I thought about writing a blog post multiple times on everything that’s been happening, but I convinced myself not to. Then Olivia and I decided to read So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo for our June IG Book Club. As soon as I started reading this book, it brought back all these strong emotions and memories, and reminded me why I needed to speak up. If not for others to learn, this is for myself to be able to release things that have been kept inside. So here I am writing the blog post that I said I wouldn’t.
When people talk about race sometimes it’s viewed as a hypothetical conversation, but the color of my skin is my existence and I cannot escape it or ignore it. So when people do decide to speak about their experiences, be empathetic. I know that no one can debate my personal experiences, but if you disagree with some of the things I’m saying, at least you have been exposed to other people’s opinions and thoughts, which is super important. Our ideas and opinions should always be questioned and challenged, so we can make sure we DON’T just think something because of how we were raised or what we were taught to think. You should be able to explain why you believe what you believe. So I guess this is the perfect time to finally let out all my thoughts combined with some factual information. I have reposted and retweeted plenty on IG and Twitter, but this isn’t a re-anything… This is K.O. from the heart.
First things first, recognize that racism isn’t just a few people here or there. It is SYSTEMIC…INSTITUTIONAL.
Systemic - used to describe some phenomenon that affects EVERY part of an entire system. Here is a link explaining the difference between system and systematic.
In order to understand why this is a systemic issue and not an individual issue, we have to recall how this country came about. The enslaving and genocide of first Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans after stripping them from their homes, and then terrorizing, torturing, dehumanizing, and exploiting them so that whites could make money. During this enslavement, black people (bp) were not allowed to learn how to read or write which we can all agree is the foundation of learning. These slave owners then used their wealth (from slaves) to go to college or to buy a home, which they then used to create more wealth and attain higher education, and pass that down to their children. When we (black people) were freed, we had worse schools, worse housing, and worse books than white people. No one gave instructions to bp on how to live a life now that you and your family were free. We were discriminated against when it came to jobs, home buying (redlining), and loans. We are still discriminated against in these areas due to our skin color. That is how the accumulation of wealth year after year ends up putting an entire race FURTHER AHEAD than another other race. Here is an article that clearly explains the MASSIVE WEALTH GAP that exists even when comparing different races with similar educational levels or similar income. Inequality exists in every area of our society, not just wealth, housing, employment, education, leadership positions, etc.
Y’all realize that last year (2019) a law was passed to prohibit discrimination for how black people wear their natural hair??? LAST YEAR. This law is still being passed in some states this year. Can you imagine NOT getting a job because of your hair? Can you imagine having to change your hair (something you cannot control) everyday to be seen as qualified or respected at work? Or what about my black sounding name? Tim, Mary, and John got an interview but not Keturah, not DeAndre, and definitely not Kisean, even though we all had the same qualifications on our resume. That is SYSTEMIC racism.
Me getting a higher interest rate on my mortgage despite having the same credit score as a white person, SYSTEMIC.
My realtor choosing not to show me as many houses or houses in better neighborhoods, like they showed white buyers, SYSTEMIC. The place we live affects the quality of education our children receive, food access, safety, quality of healthcare, and so much more.
Children growing up without fathers because they’re in prison, SYSTEMIC. Not having both parents not only reduces income, but also affects the dynamic of a household, role models etc. BUT “If you break the law you should go to jail!!” Okay... so wp don’t break the law? Have we not seen the articles praising white people for their sale of marijuana yet there are thousands of bp still in jail on a drug-possession charge. I saw a tweet that said “when white people sell marijuana it’s capital enterprise but when black people do it it’s a felony drug trafficking charge.” Accurate. "White and black Americans are about equally as likely to use marijuana, but blacks are 3.7 more likely to be arrested for it (Vox)." If you look at the statistics of black men in jail compared to the population, it just doesn’t add up.
“When white people sell marijuana it’s capital enterprise, but when black people do it it’s a felony drug trafficking charge.”
Now, for the part of systemic racism that I have experienced myself. Fact: Black people are punished more often and more harshly because we are seen as more violent & aggressive. Most people don’t know this about me, and if you know me well you would probably be surprised to find this out, but I was suspended for 2 days during high school. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in New Jersey and always experienced microaggressions, but I could always brush those off. However, this experience I was not able to.
My senior year of high school, a teacher and I got into a dispute when she tried to kick me out of my coach’s office that I had permission to be in. She reported me to the vice principal, I apologized to her, and I thought everything was settled. The next day, she discovered that I discussed this incident with some of my friends and then reported me again for Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying (HIB). HIB policy is one of many zero tolerance policies at schools. Although zero tolerance seems like a smart idea and has some positives, it often leads to harsh punishments and doesn't always consider the circumstances. Some studies have proven that zero tolerance policies DO NOT improve school safety or school climate. ANYWAYS... it was decided that I would have 2 days of out of school suspension and he made sure to tell me that I wouldn't "have access to the track" and "couldn't practice" while suspended.
