As a freshman at the University of New Hampshire (I later transferred to Hampshire College), I founded the first black student union in 20 years.
By now you’ve probably seen the viral video of the racist white woman going ballistic in a parking lot in Cheektowaga, New York (about 300 miles from Manhattan) for nearly four straight minutes, shouting the N-word at a black man in his car because, she says, he had frightened her two young children by, he says, starting his car.
Whatever the case, and I do mean whatever the case –- he could have walked up to those children and yelled “Boo! Yah mama’s ugly!” for all I care –- it’s still not grounds for blatant, audible, open, all the way loud and live racism. Not grounds for racism at all.
Because here’s the thing: When we black people say racism is real, please believe us. Watching this video, which reveals in cold, clear daylight an indefensible display of racism, I am alternately stunned by the wholly intended sting of it, and enraged by the many, many times I’ve had to argue the case that racism in America still exists, and could actually happen at any time, to any brown person, but always to black people.
And not only argue its existence, but explain its repercussions, as well as how the anticipation of it affects our day-to-day life. If you are white, I ask you to imagine for one minute, how you would feel if you were minding your own business, starting up your car in a parking lot when suddenly a stranger starts screaming in your face and repeatedly calling you a name that in this society is synonymous with utter human worthlessness. A word that evokes a cultural ancestry that was shackled, raped, beaten, kicked, lynched and spit upon every single day.
I know you can try to imagine it, but you can’t actually imagine it because it will never, ever happen to you. How could your imagination access such a thing? To be honest, though, I’m less interested in white people trying to imagine what it feels like to be vulnerable to racism or to experience racism, so much as I am interested in white people making a concerted effort at deference to our authority on the matter.
Because your liberalism is not empathic, it’s politic. Your belief that racism is bad is not a gamechanger for us. Your self-serving magnanimity regarding those other white people who had slaves 100 years ago does not endear you to those of us black people who were not slaves but continue to live within the confines of and be punished by the systemic racism that found its nascent stronghold in the institution of slavery.