And why they can be so hurtful.
Managing Director’s Commentary: Our White friends and supporters – the White people who authentically love us and we love them back – are learning about the prejudice that the Wilsons and the rest of the Black community have faced all our lives. They feel bad and want to do something, but frankly, they don’t know what to do! So, they call us up and fervently ask, “How are you?” or say, “I’m thinking of you!” or with the death of John Lewis, “We’ve lost a great American!” Now, TWO’s Media Content Editor, Jillian Wilson, combines poignant perspective with personal stories, so you might educate those around you and be an effective ally for Minority people everywhere!
It’s more important now than ever to have open discussions about the Black experience in America, and conversations around race have never been so prevalent in my lifetime. As a Black woman who always chose to keep her race-related anxieties bottled up, I am welcoming the change and new openness I have with coworkers, friends and neighbors. But with the influx of race-related conversations on social media, on the news and in the world, there are opinions out there that are hurtful and inaccurate.
Now, let me say, I am not a human rights expert and had been pretty quiet about this topic until recently. But, as a Black person, I felt it was a disservice to myself and my community to not voice my opinion during such a crucial (and hopefully change-inducing!) time.
In the past month, I have heard so many positive and uplifting remarks. I can’t help but feel hopeful for real change as the world opens its eyes to the racism that Black, and other people of color, face throughout our lives. But for every positive remark, there has been a racist one (some of the most frustrating of which are well-intentioned).
In order to keep up the momentum, we have to be brave and call out injustice when we see it. To quote Hamilton (yes, I just watched the Hamilton movie and LOVED it), “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”
Here are some of the most frustrating things I’ve heard about racism lately, along with some thoughts on why these things are false or hurtful. I hope you arm yourself with this information so you can be an ally for Black people (our alliances are so, so important!!) and educate those around you:
Systemic racism does not exist
This statement is what inspired me to write this piece. Not only is it completely false (I’ll go into that later), but it also just doesn’t need to be said. As a human being, you should not be denying or justifying any sort of discrimination against any marginalized group… or denying or justifying any human rights issue, for that matter.
What exactly is systemic racism? There are essays and interviews that explain it in thousands of words, but simply put, systemic racism is the collection of biases that live within our accepted systems — systems like finance, healthcare, criminal justice, education, and housing. In history and even today, some institutions have been created in a way that favor white people and make things harder on Black people and people of color.
Systemic racism is evident in so many facets of our society. As a non-Black person, it may be harder to see, but as a Black person, I am scarily aware when I think about my future. My potential future pregnancy (hold on, Mom and Dad, I’m not even married yet) could be a danger to me—Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth—and I may not be treated fairly when I buy a house with my fiancé, studies show that Black people don’t always see all of the homes they are qualified to buy.
What is most frustrating, though, is that those who are trying to debunk systemic racism are largely people who have never experienced racism and have no ground to stand on. For generations, my family has dealt with the effects of systemic racism. Black people have to work harder to enjoy the things that are the “American Dream.” Like, in the late ’80s, my cousin who worked at a real estate agency had to help facilitate the sale of my childhood home to my Dad in order to get around the biased selling agent who, at the contract signing, said to my Dad that she is “very protective of who the ‘grand, old homes’ in Stonington, CT are sold to” and didn’t realize she was “allowing this home to be sold to the Wilson family who grew up by the Baptist church,” implying that had she realized, she never would have sold the home to an African American/Native American family. This should not be a normal part of life, but for Black people, finding ways to get around systemic racism is our reality.
My family member is racist.
Okay. So, what do you want me to do about it?
I am not faulting anyone for having a racist family member, it is not anyone’s fault that they are related to an ignorant person. But I am faulting the overall societal acceptance of this statement. It seems like everyone has a racist uncle who gets to say whatever he wants.
It’s almost as if this type of behavior is okay as long as it doesn’t go beyond the four walls of the home.
As a Black person, this makes me question the racial progress that has been made. Yes, so many things are better… but so many things are not. When someone tells me they have a racist family member, it tells me that this person said racist things at the dinner table and those around them (including self-proclaimed allies) don’t speak up, in order to avoid conflict. It’s almost as if this type of behavior is okay as long as it doesn’t go beyond the four walls of the home. But how can prejudice not seep through walls and into everyday life? And how can racist ideas from a relative not seep into a family’s overall beliefs?
Having a racist family member is a sort of joke for society as a whole, but certainly not for the Black community. Allowing racism to exist anywhere is an attack against all people of color and perpetuates the cycle of racism that we are trying so hard to escape. We cannot afford to have this behavior accepted and joked about. True allies and advocates for Black rights would call out their family member no matter how awkward, or even “disrespectful,” it may be.
I have no idea how you deal with this.
As my acquaintances are learning about the prejudice that the Black community faces, people from my past have come forward and said something to the extent of “I have no idea how you deal with this” in response to what they are reading and watching about the Black experience.
To that, I want to say it’s because I have to. What other choice do I have? I have no choice but to keep on, keepin’ on in the face of racism, bias, and discrimination.
I understand that this statement is a sympathetic notion and while I appreciate the sympathy, the Black community does not need sympathy. We need allies who are willing to listen, learn, and fight for what is right.
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how I, or my family, have dealt with generations of racism against Black people either. It’s exhausting, but it certainly isn’t up to us. Racism is not a problem that Black people created and is not our problem to solve.
Racism was created by people who are not Black and continues because non-Black people allow it to continue.
So, sympathy is nice, but instead of sympathy, that energy needs to be retargeted toward the communities that allow racism to happen. Racism needs to be ended by the very groups that have turned a blind eye to our suffering for generations.
