Racism and Colorism are complicated and it is worth noting that when it is brought to one’s attention that they exhibit racist behavior, use racist language or are racially bias, the motivation behind bringing this to their attention is not necessarily to say they are a bad person, but rather to bring light to something that negatively affects others in an effort to make change in a positive direction.
Growing up around mostly white people has put me in sticky situation after sticky situation. Growing up hearing things like, “You’re not like most black people,” or “you’re not really black,” or my personal favorite, “I don’t find black people to be attractive, but you are.” The people who have said and continue to say these things think they are saying something polite or giving a compliment and often don’t understand what’s written in between the lines of these statements. And over the years, one thing I have learned for sure, is that explaining to a white person that they have exhibited racial bias or made a racially insensitive comment is one of the most difficult things to accomplish.
Someone once said, “white people’s biggest fear is to be called racist.” I’m not saying that is true, but it’s an interesting statement. There are people who went to liberal arts schools, majored in cultural studies and leisurely read books on racism and while all these things are great, they think that this means it’s impossible for them to make statements that are racially charged, be racially bias or come across information regarding race that they have never known. This is simply untrue. I’m black and I am capable of doing all these things. The problem is the connection of bringing light to these things and being “a bad person”. Someone once said, “every problem is based in fear,” and for white people that this applies to, I believe the fear is being “a bad person”. We are too polarized when it comes to race, black – white, good – bad. It’s really not that simple. It’s the same with sexism. There are men who make sexist remarks, but many times, not all the time, it’s out of ignorance, not hate and if the accused can understand that there is not an attack coming their way, but merely a sharing of information, it would greatly help the situation (also it helps when the person shedding light on the situation doesn’t attack the person at “fault”).
Living in a house with a group of white people has proven to be one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I once read somewhere that white people have a far lower capacity for racial stress, because, IN MOST CASES, they are almost always surrounded by people of their own race in a country that celebrates their race; they are OFTEN not in situations on a regular basis where they are the racial minority. Other races do not have that privilege and deal with the stresses of being surrounded by people of other races in a world where another race is held as the ideal, everyday. Minorities know their own culture and facets of white culture, because it’s so widely celebrated (turn on the TV, watch a movie, go outside, it’s everywhere), but white people don’t have to know anything about other races and often don’t try. While the people I live with are not bad people they are still capable of creating complicated situations around race.
One very difficult thing to deal with is the fact that when talking about race, some white people can get so uncomfortable that they shut down; they get uncomfortable and stop talking. What bothers me about this is that not discussing it and changing the subject makes one feel their issue is not being heard, that their problem is not being recognized as a real problem. Whether that problem be that there are no roles for me as a black actor unless I want to play a “black character”, that black people are killed by police and wrongly imprisoned at rates that should be alarming to the entire world, that I am often afraid to walk out the door in a hoodie for fear that I may be taken as a criminal, that referring to that person as “the black guy” and not just a guy when the conversation has nothing to do with race is wrong or that the waitress has looked every single person at this table in the eye except for me…. These are all problems and while one does not have to talk about them at length every second of everyday, shutting down when they are brought up, creates a tension, a divide, an unspoken rule that your problems don’t matter. But, when we discuss issues like sexism and misogyny, suddenly everyone can speak…
Post-college, this has been the biggest adjustment. First dealing with the above mentioned problems and being surrounded by people who go on with life as though these things don’t happen. Over time, I slowly became more and more negative, more and more defensive, because I felt alone, like I had no allies and I needed to protect myself. Protect myself from the friends of my housemates who come over and address every person in the house except for me, even when I make every effort to be friendly and welcoming, protect myself from situations like the time someone invited me to MY HOUSE… yes, you read that correctly. They said, “Hey, do you want to go to “Person X”‘s house and order food?”
1)Person X doesn’t live in the house, person X is visiting for the week.
2)I’ve been living in this house since day one, my name is on the lease.
Protect myself from the people who come to see my performances, but congratulate my white dancers and not me, protect myself from people who communicate with only each other; I wouldn’t hear about events, parties, people coming to visit…. nothing. It just wasn’t shared and as a sensitive person it hurt…. a.great.deal. And while many of these things don’t have enough evidence to be directly linked to race, it’s how it feels when you are the minority of a group and this is how you are consistently treated. It’s very difficult to deal with and the only solace you can get is finally having time with a black friend, who you share “white people stories” with…. I’m not kidding. it usually begins with, “I’m so happy we’re finally hanging out again… I have to tell you this thing that happened, cause you’re the only person in my life right now that will understand.” And once we share, we feel better.
What led me to a place of healing was a situation I found myself in where a white man put his hands on me in an aggression way. First, let me say.
1) I do not like violence
2) I do not like violence in my direction
The thing that made me most uncomfortable was that I was in a house with all white people and while I am not saying all these white people are bad people, it was very clear to me that they valued my well being differently than each others. I was afraid because if the situation escalated, I was the only black person in the house. If the police come, here I am, Mr. Black Guy, clearly the aggressor, or at least how it could be seen by police and that scared me, but what really got me was when I retaliated after this man put his hands on me, he replied something to the affect of, “I can’t believe you just did that to me.” And that’s when my heart dropped. This white man just put his hands on me and when I defended myself, he, in his eyes became the victim. I honestly couldn’t believe my ears. It made me feel…
-That my well being didn’t matter
-That his well being was clearly valued over mine
-That this is how black people end up shot and on the news.
The fact that I was in a house with this person’s friends who are all like minded individuals scared the shit out of me. I could just hear them saying, “Person Y are you okay? What happened?” I could just hear the, “Sean, I think you should probably leave until the situation settles” I could hear all these things happening and yet, I started none of it. I was defending myself and it scared me. A LOT.
For some reason that situation led me to understand that because I am black there are people who
-Will value my well being less than others
-Will value my talent as less than others
-Will value my beauty less than others
-I am invisible to
-Will treat me like a foreign object
But, I finally realized that I don’t have to dwell on it. That these are mere echoes of their shortcomings. That I should continue on my journey and surround myself with the people of the world who don’t exhibit this behavior, because everyone is not like this. It brought light to a problem of mine, that I’m always trying to fix everything… when I don’t have to. Some situations are worth fixing, other times, I have decided it is best to make a mental note, briefly express yourself and move on, create surroundings that support me and uplift me and focus on the good… not the bad.