I’m a black man. (Big surprise, right?)
I’m a black man in America. (Once again, you should be shocked.)
I’m a black man in America who has to go to work daily with white people who benefit from the system that oppresses me and I must smile while many of them fail to see their privilege because it just is and it just always has been and, therefore, it is taken for granted. (That is the part that may be surprising to some of you.)
Now, I don’t hate white folks. I actually had a white coworker who just went to a diversity training last week speak to me today about how much she learned at her training and how she can only imagine how difficult it must be to come to work some days. And I appreciated her saying that because, some days, it’s not easy. I know, white folks. “Everyone hates Mondays.” “No one wants to go to work.” “Life isn’t a piece of cake for anyone.” “My grandparents are (Irish/Italian/Jewish/Insert your choice of European nationality) and they came over on a boat in 190x with one suitcase and limited knowledge of English.” I’ve heard it and I won’t invalidate the hardships of your bloodline but I will say that whatever American struggle you speak of outside of the African-American experience is incomparable. Since the seventeenth century, there have been state-sponsored laws and codes in place to keep African-Americans in a subservient position. And, the crazy thing is, it never ever stopped. Even today, states across the nation have laws that disenfranchise a disproportionate number of persons of African descent. The same cannot be said for any other group, not even my Muslim and my Latinx brothers and sisters who are going through a similar contemporary struggle.
Imagine coming to work every day with hopes of changing a system that, odds tell you, will never be changed. Imagine pledging an organization focused on love for all mankind but all mankind doesn’t love you back, and, still, you pay your dues because you believe you can change a few lives. Imagine knowing that, since this land became a formal nation, simply wanting to be black and free was an act of aggression against the system that the majority benefited from, an act punishable by imprisonment and death. And then, don’t imagine but accept the fact that, be it consciously or subconsciously, no large number of beneficiaries of that system will ever truly be on your side.
Now, knowing all that, I still know I must operate within the rules of this institution while simultaneously doing my revolutionary part to chip away at it, piece by piece, until I can remove a brick. And, I will remove my brick with pride. My hope lies not in my own ability to cause the Wall of Injustice to fall. Rather, it lies in my hope that, as I am taking my brick of the Wall of Injustice down, another brother or sister is as well.
White America, I don’t want you to suffer out of malice but I do out of self-preservation. When the Wall of Injustice falls, it is going to be a traumatic experience for many. It is going to even the playing field, which means that you will lose your privilege. Black people who support the system (crooked cops, conservative leadership, those who subscribe to respectability politics, etc.), you too will hurt because your gifted (and regulated) privilege will be taken away. But it is needed. We cannot have a nation that touts freedom but takes the tax dollars of those who built it and puts those dollars toward the bullet used to take the life of its funder. We cannot say “All Lives Matter” while being afraid to say “Black Lives Matter”, or, worse yet, to say that simply saying Black Lives Matter is an evil act (side note: learn to distinguish an act of evil from one of rebellion). We cannot bomb nations for poisoning their citizens when the men, women, and children in Flint, MI have been forced to live with tainted water for three years. In short, we cannot claim to be the land of the free and the home of the brave when we have some citizens who can purchase political influence and other citizens who are forced to sit by idly and watch their lives become political bargaining chips, much like the lives of slaves in 1859.
The double-consciousness needed to survive as a black (wo)man in a professional field whilst maintaining a modicum of sanity is unbelievable and that is why, though I don’t believe that I can break down the system, I will keep fighting to inspire others to join me in its dismantling.
Oh, and I’m grateful that my coworker had the courage to step out of her comfort zone and tell me that she’s working on being more understanding and aware. I can only imagine the difficulty that comes with truly realizing that you were born into something undeserved, just as I was born into something undeserved. Same “problem”, different ends of the spectrum, I suppose. I can only look forward to the day that very wide gap is eliminated.
Make awareness a priority.