I Keep Trying to Get It Right ...
The pictures above are about 50 years apart and yet, do I have to be afraid? I don't remember ever being afraid as a little girl. Partly because my Daddy was 6 feet 5 inches of don't-mess-with-me "man" and partly because my parents took us as far away from the places where race relations were unhealthy. I grew up in New Mexico and now I know just how much my father sheltered us from the horrors happening in other parts of America. So, when I was 14 and moved to Houston, Texas where on the first day of school I get called a "nigger," I realized, I'm not in New Mexico anymore. Nor, was I part of a predominantly black neighborhood at Prairie View A&M University where my father taught or earlier at Langston University, where he also taught. Yet, I have to tell you, when the white boy called me that vile name, I wasn't insulted because that wasn't who I was and I knew it. I also knew he was a silly white boy and more than that, I knew I had nothing to be afraid of. I was naive.
The hardest lesson for me that day, however, was that not one of my white teachers stopped him from calling me that name or reprimanded him for doing so and that if I hadn't been a quick thinker and ushered my then white girlfriends (admittedly they were horrified and the sister of the boy made ashamed) with satirical humor ("If we move to the left, maybe we can leave whatever he's talking about here"), there would have been a riot and the black football players that day would have been expelled for protecting my honor. I remember working for months with a young white friend for a UIL competition and having her father yank her out of the competition because the girl who was singing was black. Me. I remember and I thought I lived through those times, but lately, they have been brought to mind over and over again and while I am not afraid, I am pissed!
You want to know what I'm pissed about? Well, I'll tell you. I was never pissed at the boy who called me that vile name or the parent of the girl who refused to let her play for me. I am finally pissed at the teachers in the cafeteria that day and the music teacher who simply told me, "Well, I guess you won't compete this year." By the way, I did compete and came in third because I had to rework the piece for acapella the day before competition.
Know what I've been thinking about these past few months? Racism has never died. We think it has because we have Obama and Oprah, but give me a break, I could never hold up a sign that vilified Bush the way they are vilifying Obama and putting wanted posters up, threatening his life. The FBI would be at my house so fast, not only arresting me for terrorist thinking, but probably figuring out a way to get all of my little friends, too! Okay, maybe they like Oprah (they meaning mostly white women). Oh, but I almost forgot--not in Texas (another story, another time). Here's my dilemma. When do I speak up and when do I shut up? When do I hang on to dear life to be heard and when do I simply let it go? I know the answer. When it's time.
When it's time, I'll be more understanding and patient with those folks who aren't working at desegregating their minds and who refuse to let go of their hatred and self-righteousness. And I'll be more willing to engage in conversations with those of different hues about race when we're really ready to deal with it. I can't change those minds, but what about those who say, "Well, that's not me" or "They're all talk!" Well, tell that to those girls in Birmingham who were blown up. In fact, tell that to every black person ever lynched (oh, wait--you can't), incarcerated, run out of town, had their land taken ... want me to continue? Think it ended in the 60s? Think again.
The pictures above are not an anomaly, I'm sorry to say. They are fairly representative of a huge percentage of our population. Some hide it better than others. Racist thinking seemed to have gone underground for about a minute, but believe me, they (those who fit this description of card-carrying white supremacist) were never gone and most of us colored folks knew it. But, those of you who I know have the heart of progressives and are doing the work of humanity, start speaking up. When your brother or uncle or Aunt May or Cousin June set out to one of these rallies, speak up--speak out.
And if you know that the death-threat is being bantered around. Tell! Tell! Tell! Because they aren't saying it to me and I can't tell you apart from one another. I can't. You think they all look like white, male, southerners? Look, I want to believe, but these days I can't afford to. Especially when you (my white friend) are silent. Like the teachers in the lunch room, like the music teacher or the multiple times that racism reared its ugly head and my white friend talked me into calling it something else--silence is a slap in the face.
Wanna know why I call this blog and my work wacky peacemaking? I do because peacemaking is an insane notion when trying to deal with the insanity of other people. I've got to be crazy to write this piece knowing that some of my good white friends are going to be insulted. But, here's my message to all of my friends. You've got to be willing to do the unthinkable and step out of your comfort zone and especially that zone of silence and looking the other way. If I have my way, we're not gonna wait until there is a real tragedy and the Nation weeps. This nation went after Saddam Hussein because someone thought he had something to do with 9/11--okay, I know, they didn't think it, but they wanted others to think it (and this time, don't ask me who THEY are because you know as well as I do). Instead, make sure that your friends--black friends, know that they are cherished and ask, "What can I do?" "What do I need to know?" "Can we work together on this?" Something. Anything. Better than nothing.
Don't be afraid. Stand up and show the world how crazy you are about peace. And how crazy you are about that person of color that you love.
I do. And I do love you, too.
To read all of Andrew Manis' statement go here: Race Talk