By: Alicia R Norman
I once had a white friend of mine ask me, “Why do you people have your own commercials?” after we’d essentially spent the entire day watching all white shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends and Seinfeld. Don’t get me wrong, love, love, love those shows, Friends especially, and have no problem with its casting. Funny how hours of homogenous programming never seemed to be an issue but two black folks in a car commercial were.
As I watched the alt right, oh excuse me, Nazi protests unfold at the University of Virginia, I was almost willing to bet that perhaps she, and many folks like her, were at this rally.
A rally where supremacists shouted things like, “White lives Matter” as if ever in the history of America, this was in doubt. For the Emmett Tills of the world however, there’s an ever present question mark looming overhead.
A rally where they chanted, “We will not be replaced,” as if an African American girl becoming a Valedictorian somehow spells doom for all whites, everywhere.
A rally where no armed forces were called,despite violence perpetuated on unarmed and unresisting counter protestors (caught on film mind you). In fact, some have claimed a cop or two on the scene joined the Neo Nazis in chants. Flip that script and add People of Color as the protestors, and we would have already been shot, killed and tagged by the NRA and FOX news as unpatriotic thugs and terrorists who deserved it.
Heck, all we must do is bend a knee to get that moniker. Macing and punching peaceful anti protestors? Free Speech, apparently.
Yet, I have been told by white allies, liberals and friends not to let the “N” word bother me so much. I am told it better to remain silent, head bowed, press on and rise above. I am even told that it is political correctness that is the true boogeyman du jour, not white nationalists, the alt right or growing white resentment for, I dunno, my ability to get a job, go to college or star in a commercial.
Recent left wing murders are even pointed to, on both sides, as an example of how kowtowing to diversity disparities has caused this fork in the road. This of course, ignores the fact that it is still white males on the right who lead in domestic terrorism. A type of terrorism that existed long before PC policing and affirmative action.
Besides, truth be told, the word “niggah” isn’t what bothers me. Anyone who wields this word has told me what they think of me, my place in society and my value. I can toss such a person aside as meaningless and continue onward towards my goals.
What bothers me is the soft racism that enables the growth of cancers like the alt right, white nationalists, nativists and swastika, sieg heilin’ types who claim not to be Nazis while behaving just like Nazis. Looking at you University of Virginia quote, unquote “protestors.”
But it is the well-meaning that aid and a bet white discontent by perpetuating concepts that minimize racism and its affects, hell, some even deny that it’s a problem to begin with.
When I was gigging the now defunct Atlanta Underground music scene, I took vocal lessons from a woman we’ll call Mary B. We became fast friends and we even went out for drinks, sushi and an occasional night club hop. One could say I thought of her as a bud. Color me surprised then, when I detailed a racist encounter and she blew it off as, “Black people think everything is racism.”
The encounter? I was between jobs and had called a company on Buford Highway regarding an assistant admin job. The lady on the phone liked me and asked me to fax over my resume. I did so. Impressed by my experience, she asked me to come into her office.
My first tip off something was amiss? Huge corporation. No People of Color. Not even sweeping. I walked by numerous open offices with dozens of workers. No Blacks or Latinos.
In the multicultural South.
At this juncture, I wasn’t quite sure if it was time to cue the dueling banjos, but someone was starting to strum.
I went to meet the woman, a tall very regal looking Nancy Reagan type in flattering dress. She emerged from her office, smile on face, hand extended.
She looked at me—shocked. Problem? I have been told I “sound white,” so she may have been expecting a white woman. Got me instead. She was quite literally mortified by the revelation. Said lady withdrew her hand as if a snake was poised to strike it, gazing at me like I crawled out from under a rug. We went into her office where she proceeded to huff and roll her eyes at everything I said. This after gushing about my qualifications over the phone and wanting to meet me right away on the strength of them.
I finally stood up and replied, “Okay, let’s end this sham of an interview,” To which she sighed out, “Thank god,” before showing me the door.
I left furious.
My friend’s actual response to telling her all that?
“How do you know she just didn’t like how you were dressed?”
The offense here was manifold, but chief among them.
1) Having years of business experience at the time, I would of course know how to dress for an interview, I mean, what? Did she think I showed up in booty shorts with a gold grill in my teeth? To that end,
2) I felt the smart kitten pumps, navy blue power suit and small pearl dots in my lobes were both feminine and more than conservative enough for a corporate environment.
3) having known me for years and even praising me on my studious nature, work ethic and level headedness, why would my friend choose to believe I was incapable of presenting myself in an interview or could do something to provoke automatic loathing.
The fact that she would choose to leap to the idea that I must have done something wrong, rankled.
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time someone I called a friend wondered aloud why Black people were in a commercial, on TV or in a magazine – or victim blamed for an obvious instance of racism.
It is the attitude of the well-meaning, people like Mary B., that allow the festering fungi on the petri dish of racism to grow unchecked. If we are to combat the mentality that terrorized praying churchgoers, and culminated in loss of life and injury, we have to acknowledge that racism exists, in various forms, and stamp it out wherever it may hide.
How do we start?
Just listen. That’s all.
If those who care about People of Color truly had, they would have learned that Obama’s presidency didn’t end racism, it simply awakened a slumbering beast that had always been there. We, as a society, simply fed it with our eyes closed.
Let’s open them!