Not only my friends, but teachers also know me as an obedient, quiet, hardworking student. I had never had any prior conduct issues before this incident, not even a detention. But I shouldn't have to explain to you that I was a good student and a disciplined athlete to explain why I didn't deserve to be suspended for 2 days. The questions asked should be... Did my actions deserve a punishment? If so, what punishment did it deserve? Finally and most importantly, would a non-black person have the same consequences for the same actions? It has been proven that black kids are punished more often and more harshly than other students because we are seen as violent or aggressive and my story corroborates that. People fear our skin color.
On top of the consistent suspension of people of color, these children miss important days of learning and fall behind in school with these punishments, which may end up in having to repeat the year. Many kids also end up dropping out or getting into trouble while suspended. Black kids don’t get to be kids at school, but white kids are allowed to make “silly mistakes”. We see this in the scenario where 12 year old Tamir Rice was shot dead for playing with a toy gun.
Growing up in a predominantly white area also comes with representing the entire race. Am i being too loud? I don’t want them to think all bp are loud. Am I overreacting? I don’t want them to think all black women are extra. Am I too upset? I don’t want to fulfill the angry black woman stereotype, then everyone will think black women are angry. Let me be super polite, kind, and smile, so they won’t be afraid of me (because a 5-5 black woman is scaryyy thing!).
Point #1 - Please share this with your friends, white women benefit from affirmative action more than any other group. Let’s say it again for the people who didn't hear me... white women benefit from affirmative action more than any other group. So when you are staring at that black person at your job wondering “How could he or she get this job? It must be from affirmative action.” Remember to have that thought about the white women in the room too. Unless you are the white woman with that thought, then remember to have that thought about yourself. And if you are one to bring up “unqualified black people” when arguing against affirmative action, make sure to include “unqualified white women” next time too. Why does the black person have to be unqualified? Is it possible that maybe that black person is as intelligent, as talented, and as hardworking as the white people in the room, or is that too hard to believe?
Point #2 - Affirmative action was put into place to help rectify racial inequality and it is NOT a quota system. These opportunities SHOULD be provided to individuals who have been consistently discriminated against and were held back for a 250 year period of history. My ancestors were not able to leave wealth to me, that right was taken from them. Their lack of wealth led to a lack of many other things that still affect black people today.
The best example I can think of to explain why affirmative action is needed is this: Let’s say we are all playing a video game and the player who beats level 100 first wins the prize. If everyone gets to start at level 50 with an instruction booklet, but I start at level 10. How are you expecting me to eventually catch up with the person at level 50, much less the people who have advanced further than level 50? Even if I work SUPERRR HARD and I am super talented, disciplined, smart, and I “pull myself up by my bootstraps”, I may get close but I might NEVER catch up with the player that only advanced to level 51 after starting at level 50. The system of slavery HAS put us (bp) behind and it still affects us TO THIS DAY. If you cannot even agree to that statement then I have no other way to explain this to you. But you should also know that things like affirmative action are an attempt at CORRECTING the system. And if you think affirmative action needs to be improved, that’s also fine, but you should not say it is unnecessary.
The N-Word (for non-blacks)
I have 4 words to say about this topic. Just don’t use it. (I could get into why I feel like NO ONE, including black people, should use the n-word… but that is an entirely different discussion.) So back to non-blacks, whether it’s in a song, ya buddies told you it was okay, it’s in the book you’re reading… just don’t use it, don’t say it, and while you’re not using it… tell your other friends not to use it too. And if you don't understand why you shouldn’t use it, here is a video and article, explaining why non-black people shouldn’t use the n word or desire to use it. Thank u, next.
1. My main issue when it comes to cultural appropriation is credit. Credit needs to be given where it’s due. You cannot just make up a new name and claim something as your own. Bo Derek braids and mini buns were cornrows and bantu knots before wp decided to act like they created it.
2. We need to know the history behind different things (traditions, hairstyles, music, etc) before just saying & using them. So if you decide to loc your hair for fun, you should also be aware that black people are considered dirty, denied jobs, and/or fired from jobs for that same thing you’re deciding to try out for fun. Same thing with Native American costumes - some are associated with violence towards Native Americans, so we can’t just do things mindlessly without considering the history and effect it has on people. About a year ago I found out that using the term “spirit animal” is another form of cultural appropriation. I was never taught that, but these things just come up as you interact with diverse groups of people. I have never used the term “spirit animal” but I now call people out when they use it.
3. If you support black culture, support us too! As a black woman I feel like people will support black culture, not black people, and that’s a huge issue to me. Either you’re with us or you’re not. Same with any other culture, support the people too!
