We moved a lot when we were young. My immigrant father was focused on getting an education, and providing for his family. So, wherever the opportunities were, that’s where we went.
Which is why in the summer of 1977 we moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. My dad was accepted into the University of Utah’s doctorate program so we moved into family student housing. I was 9 years old.
When my brother and I started school we were the only two Black children in a school of over 200 students. We stood out at a time when I didn’t want to stand out.
Salt Lake City
During our time in Salt Lake City I remember wondering a lot about the way I looked. I asked my mom why I couldn’t wear my hair down instead of in braids. I’d stand in front of the bathroom mirror and pull up my nose to be more “pointy” like my friends. At nine years old we’re formulating our perceptions of ourselves. We’re figuring out where we fit in the world and I didn’t fit.
One day (and this is relayed to me by a friend I found on Facebook years later) while in class a boy was teasing me about my color. He started talking about how I looked like poop, laughing and carrying on. As I’m enduring this abuse, I begin to cry and complain. Instead of the boy being disciplined, the teacher told me “If you can’t stop disrupting class, you’ll need to go out in the hall.” I’m nine years old and I have to control my reaction to the abuse being inflicted on me by a white child.
I was sent to the hall.
Personally, I don’t remember that moment. I remember others with the same theme. I’m the problem so I need to suck it up. Endure what’s happening. Be strong. Be the bigger person, the better person. While those who are inflicting the pain, go unpunished. Because they’re white and so therefore they must be right.
Ignoring The Signs
As I look around the country right now, I’m reminded of that ignorance. We watched as armed white people storm the capital building with no repercussion. We watched as police officers looked the other way to allow these terrorists to cross barricades, take selfies with the perpetrators and claim overwhelm, while the lawmakers inside had to cower for their lives.
All over social media parallels are being drawn on the different responses to acts of terrorism when the perpetrators are white vs. when people of color and Black people are protesting policies that threaten their lives.
Just like in my fourth grade classroom where I became the problem and I was disciplined, Black and Brown people are always dealt with harsher than white people. Here’s the kicker, it happens all across the country in every discipline and industry.
It starts with students and goes through the workforce. It’s easier to punish the victims than it is to confront a system that benefits you and demand that system change.
What’s the consequence? The consequence is white terrorists running around the country killing with impunity and being treated as human. While those they are terrorizing are treated like the problem.
White people are allowed to do as they please when they have a “bad day” while the rest of us must swallow our pain.
White people are allowed to have mental health issues while the rest of us are “too sensitive” or “genetically prone to violence.”
White people are allowed to be angry, protest, lash out maim and kill while their vegan, vacation and huger needs are taken care of. The rest of us better be happy we didn’t die at the scene.
The consequence, as I wrote in this article is a country where everything and everyone suffers because of tolerance rather than justice. We, all of us, are left reeling and wondering what’s the next logical step to take? What part can we play in creating change?
Proof in Policy
Companies are creating products to placate when we know it’s changes in their policies that create real change. Yes, we appreciate removing “Aunt Jemima” from your products, but what does your C-Suite look like? Thanks for putting out that statement, but are your employees of color comfortable in your culture?
Corporations have the power to push governments to make real policy changes needed to move the needle. Yet, in Georgia, and across the country, where these giants with power are headquartered, voter suppression laws are running rampant. The wording is more nuanced and vague, but we know, we ALL know they’re intentionally directed at people of color, especially Black people.
It’s time to stop pretending we don’t know what do to, and do what we do know. Do the hard things. Corporations are made up of people. Those people need to stop hiding and do better. Say NO. Look to the future and make the hard decisions in the present. Invest in your people, your policies and revamping your cultures.
We the people appreciate the surface stuff, but we’d all, including yourselves, be better served with real policy changes and more bravery.