Denial in the Aftermath of the Zimmerman Verdict
Just like most people, in the wake of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, I’ve expressed my thoughts freely on multiple social media platforms. Of course, that also means I’m susceptible to further complaints. And without a doubt, the complaints are there.
No, not from my black counterparts, but from my white peers. I can’t even force myself to be surprised anymore, because, well, look at where I’m from. I reside in an upper-middle class, predominantly white suburb an hour outside of Chicago. The black population has always been less than 5%. In my town’s public school system, there is very little interaction among black and white folks, let alone voluntary social interaction. The majority of my peers tend to practice de facto segregation, as in the segregation that persists by personal choice. And no, the 1-2 token black friends does not count.
My thoughts on the verdict heavily surround matters of race. I explain what the verdict means for the black community; how a young black male’s death by a person of a much lighter hue, hits a soft spot for black people. You see, Trayvon was more than just a kid who was shot by a neighborhood watch man. For African Americans, his death was yet another reminder of this country’s dreadful past: the killing of unarmed black males by a person who does not visibly appear black. I word it this way because there have been plenty of white folks who have come to me and said how Zimmerman was of mixed race- that he had African American ancestry. But here’s the thing, does he visibly look black to you?
That’s the thing about race. Because it’s a made up, social construct to describe only a person’s skin color, it’s hard for us to point a finger at someone and define their ancestral make-up to the tee. Some individuals wish to point out Zimmerman was off-white, latino, and African American descent, as if somehow clarifying his ethnicity will get rid of the reality that yet another black male is dead at the hands of a person who does not visibly appear to be black. And to be honest, it’s silly. Race is defined by the color of your skin in America. Ethnicity is something you cannot entirely prove just by looking at a person’s skin complexion. You don’t know their family tree. Zimmerman sure doesn’t appear white or black. But as Aura Bogado says, “Zimmerman’s apparent ideology—one that is suspicious of black men in his neighborhood, the “assholes who always get away—” is one that adheres to white supremacy.”
To further develop my argument, I will use myself as an example. My family ancestry consists of both the white and black race. However, because of the one-drop rule and my dark-brown skin, I have been labeled a member of the black race. When you are walking down the street, you will see me as a black woman- not a black woman who also has distant white family members. The same can be applied to George. So please, stop with the but he’s this-and-that argument, so-didn’t-he-target-a-member-of-his-own-race? foolishness.
But, I digress. The intent of this piece is to respond to my fellow white peers who have yet again, chosen to shun me for inserting race into “every” social conversation. I’ve been told,
“It isn’t about race unless you make it about race.” I’ve also been told,
“Race is not always the issue like some people try to make it seem.”
(I’m going to take a wild guess and say this person is referring to me).
So what does me describing the racial demographics of my hometown have to do with this? Everything. The fact of the matter is, the suburbia I live in is predominantly white. Therefore, the extent to which racism and discrimination against white people happens is very limited. It’s hard for a person to see race when they are not continuously subject to the negative ramifications of it, on both a personal and institutional level. It’s hard for a person to see race, recognize racism, and understand the racial struggle when they are surrounded by people who look like them.
But then, you have the white folks who come to me and say, “Well one time, this black person said this to me…” or “I’m judged so much by [insert minority group] at [insert location].”
And I feel for you. But as a whole, both you and your race will never understand what it’s like to be a person of color. You claim to “get it.” If you did, you would stop trying to deny your social privileges due to the color of your skin in this country. You will never know what it’s like on a national, societal level, to be regarded as beneath those of a lighter skin complexion.
Your personal injustices are horrible; those times in school you were mistreated by black kids and being subject to non-stop racial slurs should have never happened. No one should be bullied.
I completely understand your frustrations. As a member of a group that is continuously disenfranchised and marginalized in a society that give the benefit of the doubt to white people; in a society where things like, ghetto, uneducated, shady, ignorant, or ugly are regularly associated with people of my color; in a society where the mistreatments you have happen more often to black people, I completely understand.
You may have been a victim of some personal injustices, but at least it isn’t all around you on a national scale. Imagine your very few instances of experiencing not only the explicit racism, but implicit racism and discrimination, on a larger scale. Imagine it happening to the majority of your white peers in this country and the black race mostly being the aggressor.
Imagine moving through airport security and a gentleman asking your father to come with him as he pats him down, your eyes locking with your father because he is being violated because of his skin color, as the white people in line simply go through the belt.
“The guard was just doing his job.” See, there we go. You are giving the benefit of the doubt to the non-black security guard, giving him or her the benefit of the doubt that he or she wasn’t racist, and didn’t racially profile my father as a black male.
Imagine you and your family being stared down in a department store because of the color of your skin, no matter how well-dressed you look, or the fact that you were with two adults.
Imagine being the only one who looks like you in class, the person who must go through a school system that focuses primarily on white, European perspectives. Imagine one member of your race committing a crime, and somehow, the negative associations get plastered on you too; but the white gentleman who decided to disturb a midnight shooting in Colorado has nothing to do with you as a white person in the eyes of police officers and your average “neighborhood watch” man.
