Actually, you don’t need my permission and you don’t even have to say good-bye before you go. In fact, it probably would be better if you didn’t say good-bye. It would spare us both the awkwardness of actually trying to work something out if that is what we are inclined to do. If you must say good-bye, then you have both my permission and my blessing. Sometimes, people are just better off if they are not in each others’ lives.
Once upon a time, I was in high school. Many of the people reading this will have attended with me, though I’m not entirely sure if they remember the incident I am about to recount. I had a bully. “Bully” is perhaps the wrong word for it. This guy was beyond that. Every single fucking school day, he would hound and harass me. Refer to me as nigger. Convey his views on white supremacy, particularly his heroes James Earl Ray, David Duke, and Nathan Bedford Forrest and regale me with refrains of “White Power” and whatever other sayings he pulled out of white supremacist ideology. It was constant and he’d get his friends in on it, some of whom I had known much longer than he did.
A couple of times, I had gone to the principal – one time with the asshole’s mucus still dripping down my shirt – and was accused of stirring up racist shit. Not a surprise, considering this guy read me the riot act on race the first day of school… the first day he even MET me.
LESSON ONE: In the eyes of many white people, hearing about racist acts was considered far more offensive than the actual racist act itself.
LESSON TWO: All too often, the response is denial it happened or even in light of proof – such as my snot-stained shirt – the denial that it was in fact racist.
Around this same time, it came to my attention that a faculty member at the same school was referring to me using certain language. To clear this up, this was not a teacher I had. AT most, we had seen each other in the library. She really didn’t even KNOW me and yet she was perfectly content to refer to me in the same terms as my bully right there in front of one of my best friends. After all, it was “private.” Like the principal who berated me in his office, this faculty member felt entitled to indulge in racist behavior, but did not want to be held accountable for it. My principal didn’t want anyone else to know what he said to me. This faculty member didn’t want ME to know what she said about me.
LESSON THREE: Many racists don’t want to be publicly known as racists.
That might be why Forrest’s buddies danced around in dirty white bed sheets while they were terrorizing and killing my people…
Unfortunately for her, I DO know and now that I have posted this, everyone else does. It’s okay. I’m not using any names. I’ll keep your secret. If someone else puts two and two together and figures out who you are, well that’s your problem. Guess you shouldn’t have been racist.
Then again, you were taking advantage of…
LESSON FOUR: For many white people, if they do not directly witness the racist incident, then it didn’t happen.
Oh… You know… I or countless other people of color are making it up. Oh… wait… No… WE MISUNDERSTOOD. Remember Lesson #3? They don’t want to be caught. The burden is then on people of color to prove their experiences and because so much of it happened behind closed doors – and often times in rooms in which we are not even allowed – the situation degenerates into their word versus ours. Under this circumstance, their world almost always wins out. Why? Remember Lesson #1?
Let’s rewind back to my “bully.” As I said before, he harassed me every day and usually got others in on the act. It was more than being insulted. Threats were made. I was scared I was going to get jumped. At the time of the spring musical, I carried an aluminum baseball bat inside my costume bag just on the outside chance I might get caught alone sometime after school. Remember Lesson #1? I essentially was cut off from reaching out for help. I was more likely to be punished for challenging it or confronting it than my “bully” was for visiting it upon me in the first place.
Here’s the rub: There were witnesses.
This happened often during lunch time right out in the open. Students, teachers… Even the goddamn principal. They saw. They knew. Some would tell me in private how shitty that was. Others would say “I’m sorry about it. I know ‘Bully’ and consider him a good friend. I’d rather not get involved. Good luck working that out.”
So… These people called themselves my friends, but yet they were perfectly okay with another “friend” racially harassing me and threatening my life.
LESSON FIVE: Some white people may “like me”, but couldn’t give two shits about my life.
These people were fine with my “friendship” as long as I don’t remind them that I actually have to deal with racism every single damn day. Their “feelings” trumped my right to exist.
Now, I’m getting to my favorite: “If you ignore it – or don’t react – it will just stop and go away.”
Remember Lesson #3?
Never mind that it has never worked that way in the entire history of the world. Ignoring it didn’t work during the Civil War. It didn’t work during the Civil Rights marches or any facet of life, for that matter.
If a man is abusing a woman or child, do you tell the victims “Ignore it and it will go away?”
If an intruder is breaking into your home, do you ignore it and hope it will go away?
If you chop off your finger while cutting vegetables, do you ignore it and hope it would go away? (Well… in that last case, I suppose the finger WOULD go away…)
So, why would you think racism and racial harassment would go away? What the argument really means is…
LESSON SIX: For some white people, a problem is only a problem when it affects them directly.
