We should be outraged by intolerance and racism towards kids
So, I am going to get personal here. First, let me state that almost every culture has elements of ethnocentrism, which may feed racism. Some, however, are worse than others and rather than seek comity with other nationalities, some cultures seek to exercise supremacy, and use stereotypes, misrepresentation, fear and racism as tools. Second, America being the most culturally diverse place on earth (you can find a person from virtually any culture in the world living in America), has an opportunity to eradicate racism—and enable every citizen to achieve the identity and value of being American. But living with a view of zero-sum opportunities, which is a false and expedient theory, makes the perpetrator of racism justify racist acts for collective preservation, thinking that ethnic preservation guarantees individual self-preservation. It should not be for an American.
My ex and I had many personal experiences with racism. Unfortunately, our most outrageous experiences came from minorities. As very educated and successful minorities, we often found well-adjusted whites eager to embrace us. But my ex, who went from her family home straight into my home and became quickly successful, would experience constant prejudice from blacks – both Africans and African Americans alike. I am not saying blacks are just pathologically conditioned to hate on each other—certainly not. I point this out, because most blacks and other minorities are too familiar, with what it means to be on the receiving end of racism. Consequently, Blacks do not need to add fuel to the oppression their fellow Blacks are often forced to navigate their lives around. We can restrain our anger and be kind to each other, even though the racist is not. And we will be just fine.
I recall once after my ex had graduated from law school, and now had a job at a white shoe law firm. She had been given a list of hairstyles not to don: no Afro, no dreadlocks, etc. She complied and, so she got her weaves to look as professional and acceptable to the firm, giving her an opportunity of a lifetime. On her first week, she overheard one of the few black women in the firm talking derisively about her weaves: “girl, if you’re going to put on a weave, must it be the cheap ones?” My ex had been very sheltered and well-raised. Neither combative, nor callous. (But racists, both internal and external, soon hardened her as she later became callous towards me. This is the sad situation about abuse. It turns victims, who were once decent people, into monsters.)
My ex was soon after on the phone with me, crying about the incident, and how she had to take out the weaves immediately. She was young and impressionable, and this other girl, who was black like her and who should have celebrated her sister, was just a bully. I knew the importance of confidence. I was fortunate that somehow, I was raised to be confident, no matter my circumstance. Should I lose my confidence, then know that something is wrong. As my ex navigated this new terrain, I felt it was my duty to do all I could to ensure my partner was confident. She wanted to get the more expensive weaves, so the bully sister would not continue to ridicule her. I agreed, and she returned home and got more expensive weaves done within a week of fixing the abandoned one.
Another incident, which left her frazzled, occurred as we drove out of the parking lot of a five-star hotel, from a reception we had attended for one of those posh events for attorneys. My ex was elegantly dressed in her dinner gown. But she had spotted a sign on our way out encouraging customers to donate their coins for a good cause. Ever the cooperative and civic minded millennial, she had been gathering all the stacks of coins to present them neatly in a nice pile, all wrapped up in a plastic bag, for the cashier at the exit of the parking lot. The attendant handled the stacks of coins, opened the plastic bag and emptied it pouring the coins on her counter and barks at my ex:
“What the hell is this? What do you want me to do with it? Do you think I am begging for money?”
My ex had initially flashed her shy, pleasant smile, and as she tried to explain that she was helping out in observation of the sign in their garage requesting coins as donations, the disgruntled older attendant threw all the coins she had removed from the plastic bag in my ex’s face, spilling the coins all over the car. My ex stuttered a feeble attempt at an explanation, shocked, confused and now in tears, removing her glasses, as a coin had become trapped in her spectacles and was stuck on her eyelid. The unapologetically disgruntled woman kept screaming at my ex to get out of the lot with her coins. As she sobbed, I encouraged her to leave it alone. The abusive attendant was an African woman, and so we could not even consider reporting it—we did not wish to be connected with the retrenchment of a Black woman, who probably had family to support.
After a few months, we got a place in Manhattan. And we had been out to see a movie. But at the end of it, we exited to a tempestuous storm, as it rained cats and dogs in New York City. We huddled together for elusive warmth under the pouring rain trying to hail a cab home. No cab stopped. They just drove by. It is nearly impossible for a black person alone to successfully get a cab to stop for him or her in New York City at about 11 pm. It didn’t matter that we were trying to go into Midtown, to a $7,000 a month apartment building—they don’t care, if you’re black and it is written on your forehead that you have money to pay.
Again, she cried, but she was cold and drenched. But repeatedly cabs would stop for white couples, positioned a few steps from us, after the cabs passed us; my ex went wild. She waded through the torrent and tried to run to a cab that had just passed us but stopped for a white couple after us. She screamed.
“We were here first, he just passed us.”
They looked at us, and the turbaned cab driver with a beard, told them to ignore her and get in the cab.
She cried again, asking me, “why are they doing this?” I do not drive partly because I know it eliminates the risk of being confronted by rogue cops. But nobody drives in Manhattan. We hail cabs. We waded through the deluge along Manhattan, and walked home in the pouring rain on that cold, windy night. She did not stop crying. I have never seen a white man drive a cab in New York. At least ten cabs ignored us and drove past us on that stormy night.