But what about black-on-black crime?
Too often, this phrase is used to justify police brutality against innocent, unarmed Black men and women. I’ve seen comments referring to this notion all over social media in response to the murders of George Floyd, Elijah McClain, and Breonna Taylor. And it’s made me seriously mad.
The phrase “Black-on-Black crime” is a targeted effort to make it seem like crime in Black communities is different than crime everywhere else. When I was growing up in a part of Connecticut that is 87 percent white, no one talked about the “white-on-white crime” in the towns and cities that made up the area (forgive me for this example, New London county. I miss you!). In non-marginalized communities, it’s just called crime — like it should be.
People commit crimes within the communities they inhabit. And communities are largely segregated, so, of course, people are more likely to kill those whose racial makeup is similar to their own. And even within white communities, 83 percent of white people are killed by other white people.
That stuff doesn’t happen where I’m from.
Recently, someone expressed to me that racism doesn’t exist in his diverse community and told me that I should consider moving to his town. First of all, this person is white, second of all, racism exists everywhere.
You cannot assume that racism does not happen within your own community, especially if you are not a person of color. It’s hard to believe that places we love can be racist but I can say with certainty that there is not one completely racism-free town or city within this country.
First of all, this person is white, second of all, racism exists everywhere.
I get that this idea comes from a good place, but it plays into the notion that there are communities that are above racist encounters when in reality there are not. I have, sadly, experienced discrimination all over this country, in coastal California towns, in quiet New England suburbs, and in the bustling deep South. From microaggressions on my very diverse college campus (“What are you? You look so exotic!”) to being completely ignored by store owners at shops in wealthy beachfront areas.
This statement is even more problematic when you consider that this thought process only focuses on outwardly racist things — slurs, physical altercations, and outbursts — and not the microaggressions or problematic systems that are the day-to-day issues that Black people face.
Even if neighbors and shopkeepers are overwhelmingly accepting and open, many of the systems throughout towns and cities (and even the nuances within the media we consume all over the country!) have a racist backbone.
It’s racist for people to only focus on Black rights and issues.
Since writing an article for HuffPost about the importance of supporting Black mental health, I have received a few emails from people who viewed my article as racist for focusing exclusively on Black mental health (and had a few choice words for me, too!). This instantly reminded me of comments I had heard in the past that claim things like Black History Month or Black professional associations are racist for only focusing on Black people.
I understand that everyone wants to feel included, but the creation of Black-focused groups and celebrations and the current light on Black rights stem from generations of oppression, resulting in less acknowledgment overall and fewer opportunities for Black folks both currently and historically. I’m talking about things like the Jim Crow era when Black people were faced with inadequate education programs within segregated schools and lower wages and modern-day things like name discrimination — Black people with names that sound particularly “ethnic” receive fewer job callbacks than those with non-ethnic-sounding names.
It is necessary to allow attention to shift and focus on Black interests. Our world’s attention has been biased for too long. So much of the harder-to-hear Black history I have learned from my parents and grandparents — like stories of my grandmother having to step off of the sidewalk when she passed a white person and my grandfather not being allowed to buy a house in a waterfront area of Groton, CT because of a racist homeowner association’s ability to skirt the law.
Black history and Black rights deserve to be acknowledged and honored all the time, but especially during this time of self-reflection and system-reexamination.
You’re not Black, Black.
My first memory of someone saying this statement to me—and there have been a number of instances—was at a friend’s birthday party in middle school. While I grew up with most of the girls at the party, I did not know a handful. I spent the afternoon eating, crafting and chatting with one girl named Amy — someone I thought was going to be a new friend. At the end of the party, she told me how much fun she had and that she was so happy we met. She went on to say that I was the first Black person she has ever liked because I was “different from the rest.” I was shocked and hurt, but being an awkward middle schooler, just laughed it off in hopes no one else had heard her. As if this statement wasn’t bad enough, Amy continued to tell me that she had even “forgot” I was Black throughout the day, as if this was the reason we spent time together.
As a child who did not want to feel different or make a scene, I had no words. I just sat there and nodded. But as an adult looking back, I want to hug my middle school self and tell Amy (and her parents, because they are clearly part of this problem) that her thoughts are at the very least ignorant and hurtful, and at the most her comments are racist and the perpetuation of generations of untrue beliefs.
Why is my Blackness something that she needs to “forget?” Is racism that deep-seated that people have to make up excuses, such as forgetting someone is Black, to justify spending time with them? And while Amy may “forget” that I’m Black, racism does not. It impacts every Black person directly no matter who tells us we aren’t “Black, Black.”
The first thing someone sees when they look at me is my Black skin. So, any implicit bias instantly comes top of mind. Racism exists for all Black people, no matter how we act, what we believe, or what we do for a living.
When stating that someone isn’t “Black, Black,” you are succumbing to generations of stereotypes that have clouded judgment and created false narratives around the Black community. This statement essentially says that someone is an exception to the rule when in reality, there is no rule. Everyone (and I’m talking about all groups of people) is unique and should not be subject to unfair beliefs that have, unfortunately, become so ingrained in our society.
All lives matter.
Yes, all lives matter—every single person is important and deserves to live and thrive and have a fair shot at life. But unfortunately, Black people are being targeted for simply being Black and do not have the same liberties or privileges that white folks have. We are doubted, dismissed, and assumed to be dangerous by some of the highest powers around.
As I’ve seen on social media (and I’m sure you have, too!), all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter—and right now, our lives are not treasured. And that is all Black lives—gay, lesbian, queer, bi, trans, straight—all Black lives matter.
Article originally published on Cupcakes and Cashmere.