Circa 2012, I wrote this while I was clearly going through a phase… I am extremely pro-Black at times, most times, and this was written during a time when two parts of me were clashing: How I was raised vs. What my exterior means. I was raised colorless, then it hit me during my senior year that I was Black, I had always been Black and will always be Black. I noticed my friendships for what they were and realized how I was the token Black friend. This essay reflects thoughts and feelings at the time. SDLC 2012 changed my life.
Being a middle class African American at a predominantly white prep school, I have a different view on life. Lately, I am realizing now my Caucasian friends often don’t understand that we are different, we still are different and we will always be different. I had the privilege of attending the Student of Diversity Leadership Conference in Houston, Texas in December of 2012; needless to say, it changed my life, and me. I became aware of things I knew, but had built up such a shallow, and artificial wall against, such as micro-aggressions; tiny comments that are racist or offensive, but come off as jokes and are defended as “not a big deal”. After returning to school we, as Quakers, had a meeting for worship in which ignorant posts were read anonymously about race, amongst other things, posts coming from people in the current student body on social networks, things such as, “I hate when my mom puts up colored lights for Christmas. Hash-tag colored lights are for colored people.” I cried that day, not because I was sad or hurt, but because I was angry. African-Americans have become so accustomed to comments such as these; they do not faze us, when they should. We have a right to be offended, and it is still a big deal. The issue of race is very much so still relevant today, within the community, and my generation, but it is absurd people brush off this topic so smoothly, or choose to not talk about it because of the truth that may erupt.
How do we choose our friends? Based off commonalities? Shared experiences? Without mutual experiences and commonalities it is difficult for genuine relationships and friendships to exist. The issue I am having currently, on top of dealing with my natural adolescent feelings, is the feeling that the people I have naturally called my friends since I was 5, or even 12, I now do not believe to be my friends. Did I even truly pick these people as friends or was it because we were forced together because we shared a classroom? As an African American, a Caucasian person will never fully understand, or be able to empathize with my issues with true compassion. My white friends and I were born into completely different worlds; worlds of which we try to act as though they are one. You cannot be friends with people that don’t understand you, to some extent no one will ever fully understand you because they lack the necessary access to your thoughts, but is this race barrier too great of a boundary? I guess that’s why I’m currently losing so many friends. A Caucasian person will probably never know what it’s like to be spoken to condescendingly, with elementary school vocabulary, because the color of their skin somehow makes you less competent and intelligent than someone of a lighter hue. Since when did melanin define someone’s capacity for knowledge? I cannot be a friend with people who cannot differentiate privilege and necessities for life; who think going to college is a given, and a car at 16 naturally is what is supposed to happen.
After the Meeting for Worship, we later talked in our advisory groups about how the posts made people feel, and what their state of mind was. Later, in our black affinity club we discussed how we were all met with “I don’t understands”, “They’re beating a dead horse,” “Race isn’t even relevant anymore,” “That was so long ago, they should just get over it.” Don’t tell me race is not still relevant when I worry everyday my brother will be profiled, looked at with a side eye, possibly harassed, because the texture of his hair and color of his skin. Don’t tell me we, black people, are beating a dead horse, because no one tells Jewish people the Holocaust is a dead horse being beaten. Do not tell me that was so long ago, when the Civil Rights movement was not even an entire lifetime ago. Do not tell me you do not understand, when, yes, the race issue has been difficult to find a solution for, but the concept is very simple to understand. I am simply tired of people pretending to be blind to the idea that our races are treated differently, portrayed differently, and are different. The current generations of African-American youth are un-aware of the flames that have been set to our psyche. One of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King speaks about how if physical pain is the price we must pay to free our children from a lifetime of mental, and spiritual, death, so be it. The Black youth are dying a mental and spiritual death, but we must be told by someone that we will rise up from the ashes to see another day, live another day, prosper another day. Martin Luther King’s dream should not have died with him; his dream did not die, but instead is being recognized, and avoided.
I stand on the land my ancestors built for them, no not the people of caramel complexion and coarse hair, but those of little melanin, of European descent. The African Americans in today’s society work 10 times as hard to be born with one third of the opportunities, just to do half as well in life; we still, as a people, haven’t seen our 40 acres, mule, and $100. African Americans are often criticized for not working hard enough, being lazy, waiting for welfare checks, and having no motivation to make a change. Do they forget Rosa Parks? Do they forget Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King? The African American people, my people, are the people that worked for Caucasians for 400+ years and because their whips are no longer touching our backs, we are not working hard enough for them? It is important to me that during my lifetime, I re-create the dream, begun by Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and our ancestors. It is important that the youth of today realize this race issue is still alive and well, and it is important that we realize there is still a road to travel, and a dream to conquer, and remember that it is our job to not let that dream be deferred.
Written by TyLisa C. Johnson