It's more than a little weird to wake up in a White Supremacist country every day looking like me but having a serious history of consciousness-building related to “race.” I mean, I was ten before I even talked to a Black American. I was sixteen before I realized the extent to which most Black people and their so-called “White” counterparts in America live vastly different lives. But today – five and a half decades later – I remain incredulous at how little has changed beyond the superficial.
I’ve read many, many books about “race” relations (the first being Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver when I was in high school). I’ve watched many, many films – fiction and non-fiction, well known and never heard of – about “race” relations. I've done research (scientific and otherwise) on “race” relations. And I’ve spent literally thousands – maybe tens of thousands – of hours talking with Africans and African-Americans about all manner of things, including “race” relations. But one thing's for sure: I'll never pull a Rachel Dolezal. ‘Cause I'm not Black. I'm not confused about that.
For all my “consciousness,” I can't even fathom the terror Black Americans must live with on a daily basis. When one of my students who has been taught to believe they are “White” claims they “don't see color,” or when a Black student says to me, “I really don't think I've ever experienced racism like used to happen back in the day” (as they fairly regularly do), I know they're demonstrating a level of denial that is absolutely necessary to keep this pressure cooker culture of ours from sending ham hocks and mayonnaise straight through the ceiling and all the way to Mars. And I know I'm not by a long shot the only one who knows this. But I have, in fact, somehow, come to notice things most people who look like me don't.
It confuses the hell out of other people. “White” folks are stunned to find out I don't share their perspectives on “race.” Sometimes they're even wounded by the directness of my analysis, if they don't come right out and call me a traitor to my race. And Black folks ask me, “Where are you from...?” To which I respond, “You mean where did I learn to talk like this?” Nobody on either side trusts me at face value.
And I get it.
I wrote a whole book about “race” relations in the United States using my life as a construct to discuss the topic in an effort to figure out how I turned into this person I've become. The book says a lot about White Supremacy. It does not, however, manage to explain why White Supremacist socialization doesn’t affect all people who look like me the same way. From a sociological standpoint, this is a conundrum.
Multiple studies in the past decade have found that babies as young as six-months-old identify and respond negatively to racial differences before they can even walk. Different researchers offer differing explanations for why this occurs and some of them try to claim it’s “natural.” But in my not-so-humble opinion, I think they get it from watching the faces of their caregivers and listening to their tone of voice, even before they understand the words they’re hearing (which is a lot earlier than most people realize).
So how did I become me, I ask over and over in my book. I was born in the mountains of Kentucky. At least some, if not all of my relatives were good ole boys and girls. My parents didn’t use the n-word, but the message was delivered and not only by them, but by the whole society. Yet here I am. And I’m not alone. So how does that work? If White Supremacy is a matter of socialization, then why aren’t we all the same?
I don't know. Being different is for damn sure not very comfortable. Though I will admit that not fitting in anywhere – while dangerous on both sides – frees you up to be as crazy as you're brave enough to be.
White Supremacy and all the creepy manifestations that accompany it from disdain to full blown lynching in broad daylight at a picnic disgust me and sometimes horrify me and (for whatever reason) I cannot not see them. Worse, I can't unsee them either. And by this stage of my life (pushing 72, that is) that's a lot of stuff I can't unsee. It's depressing.
Still, I don't think I've earned the right to whine. Being depressed about White Supremacy when I look the way I look is not the same as being depressed (or angry or frustrated or any other emotion) with a skin tone that relegates a person to sub-human status no matter who they are or even how much money they have.
I know there are people who look or looked just like me that are spending their lives in prison or died as a result of being like me. But I'm still alive and – so far – not in prison. So, like I said, I'm in a weird position. I see this shit and I can't unsee it and I could hide in a closet, but I'd go mad.
Sometimes I'm reminded that all the world religions instruct their followers to work for justice...but I'm not committed to an organized religion. And sometimes I say to myself, “what would I want somebody to do for me, if I was locked up in solitary confinement or I was poor or I was being treated unjustly”...but my inability to magically release others from their pain leaves me wondering if my puny efforts actually make it worse in the end. I mean, I can walk away or go to work or buy another meal – and they may not be able to.
I get a lot of props for behaving with what the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko called “common integrity rather than courage.” But the fact is, I can't help it. I couldn't stop if I tried. Not that I'm sorry, you understand. It ain't easy being this different, but if my only two options are to be an unapologetic White Supremacist or fight the system that oppresses the bulk of the world's population, I'll pick the latter every time. No matter what it costs. It's non-negotiable.___________________________________________________________
NOTE: The book I refer to in this post is entitled Reduced to Equality: My Odyssey to Renounce Racial Privilege ~ and Find Myself and is available in paperback, Kindle, or audio editions at Amazon.com. If you can't afford it, contact me. I have a limited number of audio editions I can offer for free to folks willing to write a little review of it on Amazon.