There’s definitely a lot of grey area in cultural appropriation because America is made up of so many different people and cultures being added to a melting pot. I don’t want people to feel like you can’t do anything that black people or other cultures start. But there’s a lot of pain and hurt when your race/culture has done something for years and been ridiculed or made fun of… and then years later white people do it and it’s seen as brand new and trendy/cool. Black women’s bodies and facial features were made fun of and now that same look is praised on any non black person (whether natural or fake). It’s frustrating! So I just ask people to consider some of those things before just hopping on a trend. Cultural APPRECIATION is the goal not appropriation.
I want to emphasize 2 things before going over action steps that can be taken.
I love being black. I would never change that. I love our hair, our culture, our slang, our skin tone, and everything in between. But being black in America also means having specific negative stereotypes associated with me. I am loud. I am aggressive. I am angry. I am poor. I am a criminal. I’m uneducated. So my everyday life consists of me trying to prove to each non-black person that I am not those things. It means not knowing your origins, native culture, or history because your ancestors were seized from their own countries and forced to assimilate to American culture. It means being viewed as less than. And the worst thing to face about everything I just said is that I will have to bring children into this world and explain to them that this is the reality for them because of their skin color.
I’m not saying that everything I mentioned is all white people’s fault and I am not trying to blame wp for their ancestors' wrongs. But we all must recognize that where we are today is a direct result of decisions made hundreds of YEARS ago. You also must recognize that the system we have today is ineffective and was not created for people of color.
CALL TO ACTION
If you've been skimming through this whole blog I hope you will actually read this part.
@EVERYONE: FIND YOUNG PEOPLE TO MENTOR, specifically people who do not have great role models in their lives. We all know how hard it is for us to change, that’s why the youth is a great investment. You can teach them before they form bad habits and make bad choices. We need to invest in the youth, especially those who are not around positive people, those who are not exposed to the wide variety of opportunities offered in this world, and those who need to be shown love and support. I strongly believe mentorship is the BEST way to positively impact lives. (Side note: I'm glad y'all want to go on trips to different African countries to help people, but help your neighbors too.)
@EVERYONE: We ALL need to surround ourselves with a diverse group of people. If we are only around people who are just like us, we get comfortable in this ignorant space thinking everyone has the same experiences, values, and lives as us. I will be honest and say I am terrible at this. I think I do a great job of being surrounded by black people and non American whites. But it’s still very difficult for me to become CLOSE friends with white people… which isn’t okay and isn’t how God has commanded me to be. I am trying to be better about this, but I am also working through my negative experiences with wp.
@Non-blacks: Don’t tell bp how to deal with things. You’re not in their shoes so your opinion on how they should or shouldn’t deal with things is not needed.
@Non-blacks: Speak up when you see/hear things that you know are wrong. It means a lot more when it comes from you rather than when it comes from a black person. (It shouldn’t but it does.) Of course a black person is outraged about the mistreatment of another black person. When YOU speak up, they see it differently and it makes them reconsider their thoughts, comments, actions, etc. MUCH MORE than another black person expressing their feelings. People will speak loud and proud for earth day, saving the planet, saving animals, and recycling, but what about SAVING HUMANS! BLACK AMERICANS to be specific. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about those topics I mentioned, but when you see animal cruelty and you are posting all over the internet about how angry and upset you are because that animal was harmed, you should feel just as passionate and enraged about a human being wrongfully murdered by people who swear to protect and serve.
@Non-blacks: If you knew better, you’d do better. If you don’t know better, you better learn. As Charlamagne said in his book Black Privilege, being unwilling to learn makes someone stupid. Being closed off to absorbing new information makes someone stupid. It’s not okay for an adult to say, “Oh I didn’t know that I couldn’t copy and paste someone else’s work online and claim it’s mine”. Your boss would look at you crazy. If a child said that, you would scold them and TEACH them that it is unacceptable. In the same way, I can accept that you weren’t taught some of these things at a young age. But at a certain age it is inexcusable to still be ignorant and blind to how racism affects people of color. The same way you would go on Youtube to learn how to fix a cabinet, go on the internet to learn about other racial inequality.
@Black People: Get up and vote, not just for the president but for the small elections that affect your community everyday too. This is something I need to be better about too. I have always just voted for presidential elections. TURBOVOTE.org will text/email you reminders to vote so sign up for that if you feel like you will forget.
@Black People: WATCH WHERE YOU’RE SPENDING YOUR MONEY! We will protest, riot, and be angry, then go give a large % of our check to a person or company supporting the things we are protesting. We are big spenders and companies know this. That’s why ads are targeted at us. We are the ones accumulating debt to buy things we don’t need. That one day of not buying from a specific company isn't enough, boycott racist companies. If you are going to be spending your money, BE EDUCATED ON WHO IS GETTING PAID OFF of that purchase. Money changes and controls a lot more than we know.
***All statistics (if source is not already mentioned above) are from So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo***