In middle school, I remember telling a boy I had a crush on him. To which he replied, “Sorry, I don’t like black girls”. That kind of rejection takes a blow to your ego that I never even recognized until I reached college.
Growing up black is almost always a difficult experience. Growing up black in the suburbs, is difficult for it’s own reasons. It’s hard to understand and pinpoint problems when you don’t have a term for them. I always assumed I grew up “fine” and never experienced racism.
Racism comes in many forms. It’s not always what you see on TV or in movies. Sometimes, it’s when your friends would tell you, “You ‘act white’ for a black girl”. That phrase always perplexed me. Mentally I would always ask myself, “How can you act a color?”. Sometimes it’s when your non black friends growing up would whisper the “n” word to you in private and laugh about it. Sometimes it’s when your friends would grab at and play with your hair because it was different. “I like black people hair”, they’d often say.
Microaggressions are harmful. According to Wikipedia, a microaggression is “a brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group”. Being told I was “pretty for a black girl” or not pretty enough because I was a black girl was confusing. I often hated the person I saw in the mirror. I felt as though I was unworthy because I looked nothing like the people in movies or in magazines. And when there was a black character, they portrayed someone that was nothing like me.
You may be wondering why any of this is relevant to you. In this current political climate, there is so much occurring that it is difficult to follow along or understand certain issues. It can be hard to understand why certain groups of people always seem angry or are always protesting. Despite slavery ending a little more than 150 years ago, it’s impact still remains. Despite slavery ending, there were multiple systems created to continuously oppress black and brown people. The impact of Jim Crow laws still remain.
Black people are not props to make you look less racist and they are not required to give you a history lesson on why that thing they called you out on was wrong. Do not expect our free emotional labor when Google is a free resource. However, when someone is willing to teach you, believe them. Ask questions to understand. Put aside your ego and everything you think you know. At a time like this, black people want to be heard, understood, and treated better. Call out your racist family members when they say something questionable. Call out yourself when clutch your purse as you walk by a black person at night. Unlearn years of racism that you’ve been taught and mean it.
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