During my senior year of college, I was rounding out what was in retrospect a very valuable period of my life. As such, my room mates and I threw a party for… ourselves. After a few hours at the party I was tired and decided to hit the sack. As I undressed for bed I realized that I hadn’t yet let my dog out for the night. So I stumble down my stairs in my underwear and open the door to let him do his business. At that moment a couple of guys walk by, both white, and start making smart ass comments about my dog. Me not being one to keep my mouth shut, I proceeded to return some of the verbal jousting. Then it happened… they went there. They called me “nigger.” What I didn’t know was that some others at the party had heard this dialogue and reported it to my room mate. Now my room mate was generally a very cautious, quiet, and respectful guy. He was also a massive white MARINE. As I went back to bed, I found it funny that their best comeback was to use a word that no longer holds any weight in this society when said out of spite. I considered myself to be the winner of that particular verbal battle. A few minutes after I was in bed and I heard my room mate come into our room and grab something. It sounded like a sword being unsheathed. In my drunken exhaustion I asked him what we was doing since I couldn’t see in the dark. He said, “Don’t worry about it dude. Go back to sleep.”
What I found out the next morning was shocking. My room mate had proceeded to identify the two gentlemen and chase them down our complex with a K-bar (large knife) that he received in the Marines. When they ran into their own party he proceeded to put the K-bar through the front door and remind them that if they ever called me that again, this was waiting for them.
I’ve always wondered why my room mate was so angry and I wasn’t. He obviously was brought up to respect others and no matter what to stay away from that word. He did what he felt was right and made a statement. Now some people will criticize the violence indicating that there were more “appropriate” ways to handle that. Some people will say he didn’t do enough. I personally was flattered that he respected me enough to take a stand even if I didn’t. He didn’t want to let it go into the bag of perpetuated racism. He didn’t want it to roll off our backs as if it was acceptable. And I assure you that the two gentlemen who he went after will never forget that moment.
So what’s my point?
Over the past 48 hours I’ve been posting, re-posting, arguing, and discussing with my social network colleagues the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial. I’ve seen extremes of both sides. From white people saying that racial profiling is exaggerated and that blacks should stop pulling the race card for something that happened in the past (slavery, Jim Crow) to black people tagging the racism card to almost everything negative or disappointing that they have ever experience in their past. I found both responses to carry low synaptic potential. So what is it if not the extremes? Where is the middle ground? What is the reality?
There is a serious institutionalized problem with race in this country. Anyone that examines the current laws for sentencing when found guilting with crack-cocaine versus cocaine will notice a disparity that cuts directly across racial lines. There are thousands of stories where blacks have been “legally” persecuted for things that whites seem to “legally” avoid. However, I don’t think there is a ring leader to this madness. Aside from the blatantly racism that exists in the mid-West, the South, and parts of the NorthEast (Boston), I think the problem exists on a totally opposite plane. Here’s why.
This thing we call “white guilt” is actually more powerful than we know. And what no one ever says out-loud is that there is such a thing as “black guilt.” Now “white guilt” comes from a generation that has grown up under the tutelage of previous generations who experienced good portions of the civil rights movement. They are unfortunately not taught to see blacks as equals (as one might think), but instead are taught to pity the black mans plight. This leads them to assume that every black person they encounter is somehow a code that cannot be understood, but must be felt sorry for. They grow up with this fear of possibly committing the most politically unacceptable of crimes. RACISM. They literally fear it to the point where they hold black people to a different, less rigorous standard. What many may not realize is that black people do the same damn thing. How?
When young black men are raised in this society, there are a large portion of them that are taught to fear police, fear white people, and fear change. All of these inevitably lead to that fear being expressed as rage. One of the biggest problems in the black community is that we have yet to figure out how to hold up our portion of the deal and demand universal excellence from our young black people. We allow “being from the hood” as a justification for different rules and expectations. The part that frustrates me the most is that we allow them to hold on to their ghetto manners as if it is directly tied to thier cultural roots. Learning how to speak appropriately and dress professionally doesn’t preclude you from going back to the neighborhood you grew up in does it? In a lot of cases it does. You are seen as a sell-out. An outsider. An “uncle Tom”. Other black youth see this judgment and when their time comes to step up and be a pioneer of progress what do they feel? Guilt. They no longer see the opportunity for just what it is, but also see it as something that they need to imprint their “ghetto” culture onto in order to mitigate that guilt. I’m witnessing that first hand in my life. Young black men reach a plateau and before they can struggle for the next step, they are enabled to remain where they are. We tell them that they’ve done good and that anyone that questions it at this point is racist and doesn’t understand the dynamics of our culture. We enable a cessation of momentum as if it’s a badge of honor. Unfortunately, what it actually does is hold back young black professionals from achieving their full potential by capitalizing on the fear and guilt associated with success. I remember being called and “uncle Tom.” I remember even in middle school being ridiculed by other blacks for how well my grades were. I remember being judged by other blacks for being in a fraternity that was mostly white. I remember wondering if I was “black enough” if I dressed a certain way, or if I was black enough if I spoke a certain way at work. Was I just uber paranoid or were there moments in my life that fed my confusion?
Now think about this from both sides. You have “guilty” whites who feel sorry for the black mans plight, and you have “guilty” blacks who are brainwashed to think success in the fullest sense is something to be ashamed of. Can we get ANYWHERE with this kind of constraint? The Obama’s of this world are exceptions… the 1 in 3 black men that will experience prison at least once in their life are the rule. And it’s EVERYONES fault.
So how can we change it. To me it’s very simple. It starts at home. Parents need to teach their children to demand excellence regardless of the situation. Teachers need to demand excellence in their classrooms. Employers need to demand excellence from their employees. And above all everyone needs to own it and not be afraid of the conversation that follows with each individual experience. How hard is it to say, “no matter what you do, treat others as you’d like to be treated, and challenge them to succeed as you challenge yourself”. It’s so simple that is makes me furious to think we haven’t figured it out yet. The president getting elected wasn’t the end of anything. It was the beginning of a conversation that had long been under the rug but the biggest thing in the room. Obama brought out all the crazies on both sides and now we can see them. We need to challenge the way they think, speak, and act. The civil rights movement was the northern star… we see it… but we still don’t understand it. And in order to reach that pinnacle of humanity we need to struggle in our journey towards it. Obama being elected president was a victory along this journey but it surely isn’t the destination for the story of America. So for me… if you’re going to tell me that you feel sorry for me because I’m black, or that I’m a sell out because I’m black and successful, then you might as well just call me “nigger” and make your true intentions known.
(these are just my opinions but I’m open to any discussion on the subject)