I am a woman of mixed heritage. I am descendant from people who were slaves and from the slavers who owned them. I have ancestors who fought to end slavery and ancestors who fought to keep it. Some of my ancestors walked the trail of tears and some were decimated by the conquistadors. From wind swept chilly islands of the far north, from the sun-soaked Mediterranean, and south from tropical archipelagos; my people come.
Peasants, merchants, farmers, artisans, explorers, conquerors and refugees they were. Brigand pirate privateers of the high seas and law-keepers of the wild west combined in me. Fleeing famine or war, or Pilgrims seeking new opportunity or freedom of religion and so many other reasons to arrive upon new lands. From mountains and deserts, from forests and plains I am kin to so many. I am so much of a mix, that I don’t really identify with any one racial identity or ethnic background.
I am an American.
Why is it then, that in my country there are places where I am not safe, not only because of my gender but also because of the color of my skin, the color and texture of my hair, and the color of my eyes? They’re too dark, they’re too light, I am too indeterminate.
All of my life, I’ve been kind of outcast from belonging to any one group. The blacks of the community I grew up in, called me a w*gger (white n****r) cracker, lighty, whitey and a plethora more racial slurs. Whites just called me n****r, or half-breed, or wetb*ck or some other ethnic slur. On more than one occasion in the course of my employment history when a person of color didn’t like the rules of my employers, those displeased customers called me a Karen (I wasn’t giving them crap, I just said the regulations don’t allow us to do what they wanted.) other racial slurs against whites, and called me a racist because they misconstrued my lighter colored skin as just being a very tan white person (these screaming abusive individuals felt no remorse and unknowingly abused someone of the same racial background, someone who had lived the same threats and abuses they had). Caucasian customers who reacted much the same way called me different racial slurs but it didn’t make them any less racist toward someone who was also part Caucasian.
I and every other member of my immediate family have been called nearly ever racial slur I know (and probably a few I didn’t know) from every one of my ethnic backgrounds by individuals from one of my other ethnic backgrounds, and by individuals from so many other races. In every community I have ever lived in from childhood forward this has been my reality. And while most of my family ignore this kind of mass ignorance that has pervaded the country I have watched with dismay as it gets worse. Members of my family have served in the armed forces of this country for generations, protecting our nation and, our “freedom”, and our “equality”. When do the veterans and civilians in my family get to experience the “all are created equal” that our constitution so magnanimously supposedly represents?
From my earliest memories, racism has influenced the way that so many people have interacted with me. From vandalism of my (and my family’s) property to threats of physical assault on me if I didn’t move out of their neighborhood, to actual physical assaults on my person, to slander by racists to encourage more racism; the experience of a broad range of being victimized for my heritage by my own races has just been a way of life for as long as I can remember. I know that I can’t let my guard down around people who don’t see me as being “the same” as them, because they might be racist. And they might hurt me or my family, or my friends as has happened so many times before.
Just like women can’t really let their guard down around men because even if he’s a friend, or a colleague, or a partner (or for some women a family member), he’s still a man and victim blaming rape apologists say it’s a woman’s responsibility to make sure she doesn’t get raped by someone she trusts. In the same way, racists blame the victims of racism and hold them responsible for the crimes committed against them [“She should have said no or fought harder.” She was unconscious and couldn’t speak or act. “She shouldn’t have put herself in that situation with that man.” She shouldn’t have felt safe in her own home with someone she trusted? “You should have just moved or gotten a job somewhere else then you wouldn’t have been harassed by racists.” Okay, where could I have moved to or worked at that there are no racists living or working? “They should have just _______, and they wouldn’t have experienced _____ (or been killed).” But no one really knows that for sure do they?].
I had promised myself I wouldn’t indulge in commenting so thoroughly on current events by tarnishing my blog with a post about our present national reality. But I guess I felt I had to. Why does racism still exist? In the United States of America of all places? It is a cultural precept. It is a learned concept. Why do people keep teaching it? And why do so many who have experienced it feel like it is okay to perpetuate it against others?
I don’t know. I don’t have the capacity in me (or the attention span) to hate anyone so completely, consistently, and constantly. By the day after this is published the irate passion which led me to write it will have dissipated (I can already feel it fading) because this is just the reality in which I live. What could I as an individual possibly do about it? Because protests and riots, petitions and politicians are not working.
Sure, right now we are seeing results and seeing change. But these results are not because the message of these protests is being respected, these results are because some of the people making decisions for our country and states are trying to mitigate damage to infrastructure, our economy, our citizens and racial tensions. Meanwhile other people making decisions for our country and states seem as if they are deliberately trying to cause more damage to infrastructure, our economy, our citizens, and greater rifts between races.
These protests, both the Black Lives Matter and the Liberate/Reopen protests are making more racists. Two deadly phenomena primarily represented in media (inaccurately and sensationally) by only two sides of the racism issue; whites want to reopen, non-whites want justice. I’m watching in my personal life and on social media, people who have never had animosity towards people of color or toward non-colored individuals, gradually become jaded that these riots and protests are now the norm, that these shows of force, these threats of violence, actual violence and casual spreading of a deadly pandemic is so acceptable.
Whole generations of children of color and non-colored children who had almost grown up without race personally affecting their lives are now being steeped in hatred. They are called to proverbial arms to demonstrate that either they are “with us” or “against us” which ever side “us” may be. I see fear in people of color and in non-people of color who never feared for their safety from a stranger, just because that person was of another race, before. And while it may grant me the opportunity to say (this is what my life is like every day, this is what racism towards your race feels like) it’s not the way the world should be.
Again, what can I as an individual possibly do about it?
Not a whole damn lot.
What I can do is implore people, my people, because so many of you from all over the world are my people even if you don’t consider me ethnically pure enough to be your people; be good to each other. (To paraphrase my husband, wise man that he is. And at the risk of sounding cliche…) The history of racism has made us as individuals and as a nation, who we are. But we don’t have to give it the power to dictate who we can be. In an inverse of how kindness should be paid forward, racism should not. Let us not teach racism to the next generation. Let it stop with us.