Imagine from a very young age you forced to know you are different and are treated differently because of your skin color, something you cannot control. Imagine your parents having “the talk” with you, explaining that a police officer may pull you over because you are black, and how you need to take extra steps to secure your safety as a non-threatening black person in the eyes of the law.
Imagine raising money for a philanthropic event and the car-pool driver apologizes that you and the other white people in the car have to ask for donations in a ghetto neighborhood. Now let’s think this through. One could argue that statement had nothing to do with race; that it’s just, you know, describing a “shady” area. Then again, let’s be real. My entire life, when white folks have described a predominantly black or brown neighborhood, they refer to it as shady and ghetto; the complete opposite of a stereotypically safe, white neighborhood.
Then I get the, well-technically-ghetto-originates-from-the-ghetto-slums-in-the-Jewish-concentration-camps response. Listen here, buddy, I’m referring to what ghetto means here in America and how it’s been associated with black people. ‘Cause, you know, words change meaning and associations over time?
Imagine someone moving her child to the other side of her as you walk by. Imagine facing housing discrimination, even to this day. Imagine people discrediting your abilities because they assume you received an unfair advantage when you were admitted to college, even if you were in the top 10% of your graduating class. Imagine receiving discouragement when showing up to vote in the 2012 Presidential election.
Or maybe you can’t imagine this. Maybe you are too clouded by your privilege in society that you can in fact, experience the grandeur of not having to think about color because it’s generally not a problem for you.
Think about it this way: I am fortunate enough to eat every single day. I do not have to worry about when my next meal will be, so it makes sense hunger is not a problem for me. Now apply this rationale to a white person, but replace hunger with racism and seeing race. For the most part, white people are fortunate enough to not have to experience racism or feel bad because they are underrepresented in the media or subjects in education.
Think about it this way: I am fortunate enough to not have to worry about a person de-friending me because of my sexual orientation. Because I am a heterosexual, I do not have to deal with the discrimination that comes with being a homosexual. It makes sense homophobia and the other difficult realities of being a member of the LGBTQ community is not at the forefront of my mind. It makes sense me, or any other heterosexual won’t want to advocate for gay rights and gay marriage because it is not “our problem.”
Regardless, me and plenty of other heterosexuals still choose to support those who may face a different, unequal reality than me. I’m not trying to rob a homosexual of their negative experiences and say, “You’re just making too big a deal out of it. That event had nothing to do with homophobia.” If I were to say that, I would be minimizing the problem instead of trying to think of a solution to make life better for LGBTQs.
What a person in denial- who refuses to acknowledge race in an event- is doing, once again, is belittling black people’s problem. You rather just exaggerate it, right? Just say I’m pulling the race card? See, years ago, white people didn’t think there was a race problem. Looking back at 1955 today, almost everyone can say racism was a problem. The segregationists, however, even the average white person who wasn’t actually overtly racist- just blind to see the social injustices of black Americans; who perpetuated the subconscious racism and prejudices associated with black people by simply doing nothing- didn’t think there was a problem.
It’s this sort of denial that still persists to this day.
And it really irks me when white people want to question the racism I’ve faced. As if being black isn’t a social handicap enough in this country? That just because I’m not called racial slurs on a daily basis I don’t experience racism or feelings of inadequacy because I’m not white? It sure is great to pretend racism is a thing of the past. It sure is great to believe racism and race isn’t evident in situations when you can get by just fine without having to think about or deal with how other people perceive you. It sure is great to not be mistreated by the masses of society, rather, just a few people in your high school or work place alone.
The fact of the matter is, regardless of your socio-economic status, regardless if you grew up in white suburbia, or the black belt in Chicago, racism is still a reality. Just because I may be privileged financially, it does not mean racism is further eliminated from my life.
Children of all races are taught to believe white means purity and goodness; that black is sinister and inadequate; that black people are lazy, complaining, food-stamp using, affirmative action-loving people. These are the internalized, racist beliefs we have been subject to learn either purposefully or inadvertently, whether we choose to call a black person a nigger to their face or not.
Yes, I do live in a country where we have so many more freedoms and rights compared to those of third-world countries. Does that mean we should adopt that mindset so much that we are blind to see that a post-racism society does not exist? That the problem of race isn’t so bad anymore? That we no longer have to fight for equal rights for black people? That just because one black man, Barack Obama, is currently the executive chief of America, black people are somehow rid of their race-infused struggle and are successfully represented?
This is why I say time and time again for my white peers to get out of the white suburbia and/or upper-middle class town you live in. Get out of an environment where you are mostly surrounded by people who look like you and who do not have to deal with racism. Go to other parts of the country, visit the other parts in Chicago where black and brown folks live a completely different lifestyle than the white shoppers downtown. There is more to the world than people who look and feel as you do. This country has many perspectives and many realities that you wish and choose to not see.
Mychal Denzel Smith, an established journalist for The Nation, suggests to white America in his July 16 interview on The Matthew Filipowicz Show, “Stop being afraid to talk about [race]. Race was in that courtroom and they skated around it…we were not supposed to talk about race…the fact that Trayvon is a dead 17-year-old has so much to do with race and racism in this country…We have to get over ourselves as a nation and deal with our history and our present racism.”
I ask for my white spirits to wake up. Only when you wake up can we make race relations better.
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