|black white faces credit Alexander Khokhlov 2013|
It's been a very interesting time in American History over the last few weeks. The hurt, pain and tensions have finally spilled from the hearts and minds of Black people into the daily consciousness of the rest of the country. It's about time we have a frank discussion about America's ugly relationship with race.
This is particularly hard for me since I'm one of the "those" people. You know the ones, the ones who dared to dream and build a life based on what we all preach - the myth. The Black myth told in both Black families and across White America every day.
"If you get an education..."
"If you get married and have your kids with a husband..."
"If you are good at what you do..."
"If you stay out of trouble..."
Those are the ones we hear most often in our homes and it's not wonder. That's what white people told us after 300 years of legalized terror on blacks 50 years ago. We continue to say that today. Tune in to any news station and I did for the sake of this post for the first time in months. I heard no less than 10 commentators (in all hues mind you) on 6 channels in a three hour period speak to all the things Black people can "do" to make their lives better in America. I'd even trump you one to add to the Black myth - the myth of mixing. You know, branching out beyond what you know and extending yourself to learn about, live and build life with people different than you. We learn early to stick with what we know and those of us who branch out are often "rewarded" with slightly different experiences than the rest. Learning to push through being the "only" certainly has it benefits but you have to know full story before you go spurting soundbites and solutions to our very real racial issues here in the US.
And while I would not change ANYTHING I've done over the last 29 years (high school and beyond), I would like to point out the three things no one warns you about the myth of mixing.
This is the very pointed and consistent criticism you receive from Black people in your life for living life fully with people from other groups. It comes in the form of "revoking your Black card" for minor offenses that an unknown entity enforcing "blackness" deems not "Black enough". You also see it family (or other black friends) excuses for not visiting you in your suburban community because there are "not any Black people there," which is odd since I'm inviting you to my house, and I'm Black. It's also the unsolicited advice from the only other Black woman at the business conference you attend who offers to help you find someone to "do your hair" as she looks at your afro. Blacklash is swift and cutting and a constant reminder that your choice to mix is not really appreciated. You learn to maneuver around Blacklash but often times just ignore it for the sake of the relationship or it can destroy the relationship all together.
Whitesplaining is a fascinating phenomenon that comes in two flavors - whitesplaining Black folks to your White friends and whitesplaining your White friends to Black people in your world. With very few exceptions, you are Black America to your White friends. They have not bothered to get to know or keep up with many of the Black people who have come through their lives so you, by proximity have become their official spokesperson. If there is a decent mutual relationship there, they will be somewhat sensitive to the position they put you in constantly when things happen in pop culture or the news by starting their inquiry with, "I know you don't know all Black people but..." The other form of whitesplaining to your Black friends and family can be just as awkward. This form most often appears in the backhanded slight of "I'm sure you don't remember anymore but this is how we..." assuming because you live in a mixed environment you have no concept whatever they are about to say. It also flares up after events where you have had the audacity to co-mingle your life in the form of questions about every thing your White friend said or did at the event, most of which you don't remember or even noticed. Although it's exhausting, whitesplaining is par for the course for folks who intentionally cultivate a multicultural life.
When tension flare in the country as they periodically do (think Rodney King, OJ Trial, Tawana Brawley and the recent rash of deaths of unarmed Black and brown people at the hands of police), you find yourself alone in your thoughts. Now, let's be clear - I have an amazing group of people around me - Black, White, young, old, Christian, Jewish, Mexican, I think you get it - supporting me and walking me through this very difficult season. I have no issue reaching out and inviting my crew to talk, cry, reflect and debate what's going on because I know that any one of the people I'm referring to would do anything for me or my family. They have not remained silent as the country has erupted in this very painful discussion. But my crew is literally all across the United States and all over the world on different time zones so there are many times that I am alone. I don't have nearly as much time as I need to digest and dissect all that is happening and what my feelings are about it with someone I love and trust. And nearby, I have very few resources in the flesh to do this. Fortunately, this is not as big or consistent as the aforementioned issues but when it occurs, it can wipe away all joy and creativity under its weight.
Even with Blacklash, Whitesplaining and the occasional overwhelming loneliness of mixing, I would not change my life one bit. That one decision I made in 8th grade when I transferred from a predominantly Black junior high in Harvey, IL to a very mixed - Black, White (mostly Italian) and mostly Mexican (with a few sprinkles of Puerto Ricans) - junior high in Chicago Heights has paid off in dividends. The decision to walk into the unknown and befriend and build relationship with people who did not look like me. To resist the pressure to conform to any one narrative and go on to do so many great and courageous things from high school all the way to being the first Black person elected to a small village board in McHenry County in 2009. We all need to mix and extend ourselves beyond what is comfortable.
It's worth it.
All the aggravation, frustration and education of people on all sides (yeah - when you mix, it is not just Black and White - don't get me started on Mexicans, Indians and all other races and ethnicities who also come to "mixers" like me for perspective) is worth it. Every moment is worth it and it is truly the only way that races in America will be reconciled to each other. There is no legislation that will fix what has happened over the last 350 years. Can we do better? You bet and if you know me, you know I'm already working on it. But the way we change hearts and minds in this country will not happen in a statehouse - it happens in each of our homes.
One relationship at a time. I've been doing my part for 29 years.
Where are you?