Racism is dehumanizing, no matter who the perpetrator is. It soon co-opts new racists, who perhaps would not typically have been prejudiced. Her single dark-skinned friends at her Ivy League school, had decided they did not want kids with dark skin. So, they would marry light skinned men. Some were willing to marry even non-Black men that were significantly less credentialed just, so they could have light skinned kids, they declared. I didn’t pay attention then. My ex was starting to attend meetings with her Black friends, and they were telling her disturbing things that revealed they were traumatized by their experience with prejudice, in spite of their success.
One day, during Black History month, as she watched a documentary, showcasing the dehumanization of indigent black kids, and I was studying as usual, I heard her sniffling. She had been eating, so I was not paying attention as I was buried deep in my books; we loved spicy meals, so I’d assumed it was the regular spiciness over-stimulating her nasal cavity. Then suddenly I heard:
“They shouldn’t make more black babies.”
It was resolute. I looked up from my book, and I finally saw the streaming tears, down her face, which had been blocking her nostrils, and the reason she had been sniffling. They finally broke her. She who had loved kids—black or white, it didn’t matter to her—was finally broken and saw a colored world in which black kids, were unloved, unprotected and could not survive. As a future mother of black kids, she could only see pain and suffering for them. She had not been able to protect herself, how could she protect them. I was still observing and strategizing on how to make it work. But she was done, and had given in. I remember seeing her play with kids—my cousins. She was so thrilled and was like a baby herself. She had chosen to be an elementary school teacher to be with kids and shape them early. We had planned which parent would be the good cop and bad cop. We determined I’d be a pushover for the kids, and so she had to be the stern disciplinarian. Being a teacher helped, we’d thought.
However, it was from then she saw the disadvantages that black and brown kids faced early, in public schools, where she taught elementary. She gave it her all. But the administration did not care, and they gave her hell. She was constantly sick from the “germy” kids as she used to say. But she loved them all.
“None of them will make it to college,” she said to me one day.
“Why do you say that? It is your job to make sure that they go to college and succeed in life.”
“It’s not me,” she said. “The system is against them.”
“Then change the system. Become a lawyer and change the system, and save our black kids. Make the system give every child an opportunity.”
Many successful minorities, who will always face new morphed forms of racism, no matter how high in economic status their achievements may take them, soon arrive at the painful conclusion that privilege or security in America is inextricably linked with skin complexion. And now armed with money, they often proceed to lighten their bloodline, in anticipation of softening the blows that would be dealt by racism in America, to their future progeny. She told me of a black friend of hers, who dated an openly gay white male and planned on having a child with him. Successful black women now wished to lighten up their kids by any means, it seemed. I am a proponent of interracial marriages, but not for these reasons. Love should transcend the arbitrary color barriers and racism. There are racist underpinnings in the notion of seeking lighter skinned offspring. All children, regardless of color have equal value. Relationships predicated on the wrong motives devalue innocent Black kids.
We can all save the future of our children, when we confront institutionalized racism, by reporting it—even hints of it, called microaggression—to the appropriate authorities and calling attention to it. We should not be complicit, by being silent, with the false belief that our silence and calm, will soften the racist’s heart. Or that our compliance with oppression and abuse, will enable us to thrive and succeed in a fundamentally broken system that is morally bankrupt. Abusers hope for your silence. But understand that, when you are silent, you are no longer simply being passive—you are now complicit in the destruction of innocent Black lives and kids. Your silence is now supporting bigotry against the Black kids. Oppression invariably seeks to co-opt silence as an accomplice.
I have seen racism break a good person. But you can be strong and resist to the very end. You are not alone. You have non-Black allies against racism, too, even among whites. I recall taking a course at Columbia University and I was the only male in that class. One of my classmates had done her research on the effects of discrimination against Black males and the invidious process of stigmatizing and ostracizing them, at an early age in school. She concluded that the study showed that Black female teachers were also now starting to discriminate against the young Black male students, in socially destructive patterns, instead of standing as a bulwark protecting the kids against racism from rogue white teachers. The presenter was a white female millennial.
Many years ago, a cousin of mine who had been a distinguished professor at a prominent university here in the United States, traded his Green Card for a Canadian passport. My older brother did something similar, trading his job at a great university in America for a stay in South Africa and the Netherlands. Astonished, I asked why they would relinquish the opportunities to live and work, and be citizens of the greatest country in the world. My philosopher brother asked me to explain what I meant by the “greatest country” in the world, and what it amounted to for a Black man or how it neutralized the adverse effects of it being the most racist country in the world.
I had never thought of it that deeply. Instead I chose to challenge his premise that, “America was the most racist country in the world,” although there was racism. He encouraged me instead to travel and see other parts of the world. My brother loves to travel and is by far more traveled than me. After I spent time in the United Kingdom, I saw what he meant. England was clearly not like America in terms of its race relations. Neither was Wales. Neither were parts of Germany.
A young African American female friend that had been visiting as well, declared that she was going to ask her employer to transfer her to London because she loved the way she had been treated there. London currently has a Muslim Mayor, who is the son of Pakistani immigrants. And even the British Royal Family is welcoming a Black royal or person of mixed racial heritage into its clique to be wife of Prince Harry, who is 5th in line to the throne of England. Black women in America have been thrilled about the American soon-to-be a British citizen and Royal, Meghan Markle, who is engaged to Prince Harry—the late Diana, Princess of Wales’ second son.
However, it is unnecessary for Black women to seek better treatment overseas by emigrating. Millennials can make race relations in America far better than what they have in London, by refusing to tolerate the last gasps of racism, intolerance, misogyny and bigotry from all the fringe elements coming out of the woodwork in this last salvo.