More 40th birthday thoughts: white supremacy in the United States

People post all the time talking about how 2020 has been an awful year and they can’t wait until next year.

For me, 2020 has been incredibly enlightening. It has shown me exactly who we are, who we’ve been, and where we stand as a country. It has laid it out in plain view.

Who we are becomes harder to hide thanks to the technology available for people to use to show us who we are.

The tale of two Americas

There are two different things at play:

  1. Who we are
  2. Who we promise to be

They are not the same thing.

Who we promise to be is a beacon of light, hope, and freedom for all so that everyone should live in peace with the ability to be who they are.

Who we are is a country that marginalizes, maims, and kills Black people. We do this through our institutions and systems, and our culture has us defending the oppressors and looking for fault in the Black people that the oppressors marginalize, maim, and kill.

“Why didn’t Jacob Blake (or insert the name of any other Black man here) simply follow the police’s instructions?”

I am aware that there are two categories of people:

  1. Those who believe systemic racism and white supremacy are a problem in this country
  2. Those who don’t

Those who don’t are much more likely to defend the oppressors.

I understand the people who don’t believe that there’s a problem. I remember my own education growing up.

I knew that many people were racist, but I had no idea the extent of the problem.

I spent my formative years in Richmond, VA, the capital of the Confederacy. In school, we learned that Jim Crow happened, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were signed into law, and then everything was fine.

We took a field trip to the Jefferson Davis house, the White House of the Confederacy, as a mere vehicle to learn about our history and “heritage”.

In my senior lounge in high school, there was a Confederate flag. My buddy who had it in there explained to me that it was about history and “heritage” and not hate. I never saw him treat any Black people with anything but respect. The flag didn’t bother the sole Black person in my class, so I figured it was ok to have it in there and to not make a fuss.

Growing up in this kind of environment and learning what we did in history class, I thought everything was fine. I am old enough to remember Rodney King. And Abner Louima. And Amadou Diallo. And Sean Bell.

I remember all the police acquittals.

I bought the argument of “just a few bad apples”. I hated those bad apples. I didn’t want life made more difficult for anyone.

My participation in Black culture

I loved hip-hop. Starting from when I was ten years old, hip-hop music just lit me up. It started with mainstream, danceable, appealing to white kids in the suburbs stuff, and it eventually evolved into more old school, underground, and music that really told the tales of Black reality in America.

In college, I was a turntable DJ, and most of the music that I played was hip-hop. I immersed myself in the culture. Most of my friends were Black and Latinx. I was so happy that they included me in everything because I loved the music and the culture so much. I have a graffiti-style DJ tattoo on my arm, in case there’s any question about how much I loved it.

I was mesmerized by the story telling and gripped by tales of police brutality, life in the streets, and other Black realities. I still did not know the larger story.

I always thought: “just because someone is Black doesn’t mean they have to live in the hood or be poor. I know there are so many Black people who live in the hood, but there are poor white people too, and their hoods are called trailer parks.”

I thought everyone was equally likely to come from a certain set of circumstances, and that assigning stereotypes to Black folks exclusively was unfair.

I didn’t know about redlining. I didn’t know about Tulsa. I didn’t know about the school-to-prison pipeline. Or the Crime Bill. Or anything else that has perpetuated the conditions that Black folks have been forced to live under since this country’s founding.

Systemic racism did not end with the abolition of segregation. It simply changed forms and became more covert than overt.

If you think 2020 has sucked, it’s because it has held up a giant mirror for us. If you look at it, then you can see what’s really happening and figure out what you’re going to do from here on out.

I feel like I have lived in a lie for 40 years. I see people posting “this isn’t who we are” in response to events that keep happening. It may not be who you are, but it absolutely is who we are.

I have no earth-shattering answers or single solutions. I’m just going to try to do better and be better. My neighborhood in West Philly was reported in 2017 to be 52% white, but the surrounding areas are predominantly Black.

I have a chance to be part of my neighborhood and part of the community. I have a crap-ton of privilege that I can use to benefit my neighborhood and community. I make a great living and have a platform. People listen when I talk, and they take me seriously. Not because I’m special, but because I’m a straight white male in America.

I moved to my neighborhood back in February, and I don’t want to be the person that moves here to take advantage of the restaurant scene and parks and completely ignore the plight of my Black neighbors.

I will do my best, and it will never be enough because I can’t fix this on my own, and that’s ok because it’s my moral obligation to do it anyway. Because I care. Because I believe in human rights. Because I believe that Black lives matter, in a country where they don’t.

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