Friday, March 11, 2016

Removing The Masks

Earlier today fellow author Gabrielle Luthy  asked me a question about a post showing a bunch of women at a Trump rally wearing t-shirts saying - Make America White Again. This turned out to be a bigger question than I first realized, so it’s getting a bigger answer. Sorry, but I decided to get on a soapbox for once.

First, I acknowledge that the picture was apparently doctored. But many people acknowledge that that is indeed the subtext of his Make America Great Again slogan.  Whether the picture was true or not, it does represent what far too many people think. This includes people who live and work around me.  I don’t always know who. But often enough there’s a look, a gesture, an expression. I’ve know it for years, even as I listened to people swear, “I’m not a racist, but…” because it’s the words after the but that tell what they really think. People who say they shouldn’t have to be PC. Those who think cultural appropriation isn’t real, much less that they should think before they act on someone else’s history, culture or sacred beliefs.

For a lot of people it is probably easier if that stuff stays hidden. That does make it easier to pretend it isn’t there. And when something does happen, when a person of color loses out on a position they deserved or is mistreated, when little girls are manhandled by huge cops and told they should have just been submissive, when people of color protest they get called thugs while white rioters are considered simply overenthusiastic, white people get to not notice and remain happy.

Many of us already knew the code words. We knew that all those people at gun shows to arm themselves were thinking they had to protect themselves from us. “I’m not racist, but…I have to keep my family safe, from THEM.” And people who look like me get to be them. That means I get to look at the houses up and down the block in my predominantly white neighborhood and wonder which ones have guns they might someday use on me. After thirty years, I am more afraid of my neighborhood and neighbors than I was when I moved in, and I came here during the 1980's when people of color were finding burning crosses on their laws if they dared moved into a white neighborhood..

So, you asked if there is a benefit of having this come out in the open. I do. The post-racial society thing let too many people pretend, not see, and condemn those who did try to tell them about reality. I know not everyone will agree with me, I understand that. But I would rather the truth be out there. We can’t have authentic conversations when one side is wearing blinders and refusing to look in mirrors.

I realize I am often the only black person my neighbors and customers see.  A couple of months ago my white boss was talking with me about a problem they had with a customer the day before and how angry the woman became. I laughingly said "Thank heavens I wasn't here that day or she'd have found a way to blame me." My boss agreed, noting how often people complained about me, admitting she knew it was mostly because I was the only black person there.  But she still began   trying to talk me into agreeing that life is better for black people in the United States today. And going on and on expecting me to agree with her. This continued over a period of days, my white boss cornering me to continue the discussion and let her convince me of her truth.

Several of my white “colorblind” acquaintances actually chastised me for even noticing that for the fourth year in a row we had no representatives of color among our speakers for our children's annual writing conference - in this day and age of we need diverse books and the concept that all children need windows and mirrors.  I was literally told I should be ashamed for noticing because color shouldn’t matter. I told her children aren't the only ones who could use an occasional mirror. While I don’t really think she is part of any “Make America White Again” crowd (at least I hope not), I do say she’s part of the I’m too blind to notice there’s even a problem group. And that sounds a lot like the excuses heard after World War II in Nazi Germany, we didn't know.

Maybe this particular item was false. But the guy at the Trump rally who sucker punched a black man wasn't. Not then, and not when he threatened to kill the man. Neither were the young women who used their shirt to spell out N.I.*.*.E.R in Instagram pictures. Or the men who violently pushed and shoved a black girl out of yet another Trump rally. Or the white high school kids yelling Trump, Trump, Trump at a team of Hispanic youth. For them, a great America has no room for people of color.

It's not good that the climate of my country has grown to the point where so many people feel emboldened to display their racism and hostility. But it is good that things are sparking debate and even action. Trump has cancelled his talk in Chicago because of police and University safety concerns. Maybe having bigots remove their camouflage will spark more discussion. Some the people who want to call themselves colorblind will see what’s going on around them and actually take off their white-colored glasses. If the crowd that doesn't feel the need to be PC (polite and caring) and that have no empathy see themselves in some of these newly revealed bigots, that could lead t o positive dialog and change.

And maybe, if more people do decide to talk about these issues, the talk won’t begin with whites trying to convince people of color that things are so much better for them.  Maybe it can start with a "Tell me how it feels to live your life. I really want to understand."

Maybe we can actually learn and share.

Stepping down from my soapbox now.

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