Being Black in America
We might have a black President but being black in America still has many prejuduces. This particular topic has been on my mind since I wrote about the Trayvon Martin verdict.
This past weekend we went to see the movie Fruitvale Station. The movie is based on a true story of a 22 year old black man, Oscar Grant, who is murdered by the police at the Fruitvale Station in San Francisco on December 31, 2008. Oscar had his share of issues but that particular night he was pulled out of the train with a bunch of his buddies who really were not doing anything illegal. They were harassed by the police and unfortunately Oscar was killed. Would this have happened if they had pulled out the white men who were involved in the same scuffle on the train? I am not so sure it would have.
Then I read the inteview in the NYTimes with Obama talking about the income gap and how that is fraying the US society and he also points to race issues. He even makes a comment that points straight to prejuduces he feels when he points out “If Congress thinks that what I’ve done is inappropriate or wrong in
some fashion, they’re free to make that case,” he said. “But there’s not
an action that I take that you don’t have some folks in Congress who
say that I’m usurping my authority. Some of those folks think I usurp my
authority by having the gall to win the presidency.”
Then over the weekend I read the book Americanah. The book is a love story about two Nigerians who are young when they meet and eventually leave the country to look for better lives but return eventually finding each other again. Yet, the book is actually about racism in America. The main character, Ifemelu who has literally gone to hell and back to finally land on her own feet begins a blog called Raceteenth: Understanding America for the Non-American Black. She writes about the subtle things that are said to her from white people who think they are connecting with her, the difficulty to get a job, the people that follow her in stores to make sure she isn't stealing, the cab drivers who don't pick up black people, etc. It is all there in the book. It really makes you think because it isn't if you have not seen everything she is writing about before but if doesn't affect you then it isn't as skin crawling.
There is one part that really stuck with me, as small as it might be. She finally catches a break and gets a job interview for a real job and her friend tells her to get rid of her nappy hair, get it relaxed because she will never get a job looking that black. She listens, gets her hair fixed and gets the job. The reason I keep thinking about this particular part is an incident that happened to me the other day.
I was walking down Christopher Street, it was the middle of the day and hot as blazes outside. Six young black men passed me who had their baggy jeans pulled down with their underwear hanging out, a few of them had do-rags on and some chains. They all appeared as if they were up to no-good although that could have been my own reaction. I looked at them and thought about how many people would walk by these kids at night and perhaps be scared. Is it wrong of us to judge the way that they looked? Should they have to assimilate and dress a better part if they are going to be not judged? I felt awful feeling that way.
The statistics for blacks in America are staggeringly terrible. They make up 13% of the population but make up 38% of the prison population. 30% of all blacks live below the poverty line. Black people make up a very small percentage of Americas elite. Why has not much changed since Martin Luther King marched on Washington?
I have a colleague who is an African American who I would categorize in the elite category. He is very smart, insightful, charming and successful. He has suffered from discrimination as he has told me about it. On one hand I am blown away but on the other hand I am not surprised. It is painful but it is real.
I have zero idea what it means to be black in America and I will never know. I know what I hear from others, I know what I read, I know what I see and I know what I felt the other day on Christopher Street. I continue to think about how are we going to change racism in America over the next 50 years. I hope these thoughts in my head become larger conversations in every community around our country.