There is not anything necessarily everyday about racism, unless you happened to be black or brown. The network MSNBC months ago aired “Everyday Racism” a town hall that included segments from African Americans voicing their truths and experiences with racism, bigotry, and hate. The emotional toll of racism and acts of bias pulsed through the screen. Many stories sounded all too familiar.
“I think this country is overdue for a truth and reconciliation process in every corner,” said Heather McGhee, president of the public policy organization, Demos. I am in agreement with this statement and if a reckoning is to take place there must be more convening in order to define what reconciliation looks like. We must deliberately honor all narratives in inclusivity.
There isn’t a time that I can forget the color of my skin even if other people pretend that they are colorblind. The cues taught in childhood by black mothers, fathers, uncles, and neighbors set examples for black people to learn, and they are hard-pressed to never forget them, and in turn, pass them down to the next generation. “When you go to the rich side of town don’t go in those folks’ store unless you going to buy something”, my dear mother would always say. I recall being in downtown Selma, Alabama, in the heat of the summer in the late 80’s as an elementary school-aged girl, face to face with black people boycotting the local downtown drug store.
This was the first time I ever saw women in heels with picket signs and large men blocking the sidewalk that led into the entrance of said establishment. My mother walked past very nonchalantly giving a head nod of approval to the women and men shouting and marching. However, my brother ran through the protestors and somehow got past the protestors with big signs and almost disappeared inside the drug store.
My mother hurried through the crowd and caught him before his entire body went through the barricade. That day my brothers and I had our first lesson on how to respond to a boycott. If black folks say don’t go in we don’t go in. We believe there is merit in that cause, and we take it on because it is our cause as well – we fight, we picket, and we stick together.
The legacy of hate sealed by the fate of Slavery, Jim Crow, and Fascism hasn’t changed nor will it change the minds of those reared by racists and racist ideologies that refuse to label their actions as such. This kind of hate can be found, and I have experienced it every day and everywhere, and I dare not call it unconscious bias. I have consciously experienced it. What follows are my own confrontations with “everyday racism.”
It’s a sunny Thursday; I enter into a modern store in a trendy shopping center on the outskirts of a major urban city. I’ll preface this piece by saying that I liked the clothes in this particular store however I didn’t know if I would buy anything as I browsed. I was waiting for a friend to arrive at the nearby coffee shop. As I slowly perused the racks of trendy clothes that I couldn’t afford I deliberately waited for the customer service sales women to ask me the proverbial ‘May I help you”.
There were only a few people in the boutique-like store and clearly the store workers saw me touching the silky garments and filtering through the sales rack. After about five minutes nothing, once the only other shoppers who happened to be white left still nothing, I walked in a moderate pace to the door and as expected not even a hello.
While minding my business in my car driving the speed limit or as close to it as I can remember, a black car roaring in the lane behind me cut me off, I quickly glanced and noticed a white older man with two children in the backseat. He stuck his hand out the open window and waved at me and screamed the N word.
Cell Phone Counter Hate
As a high school career coach speaking with one of my Black Muslim students . . . she whispered, “Ms. Green I feel like so many people are rude to me.” I immediately asked her why she felt this way. She said, “I was at the cell phone store getting ready to purchase an item and a white sales person didn’t acknowledge me.” Ms. Green she said, “I just know it’s because of my brown skin and my Muslim attire.”
Sandwich Shoppe Hate
While eating a leisurely lunch across from a small family park at a well-recognized eatery in a gentrified part of town, I waited at a patio table, where I was the only black person, for waitstaff to serve me. I went to a manager and asked why it was taking so long and the manger admitted that it was a slow day and it should not have taken so long.
Years ago, I found myself sitting in my former boss’s office who happened to be a white tenured woman who was the dean of the department at a major University. She asked to speak with me and while speaking with me she blatantly asked me if I thought the staff was being racist. I said yes, she did nothing.
I have a wise friend who says believe the experience of the person having the experience. These are just a few incidents that I have experienced recently. Each experience as a black woman I share with other black people. There are some times when I unknowingly may share some of these incidents with white people and the response oftentimes come back with a variety of questions, conjecture, and unbelief. As a teacher by trade I am decided that my lessons will remain in the classroom and I don’t need to use my intellectual property or experiences as examples to the white race for closure or validation.
I have a wise friend who says believe the experience of the person having the experience!
Traumatic incidents such as these occur too often and there is an intuitive, subtle, traumatic brevity of racism that seethes in everyday spaces and everyday experiences. However, there is nothing everyday about being treated differently as a result of the color of your skin or being questioned for being treated differently. These injustices I hate to admit or things black people have learned to approach with a series of decisive forethought.
- I can choose which stores to not patronage once I am aware of the lack of diversity and equity of treatment.
- I can ignore the racist on the road and make a decision to not rage against rage.
- I also can sit with my brown students and explain the nature of uncivility and hate and give examples of how to survive.
- I can do a formal report to higher ups on a job explaining the intimidation of hate; knowing the higher ups may be friends with the ones perpetuating the offense.
- I can admonish others to speak out about these atrocities even if there is unbelief or you get ignored.
As of late I have heard intergenerational stances that the time we have entered into feels, sounds, and has begun to smell like the 50s and 60s. The divisive rhetoric and vilifying of truth spewed from politicians as added to this backslide in ways that seemingly want to place divisions of fear into people of color for simply living and taking up rightful space in America. Going to the store as a black person to buy a cell phone case shouldn’t merit survival skills. As black people our bodies are always at risk and the choices we make are rendered sometimes in a moment at a restaurant where we are paying customers; but walk out without the food we ordered.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of acts of hate perpetuated in waves of intimidation perhaps some unconscious ways in the very ordinary town I abide in now as women in my forties, Birmingham, Alabama.
Yet, these situations and rapid-fire, hot occurrences are all too exhausting and frankly all too real.
Conversely, there is hope or, rather, I have hope – hope in the witness of the writer to express and recognize one’s own humanity amidst personal suffering. I hope to live higher than the suffering by communicating the hate with a voice of hope.