The first six months of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most dramatic. The world has been shaken with a pandemic, and in the last few days it has been awakened to act as the result of an atrocity on the streets of the United States. An atrocity, the likes of which isn’t new to the disenfranchised black and brown denizens of the country. The murder, and I purposely choose not to say alleged murder, of George Floyd by a white police officer on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota has been the proverbial straw that has broken the backs of millions of people. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I normally use this space to muse about things that are on my mind; however, this time I bow to words penned by my 22-year-old granddaughter, Kennedy Hill. Kennedy just graduated from the University of Arkansas, and is about to enter graduate school there, pursuing a double program of degrees in Political Science and Law.
As you read the following, I ask that you consider the circumstances in which Kennedy was raised. She was blessed to have grandparents who are well educated, and although she was born into a single-parent home, her mom is college educated. She is also a business owner and recognized in the broader community of her hometown as a person with an opinion worth seeking on issues of the day.
Kennedy has been blessed to have all the material accoutrements any child in America could want, and a good amount of love to boot, but listen to the frustration in her words that follow:
This is my story:
I am a black woman, born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas in a single parent household. I attended a white church, predominantly white schools, but the only time I ever heard a conversation about race was when I was around black people. I felt confused.
Sophomore year of high school, I was told I was “pretty for a black girl.” It was meant as a compliment, but what I heard was “black girls are ugly, but you are the exception.” I felt disgusted.
In the eleventh grade, my best friend, in front of our entire class, told me that racism wasn’t “that bad” today as it was fifty+ years ago. I felt belittled.
My senior year in my AP US History class, we were on the topic of the slave trade. A girl ignorantly compared the buying and selling of human commodities to Black Friday, and the teacher chuckled. I felt unseen.
When my ‘friends’ discussed race matters, a rare occasion, and more specifically black people, and would say derogatory things with me in the room, they would look at me and say, “oh not you, the others.” Why? Because I was the exception. Because I didn’t show them the black stereotype that they have been brainwashed to only see, I was accepted into their world. I was non-threatening. I felt disrespected.
Fast forward to college. As I got deeper into my major and my classes became smaller, I found that I was the only black person in my classes. I felt lonely.
For most of the four years I spent on the cheer team, I was one of two black cheerleaders. And I had to hear comments that I was “the whitest black girl” my teammates knew. Or I was asked if my skin had the ability to tan. I had to hear someone call HBCU cheerleaders’ way of cheerleading “ghetto.” I felt lost.
Now it’s June 4th, 2020. I realize that most of these experiences are deemed ‘micro-aggressions.” Coined by Harvard professor Chester M. Pierce, a micro-aggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”
So, I say all of this to make this final point- you may not be racist. You may be one of the ‘good ones.’ But I challenge you to truly look within and unearth those prejudices we all hold in our hearts. It is not enough to not be racist; you must be a c t i v e l y challenging every stereotype that has been engrained in you. Because when you are talking about the black community, calling blacks thugs, criminals, etc., you are talking about me, my mother, father, brother, sister, papa, mema, aunt, uncle.
You may be a ‘good one.’ But are you continually striving to make a difference? Do you call out your friends and family that make misguided, uninformed, prejudiced statements? Or do you sit in silence, scared to rock the boat, scared to speak out because you’re ‘uncomfortable’? Become an actual advocate for human rights. That, my friends, is the only way we can move forward.
And if my post makes you uncomfortable, I hate to sound rude, but deal with it. I have lived in this black skin for 22 years and have been uncomfortable my entire life.
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.