I just turned seventeen and a half and I am so excited to finally learn how to drive, but my parents are very concerned. You can get into a crash, your car can explode, and as a young black man in today’s society you can get shot and killed for simply looking at your rear view mirror. So, to make sure that I drive in the “safest” conditions my dad decided to take some precautions. He took out all of the seat belts, because he doesn’t want me to fly out of the window in case of a sudden stop. He removed all of the airbags because he wants to make sure that I am safe in case of a crash. And most brilliantly, he removed both of the sun visors in the car because he believes that if the sun blinds me in the eye it’s “God’s Will.” Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Well, this is no more ridiculous than the perceptions that several White Americans have regarding the black community, most specifically of the Black male. As a young and accomplished African-American male who has won both state and national titles in speech and debate (despite being one of very few if not the only African-American competing) I have been confronted with racism that the racists themselves don’t even realize they possess. As we fasten our seatbelts to modern day America, it seems as if racism today is subtle, and it appears that my very presence is one that incites fear into those of other ethnic backgrounds.
My only question is why? What is it about us that so many people fear? What is it about Alton Sterling that placed the officer in so much timidity that he had to shoot him repeatedly? What was it about the hard working and innocent cafeteria manager Philando Castile that provoked unnecessary violence from the officer who pulled him over? In a blog published by the Huffington Post, Dr. Joy Degruy, author of the book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, is interviewed. During this interview she states that “Black people are ‘profoundly resilient’ but the fact is, they have been traumatized… and white people are afraid. The biggest trauma whites suffer from black people… is a fear of black people.” The author of the blog continues by paraphrasing Degruy’s words when she says that “The holding onto the secret of the horror of white racism has taken its toll on white people and has caused them to live in fear. So, at the end of the day, white supremacy has traumatized both black and white people. Black people are afraid of a government which has not and will not protect them; white people are afraid that perhaps their injustice, or complicity in the dispensation of injustice, will come back to haunt them.”
In essence, White Americans know that African-Americans have a legitimate reason to be outraged, and they fear that our anger will be taken out on them at any moment. What they often fail to realize is that their fear too often results in racism. You can walk into an elevator wearing a suit and tie, speak with eloquence and use diction that is impeccable, yet a white woman will still clutch onto her purse. You walk by white people on the sidewalk, and you can see the nervousness in their eyes.
These negative perceptions aren’t solely based on their “complicity in the dispensation of injustice”, but also on how the media portrays African-Americans. A 2011 study entitled Media Representations & Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys, conducted by The Opportunity Agenda, showed that negative media portrayals of Black Men were directly linked to lower life expectations of black males. These portrayals don’t only create barriers, but they also make barriers and low life expectations inexorable. All too often, African-American males are portrayed as thugs, criminals, ignoramuses, and incapable of being sophisticated and when they are portrayed as educated, articulate, faith filled and law abiding they are deemed a “sellout” or “Oreo” by their own. These inaccurate characterizations of our young men and women in the media cause many whites to fear us and believe that we are exactly what the media depicts us as, which results in the defensiveness of Americans who have little to any association with people of the African-American race.
The ignorance of many White Americans when I associate with them truly amazes me. Many feel that I am “too proud”. When I bring up incidents of police brutality on and the injustice of unarmed African-Americans during conversations, they respond by saying that “race isn’t an issue anymore”. I can show them the video of Eric Garner being placed in a chokehold by several officers, unarmed, yielding, and helpless. Yet they still will watch that video and say that “he was resisting arrest” or that “the same thing would’ve happened if he were white”. It has been ingrained into American society and the mentality of several whites that blacks are dangerous and inferior, to the point where it’s become habitual. Many whites have racist thoughts and perceptions, and they don’t even realize it. Their refusal to accept their ignorance to the realities of race is the essence of their racism.
So how do we as an African-American community show that we aren’t as hostile as depicted or as dangerous as we are conceived to be? Unfortunately, we have to disarm the timid white man. How do we do that? By acting with kindness/respect. When a police officer pulls you over, despite how unreasonable it may seem, treat the officer with kindness. Even if you are angry inside, don’t show that anger. Remember, your first objective is to get out of this situation alive. By treating the officer with respect, we are not only disarming the officer but we are also showing that the perceptions that so many White Americans possess are incorrect. If we demonstrate hostility, we are only feeding into the stereotype and misperception. We would be proving them right, rather than fighting for our cause. Additionally, educate yourself to speak properly. The use of Ebonics is okay, and it is a legitimate part of our culture. However, if we can show that our grammar is not limited to vernacularism, we can prove that we are equally as educated and capable as those who claim to be “superior”.
Now at the beginning of this article, many of you may have thought that I waited too long to learn how to drive-and just like I probably waited too long to start the driving process, America has waited too long in establishing a symbiotic White and Black relationship. As of now, trying to converse about race relations will definitely lead you down a bumpy road. However, as long as America ignores the central problems that pollute our society, the stick shift that controls our nation’s progress will remain in reverse.