of spring term last year there were a couple of black men in the parking lot of my school who seemed to fit certain stereotypes people have. They got in their car and left. By some amazing coincidence a patrol car happened to roll through that little corner of the parking lot about a minute later. Just checking, right? The police were not acting in a manner that suggested they were actively pursuing anyone (which I assume would be the case had someone actually witnessed these men perpetrating a crime of some sort). Someone assumed that these men were up to no good and called the police to report it. In this case, I know racial stereotyping happened but do not know by whom or any of the details. It saddens and disappoints me, but I can sweep it under the rug in the back of my mind because there isn’t really anything I can directly do to change it today.

I grew up in Los Angeles. Mostly what I learned from that is that people are people no matter what their skin color. The fact that the melanin in your skin is more concentrated than mine has no effect on whether you are an asshole or not. I remember my mother saying, “I’ve been mugged by a white man, a hispanic man, and a black man. There are bad people in every type.”

I suppose I’m lucky that the people I surround myself with usually either are not racist or are very good at hiding it. I am realistic enough to know that we cannot change the way people think or feel inside if they do not want to change. Ideally we change the way they think, but failing that we can damn sure change the way they act.

It hurts my heart to hear people say the N word. (I cannot even type it out. It’s such a hateful word.)

Words have power. Words have power because we give them it. If I did not believe that I would probably not be typing right now. I don’t want anyone to use that word. I recognize that since this originated in slavery, many black people have taken that it back for their own use. I can see why that would feel liberating and necessary in the process of overcoming the history of slavery in this country. But for me, calling yourself a name before someone else can does not negate the bad undertones of the word. It does take the power from the original intent of the word. But it seems to me that casting off the shackles inherently embedded in that word would be a better use of our word power.

In this day and age I thought we all knew that while I wish no one would use that word, only black people are allowed to use it. It’s theirs now. To use or not use as they see fit. Because white people had the use of it for far too long and we have lost the use of it. I am surprised and appalled and offended when I hear it. It is such a charged word that it’s pretty much impossible to say it in any way that isn’t offensive. (Perhaps in academia, but even then it’s a tricky thing.)

I also know that it’s hard to see discrimination if you aren’t on the receiving end of it. Subtle little things that a person might not notice unless they happen often enough to be a pattern. One little sidelong glance means nothing. One little sidelong glance repeated ad nauseum throughout your day, your week, your life? These little (and not so little) things add up.

I work everyday to improve myself and to try to better the world around me, even if that is only in small ways. I read a lot. I admit to being an information junkie. One of the things I’m always looking for are small ways to facilitate change. I read somewhere that if you do not speak up when you are with a group of people who are doing something you don’t like, you are condoning it with your silence. Even if you do not participate in it, you are not trying to stop it. Criminals often will say that they did not kill someone so they didn’t do anything wrong. But they can be convicted of the crime of going along without trying to stop it. It makes you an accessory. It allows the perpetrator the power to do as he pleases because there is no opposition. No one says, “This is wrong and I won’t sit by and watch this.” It is the very least you should do.

In the case of less murderous situations:

I will not laugh at your racist joke. I hope that you are uncomfortable when your “joke” falls flat. I hope (because I am still not that brave) that you pick up on the message I’m sending. This is wrong and I won’t pretend it isn’t.

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