I was raised respectably

I wrote this for a class assignment and shared it with my folks. It was well-received, so I am sharing it here with you all!

“We would never allow Negroes to starve, to grow bitter, and to die in ghettos all over the country if we were not driven by some nameless fear that has nothing to do with Negroes. We would never victimize, as we do children whose only crime is color, and keep them, as we put it, in their place. We wouldn’t drive Negroes mad as we do by accepting them in ballparks, and on concert stages, but not in our homes, and not in our neighborhoods, and not in our churches.” –James Baldwin 

Baldwin is talking about the ‘sleeping terror’ of white men as the source of rage for black people. It is a reciprocity that we still see existing today. This, I think, is at the very core of police brutality. Blackness is seen as reasonable suspicion, and police respond in a way that says, “well they are probably guilty of something.” The response that often follows is one of anger, but also one of spite. The feeling that people who look like me have lived on this stolen ground for as long as the white man has and yet fight to be accepted is a difficult realization to accept. And yet, here we are in 2015, with the same problems.

I was raised respectably. When I was 6, my parents packed us up and moved to Columbia because they saw the potential for a better life. I went to all the right schools, hung out with the right people, and I could always count on a little extra respect once people realized I was the daughter of a preacher and a teacher:  two of the most respected professions we have.  I made good grades, and didn’t get into trouble at school. But I was always afraid. Afraid because I knew I had to work twice as hard to get half as far. I knew because my parents were sure to remind me. As good as I was, I knew in the 4th grade there were only so many places that I would be welcome. A couple of my elementary school friends and I had an idea. The three of us, 2 black, 1 white, wanted to start a newsletter for something –what I don’t remember. We were going to meet at alternating houses, and while very little about elementary school is vivid for me, I distinctly remember the white girl saying that her parents would not allow her to come to my house. I didn’t have the words for it then, but I was sad all day, and I understood that my skin was the reason. A few weeks later she threw a birthday party at her house. To no surprise, I was not invited. I imagine now that their welcome mat said something like “Whites Only, No Coloreds Allowed.” My parents were doing all the right things, but they still couldn’t protect me from racism.

When black people serve to entertain, we are acceptable. But when we ask that our humanity be respected, when we say that we are just as smart, as talented, as capable,  as innovative as everyone else, there is so much silence in the room that you could hear a mouse breathe. But it never seems to be about race. Or, at least that is what they would want for us to believe. If it’s not about race, then how do we explain the idea that the same people are starving and dying in the same ghettos Baldwin writes about? How do we explain the refusal to improve schools where the majority of the population is poor and of color? How do we explain private schools in the exact same spaces and the exact neighborhoods that are nearly exclusively white? Or state-funded charter schools, that operate based on ‘lottery’ where diversity is nothing more than a buzzword?

I was raised respectably. I was raised to turn a cheek and smile. But I cannot do that. Not if I have any desire to be true to myself, my community, and those who will come after me. I was raised well. My parents did everything that they could for me and for that I am eternally grateful. The neighborhood I grew up in kept me away from trouble. The education I received taught me to think critically around the world around me, and to strive for the best. I don’t know, nor have I ever known hunger. I have never had the lights cut out on me, I have never gone without water or heat. I have always had everything I ever needed, and truth be told, I can’t think of anything I ever wanted that I did not get. But that isn’t enough. And for that I am bitter. I am bitter, because my parents cannot provide me with equality. They cannot give justice to those who the law refuses to protect. They cannot demand that employers see me, they cannot require that our government fix education, or healthcare, or prisons. They cannot do those things for me, but nowhere is it written that I cannot try to do them for myself. So I will fight. I will fight so that my children do not starve. I will fight so that your children have no cause to grow bitter, I will fight so that no one dies for the crime of color.

We deserve better. We deserve justice.

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