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Us and Them

After the situation happened with Trayvon Martin it became undeniable that stereotypes and racism are alive and well in America…right here in Central Florida.  I’m not so naïve to think that they were gone, but never has it been so blatant.  And it was deadly.

I had to have a talk with my son about how to be black safely and not to get himself unnecessarily roughed up or arrested.  I told him be extra polite if he gets pulled over, to not talk back, and to not be surprised if he is asked to step out of his car so his vehicle can be searched.  The conversation was surreal and painful.  It hurts to think that I have to even say things like this to my son…that this is going to be his reality.  It hurts to think that at some point he will be judged simply for the color of his skin.  It even hurts to feel relieved that my son is so light brown that maybe no one will know he’s black.  The truth is, no matter how much I tell him to do or not do, he can’t change the color of his skin.

At that point I felt a cavernous rift between me and every single white person I know (including my mother).  They will NEVER have to sit down with their beloved children and tell them these things.  The thought of even having such a conversation will never cross their minds.  I felt vulnerable and endangered and saw all of them as privileged and aloof.  They became the enemy for a moment.

That is a natural emotional reaction, before the brain has a moment to rationalize the scenario.  Obviously, I don’t think that all white people are the enemy.  But there is a real enemy out there that I must educate my son about.  It is necessary for his survival.

I tried to put the shoe on the other foot and imagined what conversations average white families have with their children about black people. “Honey, if you see a black man on the street, make sure you lock your doors [because all black people steal].”  “Son, be prepared to get passed up for a job because some [undeserving] n***** is going to get it.”  The stuff in brackets may or may not be said…either way, it is implied.

No matter how much we want to believe things have changed, it remains Us and Them.  We are able to coexist, peacefully most of the time.  But we ALL have our prejudices…and we ALL act on them in some form or fashion.  It is so sad.

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2 thoughts on “Us and Them

  1. Thank you for your honesty Jamie. It is important to talk about how all of this and the many other things make us feel. How sometimes I want to take off my white skin because I am ashamed. The dialogue needs to happen so that we can continue to move forward in a direction that actually can make change happen. The PC world doesn’t allow this to occur. It is important for white people to understand white privilege so that we can lift the veil of denial that exists in our lives. Tim Wise writes some amazing pieces on race. Here’s his latest article.

    http://www.timwise.org/2012/03/trayvon-martin-white-denial-and-the-unacceptable-burden-of-blackness-in-america/

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