Remember Lessons 1-5? The people involved weren’t targeted and in many respects even benefited from the situation. Even now – over 25 years later – I am sitting on names. Why? This isn’t about getting back at them. This is about drawing a line in the sand.
I’ve had enough.
Last week, a pack of tiki-torch-carrying angry white guys from a number of white supremacist organizations descended on Charlottesville, Virginia.
I don’t give a flying fuck if they had a permit or had a stated reasoning of protecting a monument to Robert E. Lee. These are people steeped in white supremacist ideology who froth at the mouth doing naughty things to themselves while fantasizing about starting that “race war” they always wanted. These are people who count among their heroes men who have engaged in genocide of minorities. These are men who want the right to determine what I get to do with MY life or even whether or not I get to HAVE one. These are men who would love nothing more than to string me up from a tree and throw a barbecue beneath my bleeding, mutilated, corpse.
Like their “good men” predecessors did.
Talk about “free speech” all you want, but I guarantee that if I organized an armed march in support of ISIS that I would be investigated by 20 law enforcement agencies, likely interrogated, and everyone would be cheering whatever would hypothetically happen to me.
Even worse, there are people – led by our so-called president – defending these assholes and drawing false equivalence to any counter-protest movement against them. No… These people threaten my life and those of many people I love. You don’t get to tell me I should just sit back and pretend they don’t exist. Especially if you aren’t in their cross-hairs. (Go back to Lesson #6.)
This “president” made cracking down on minorities the central pillar of his election platform and the past seven months have lived up to it. The change in immigration visas. The Department of Justice downplaying civil rights investigations and criminal justice reform. Ramping up enforcement of drug laws in the midst of the worst heroin epidemic while people rot away in prisons for selling MARIJUANA. The attack against transgender people in the military. The more aggressive disenfranchising of minority voters as an electoral strategy. ALL of this flying around…
…and the president is still nodding and winking at white supremacists and defends these “good people” with “WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SIDE?!”
No, Dude. Don’t come at me with that. You know who these people are. You know what these people want. You know that you are encouraging their every move. You’re barely seven months in and you’re already in election 2020 mode. You want their votes because you know they’ll turn out.
And you have a Republican party too chicken-shit to stand up to you because they know you’ll probably sign off on everything they manage to get to you. Is what #45 is doing worth it?
“Racism” to you may be about your “feelings” and “emotions”, but it affects every single way I interact with society. I have to be mindful not to get too angry, less some trigger-happy guy gets “scared for his life” and shoots me dead. I have to evaluate every “Can I help you” when I walk into a store to figure if it means “Can I help you find anything?” or “I’m watching you to make sure you aren’t stealing anything” or “I consider you a threat and probably will be calling the police.” When I go to a house, I have to triple-check the address because just knocking on the wrong door can get me shot or the police called on me. Ohio is an open-carry state. Guess what would happen if I go walking down through my neighborhood openly carrying a legally-acquired firearm? Heck… even concealed carry…
There are thousands of these “unwritten rules” that most of my friends will never have to follow.
So… I said a lot here and I gave a number of my thoughts.
If you want to adhere to your “slavish” devotion to Confederate artifacts and monuments of men who got their asses whooped fighting to keep me and mine in chains, have at it… even though you’re wrong. Know that despite all the “Southern Pride” and “History preservation” you trumpet, you are sharing these symbols with White Supremacists. Don’t talk to me about “Southern Pride” if you are going to let them continue using them along Third Reich flags while chanting “Blood and Soil.”
If you want to trumpet the First Amendment of these white supremacists in one breath while berating anyone protesting against police brutality and institutional racism, have at it. From far away. From me. In fact, since you have declared it’s not a problem until it affects you, do me a favor and prevent yourself from being a problem that affects me.
Doubly so if you’re frothing around the mouth about a woman wearing an abaya. Or someone speaking a foreign language conversation that doesn’t involve you.
Don’t pretend to be my friend if you don’t value my life or my humanity. Don’t pretend to be my friend if your sense of security is based on denying me mine. Don’t pretend to be my friend if you consider my civil rights a fair negotiating point, particularly if you aren’t prepared to make the same sacrifice.
Put simply… Do not pretend to be my friend.
If I hurt you, whoops. I wish hurt feelings were all I have to deal with.
I love you, but some of you, I need to love from far away.
For those of you who stay: Thank you.
Anyone else? I love you. Good-Bye. I extend all my blessings for a rich and fruitful life.