Recently I went to a “Race Week” event on the University Of Akron Campus entitled “Rosa Parks & The Modern Day Bus System”. The point of the event was to have a face to face discussion among students about racism in today’s society using the bus system as a point of reference. The lecturer of the event asked the group of college students if they had the courage of their convictions to do what Rosa Parks did. The room was full of people, packed full of black, white, mixed, hispanic and Indian men and women and the general consensus was “yes’ we would have the courage to do what Rosa did.After that question I was feeling good, all these students believe they would stand up and be spoken even if questioned or threatened! It gave me a spark of hope….However…
The conversation continued and the subject of present day racism came up. The white men in the room began to speak loudly, make jokes and generally disrespect the entire group when the discussion turned towards racism and white privilege. The behavior of these young white men effectively silenced everyone but myself and another woman of color (at the end of the discussion) in this small conference room. A white male raised his hand and addressed the group saying “Our generation isnt really racist, all the older generation of racists are dying off” and the other black woman said “the racism of our generation is subtle, and covert, the racism of our generation is institutional and systematic, just because you dont call me ‘nigger’ to my face doesnt mean your not racist or profiting from racism”. I added that racism is TAUGHT and if any of their parents or grandparents could instill in them a fear of GOD, they could instill in them racist and white supremacist ideas. These statements got the white males in the class in an uproar meanwhile all but 2 (one being myself) of the black people were completely silent. Some were shaking their heads and upset but none spoke. At that point i was infuriated thinking…..where is the COURAGE of your convictions that you claimed 20 minutes ago when what you believe about your people wasn’t being questioned.
Another white man said something to the effect that President Barack Obama proved there was no racism another said “racism only exists for people who NEED it to exist” ….At this point I WAS SO MAD. But i stayed respectful and I addressed what he said. I pointed out the racism that Obama underwent during his presidency, the racial jokes, racial attacks, the extreme disrespect that no other president went through even with a split government (party wise). One white male BARKED AT ME : ” we dont like Obama because of his policies” and the other girl who was actively rebutting these guys said “Obama holds the same positions some of the GREATEST republicans in history held, Obama holds many Republican view ! ” and he denied it, started talking over her….at this point i raised my hand and I pointed out that they were speaking from a place of privilege that they had because of their SKIN COLOR and their gender. I pointed out that they spoke OVER other people and held conversations while others were talking in an effort to strip the legitimacy out of the arguments (the black students) and to SILENCE THEM. This was a part of white supremacy and RACISM. It surpised me to be sitting in a class room with silent black people and white men trying to silence those of us who DID speak by using their whiteness and their maleness. There we were 2 brown skinned black women in a room of white men and black men and Indian men and WE were the only two against all of the white guys. There was a LOT of tension in the room and I was sitting down and a wall of white males were behind me, standing (there were no more seats, they came in late) talking under their breaths as i addressed the class, honestly i felt threatened.
At the close of the lecture these guys were STILL talking and at one point one of the men said something to me, it wasnt WHAT he said but the tone in which he said it that alarmed me, it was a SHOUT and it was full of spit and malice and STRAIGHT UP HATRED. I was facing the front and he was behind me so I turned around to face him and looked him in the eye and asked him what he said to me….he immediately dismissed me with a glance and left the room while i was talking to his back as he strolled away with his white buddies….I sat back down in my seat thinking ….WOW…..WOW…THIS is what our generation has to look forward to…THIS is the post racial society every one is so quick to claim and adopt…Because I was a woman and black…what I said was not heard or received by white men my own age….The black men in teh class would have had better luck but they said NOTHING in defense of their race. We couldn’t count on those black men to speak on behalf ofour race, it further reminded me how they are completely unwilling to speak on behalf of black WOMEN.
But I was also very proud of myself….myself and Gina (the other girl who spoke up against the white males when they started being pushy and disrespectful) …YES…I DO have the courage of my convictions to STAND UP and to be heard, even when someone is trying to tell me that my experience as a black woman is a LIE. Even when someone is using their privilege which is built on RACISM to try to silence me. I do have what it takes to be heard….even when I’m afraid and I was…slightly afraid…I left the building to wait out in front of it with other students for the campus shuttle…the white men were waiting as well and I immediately edged away from them, they were STILL discussing the race week topic, laughing and making jokes…it made me realize how far America REALLY has to go before REAL work on racism can be done….right now we cant even get white people OR black people to ADMIT it…even when white teenagers are attempting lynchings, even when our own president’s name is being used in the same sentence as “skinny black crackhead” …..and THESE are just social examples, it doesnt address racist corporate America or racist legal unjustice system etc.