Dormant Racism and Distrust

I am perhaps more angry than I have been in a very long time. And this anger comes from a much deeper place than any anger I have experienced before. And I am hurt. More hurt than I have been in a very long time and deeper than any hurt I have experienced before. And trust that I have experienced plenty of anger and hurt in my lifetime.

I was raised in a white family, in predominantly white neighborhoods and towns, have lived my adult life in predominantly white communities, and have attended a predominantly white institution. I have always been one of the few brown-ish people among my circle of family and friends. My race is ambiguous. I pass. To the undiscerning white gaze I am on the periphery. All my life when white friends learn that I am half black, I have gotten the usual, “Yeah, but not like the rest of them,” “No, not really,” “You’re just a person to me, I don’t see color,” “Eh, you’re kind of not very good at being black.” Depending on the friend, sometimes we chuckle about the last one and I joke that Eminem brought me to my black side. I have done little to dispel the underlying assumptions to these statements. When I was younger I really didn’t know how, it wasn’t something that was talked about in my family, and I grew up in the colorblind era. As I grew older I would cringe, grit my teeth, and blow it off. Now, few people mention such inanity to me. And few people who say such things recognize how hurtful and harmful these things are. Hurtful because they deny my racial identity and heritage, explaining a part of me away. Harmful because this thinking buys into the stereotype and myth of black trouble.

I will be the first person to acknowledge that I have not done enough to dispel stereotypes and the dormant racism within my own friendship or family circles. Much of my life was spent trying not to be noticed, fading into the background, and just going along. Why? I don’t really know now that I have found my voice and become comfortable in my own skin and power. I mean I can recount all the little humiliations – the teenage boys coming home from school and calling 5 year old me “nigger” daily, the middle school science teacher who wanted the one black kid to donate a curly hair to put under the microscope and project overhead in the class, my ex-husband wanting to show his friends how the skin on the top of my hands is brown while in-between my fingers toward my palm is more peachy, the friend in WinCo who whispered to me her white granddaughter was pregnant with a black guy’s baby – with my daughter present. I have never known how to address these in the moment. I would like to think that now my response would be, “Fuck you! That is so racist!” and then move on and away.

The one thing I have always believed was that my closest friends and family were not racist and wouldn’t stand for that. I really believed that the majority of my extended friend and family groups felt that the KKK and Neo-Nazi groups were abominations, white terrorists, evil. I trusted in these beliefs, held firm to my “people,” believing them as they smiled and called me friend. I felt safe, protected, secure. Turns out, that was false. Because for them, my close and extended friends and family groups who voted Trump, the racism he was fueling, the support and endorsement of the KKK and Neo-Nazi groups was not a deal breaker for them. They heard the hate, saw the signs and symbols – and these were not masked or coded, they were blatantly right out in the open – were easily ignored for the one or more issues they agreed with him on while being comfortable with dehumanizing entire groups of people, me included.

I am hurt and I am angry and I am ready to walk away from every single one of these people in my personal life. Not because they voted Trump/Pence, but because they supported the KKK and Neo-Nazis, hate, and domestic terrorism. I don’t have time for white apologetics, the pain of realizing a friend no longer trusts you, or explanation. I get why Hillary is so reviled by some (white, black, and across the political spectrum), I don’t much care for her either. However, I also get that no matter how much evidence is levied to refute the fact that she is corrupt or dishonest, none of my former people would believe it anyways. I get people recognize our systems are broken and they feel adversely affected. I also get how many folks saw no other choice, except there were choices – there are always choices. And I get that not everyone who supported Trump did so because they are racist. And that last point is likely true in a way. Most of my former friends and family are not overt racists, they would not likely stand by as people were lynched, but they certainly see little wrong with systems that target members of other groups with precision for the sole purpose of exclusion. That is how they chose to vote anyways.

I have lost my trust for a huge portion of my friendship and family circles – some of them close and long time friends and confidantes, some in-laws, some nieces/nephews, cousins, aunts, and uncles. And this distrust extends to every white person I see in the grocery store, on the street, or interact with – I am suspicious and distrustful. I have never lived like this and did not expect to feel this way. For me, the open support of the KKK and Neo-Nazi groups was an eye opener. I will never fully know the experiences of my black friends throughout this country; this new distrust and suspicion is just a taste of what I imagine many of them live daily with perhaps one exception. My distrust and suspicion is not just external to my life but internal to it as well. And that is a deep deep hurt, a betrayal of massive proportions, one I cannot just bounce back from. For me, nothing, no friendship or family group will ever be the same. And don’t get me wrong here. I am not fearful for my safety or worried about my place in the world. I am confident and comfortable with myself and will take up space as necessary.

As I said, I have little time for white fragility, apologetics, the pain of realizing a long time trusted friend no longer trusts you, or your explanation. I have no time for folks exercising their white or white male privilege to try and shut me up, explain away my analysis or feelings, ignore or attempt to refute evidence with weak arguments based on false information, or pleas to a friendship or family connection that I am now examining and contesting. What I do have time for is people who want to work to make this country and world a better, safer, and more equitable place for all of us – every single human being. People who are ready to listen, learn, and explore white privilege and racism. People who are ready to hold our government, politicians, leaders, and the media accountable to and for each one of us. Because if any one of us is suffering, we are all suffering. When any one group is singled out or held back, we are all held back. We are stronger as a nation when we are all doing better. And we can only do better when we do it together.

No excuse or explanation can assuage my hurt or anger in the roundabout way people supported the KKK and Neo-Nazis. I believe in actions. So now, what will you do to work toward making a better, more safe country for every person within these borders?

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” Martin Luther King, Jr. – April 16, 1963, Letter from a Birmingham Jail


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